Every country makes its own version of bread, and the Italians make many different torpedo-shaped loaves with a crusty exterior. Sometimes you'll find round bread or long oval bread made in the typical Italian style. Italian bread is similar in many ways to french bread, though the crust is usually not quite as hard. The interior of the bread tends to have fewer holes, exhibiting a nice smooth crumb throughout. Having bread with fewer holes is highly desirable, since Italian bread is often used to sop up sauces on plates.
The simplest Italian bread is usually a combination of white wheat flour, water, yeast, salt and a little bit of olive oil. Olive oil effectively binds the ingredients, making a slightly richer loaf than the typical french bread. Some variants of the bread add sesame seeds or poppy seeds to the top or sides.
The crusty exterior is achieved by basting the tops and side of the bread with water, or by spraying the tops and sides with water from a spray bottle. This makes for a chewy, but not completely hard crust. Most recipes suggest that if you are not using a stone oven for baking, which few people do, you instead use a baking stone. When you’re making Italian bread, be certain to preheat the stone as you preheat the oven in order to achieve the perfect temperature. Many cooks recommend preheating the oven for at least 30 minutes so the oven temperature reaches at least 400 degrees F (204.44 C). Other recipes call for the bread to be baked at 425 F (218.33 C).
Even at these high heats, Italian bread takes about 45 minutes to bake. This again may depend upon the size of the loaves you’re preparing. You can tell the bread is done when you hit the bread with a wooden spoon or other kitchen implement made of wood. It should have a hollow sound.
Use Italian bread in any way you like, as an accompaniment to dinner, for delicious sandwiches like Italian submarine sandwiches, or take day old bread and use it to make french toast. This is an excellent all purpose bread, but it can dry and harden within a day or two. To keep Italian bread from going stale, you can store it in plastic bags, but this takes away the wonderful chewy and semi-hard crust. Although you can revive the crust by heating the bread prior to serving it again, nothing really beats this bread when it is still fresh and warm from the oven.