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Pumpkin Seed, Sage and Pancetta Bread

Makes 1 Large Loaf

Inspiration for this bread comes from the many breads I have joyfully eaten all over Italy. From craggy-looking loaves of crusty Pugliese olive bread to the airy bread of Ferrara called manina (little hand), Italian breads have always held a fascination for me. This bread is studded with toasted pumpkin seeds and cracklings of crispy Italian bacon (pancetta), and perfumed with specks of fresh sage.

Almost a meal by itself, it complements a bowl of homemade tomato soup perfectly. It is the bread to serve on your Thanksgiving table, and it is unmatched in its versatility as a sandwich bread for egg salad, grilled vegetables, cold chicken, or roast beef.

Ingredients

One cup hulled pumpkin seeds

1/4 pound pancetta or unsmoked bacon, diced (about 1 cup)

One recipe Nonna's Sponge Dough

1/3 cup minced fresh sage

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Spread the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 7 minutes, until they just start to brown; watch carefully so they do not burn. Remove the seeds to a bowl and let them cool.

In a small skillet, sauté the pancetta or bacon over medium heat until nicely browned and crisp. Transfer to a cutting board and let it cool slightly. Mince the pancetta or bacon very fine and transfer it to a small dish.

Line a baker's peel with parchment paper or lightly grease a baking sheet.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead it for 3 to 4 minutes, until smooth and no longer sticky. Roll the dough out into a 14-inch circle.

Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds, pancetta, and sage over the dough. Starting at the side nearest you, roll the dough up tightly and pinch the seam closed. Fold the dough in half and knead it until the filling bursts through the dough. Continue kneading until the filling ingredients are evenly dispersed throughout the dough (if some ingredients pop out, knead them back into the dough) and the dough feels smooth.

Form the dough into a round loaf, and place it on the baker's peel or greased baking sheet. Cover the dough with a clean towel and set aside to rise for about 35 minutes, until nearly doubled in size.

If using a baking stone, preheat the oven to 425 F and put the stone on the lowest oven rack to preheat. If using a baking sheet, preheat the oven to 400 F.

Make three short shallow slashes across the top of the dough with a lame, sharp knife, or razor blade. If using a baking stone, slide the bread, with the paper, onto the stone. Or put the baking sheet in the oven. Mist the oven walls with water, then mist again once or twice during the first 10 minutes of baking. Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes if using a stone, 40 to 45 minutes if using a baking sheet, until it is golden brown and crusty on the top and bottom and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

Remove the bread to a cooling rack.

This recipe is from WHAT YOU KNEAD by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company Inc., in 1997.

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