This bread is wonderful with good butter, cheese, and cured meats. Using a starter means that loaves will stay fresh for 3 to 5 days. You'll need to plan ahead, though, mixing the starter 4 to 12 hours before making the dough. Think of it as a Sunday bread you can start in the morning and serve at dinner, with little fuss in between.
For the starter:
First, make the starter: Add yeast to ¼ cup hot water, and stir with a fork to dissolve. Let proof 10 minutes. Then add ⅔ cup hot water and enough flour to make a loose dough. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let rise at room temperature at least 4 hours, up to overnight.
For the dough:
When starter is ready, make the dough: In the large bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, proof yeast in ¼ cup hot water for 10 minutes. Then add starter, salt, remaining 2 cups hot water, and chopped herbs. Mix. Add whole-wheat flour and mix thoroughly, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically. Then add all-purpose flour in 1-cup increments until dough forms a rough ball. Switch to your mixer's dough hook, or move to a wooden dough board, and knead until smooth and springy. Grease a large bowl with olive oil. Put dough into the bowl and let rise until doubled, 1-½ to 2 hours. Then form dough into two loaves and let rise 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven, preferably with a baking stone, to 450°. Sprinkle the baking stone or a heavy cookie sheet with a little cornmeal or flour. Place loaves on stone or sheet, and make 2 shallow slashes on top of each loaf with a sharp knife. Bake 10 minutes; then reduce heat to 400°. Continue baking 40 minutes more, until loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom and are browned on top.