Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Piadina Romagnola (Italian flatbread from Emilia Romagna)

If you feel discouraged about the time and experience required by bread making, piadina - an Italian ancient flatbread - may change your mind. It takes less than 30 minutes to make because it is unleavened and it cooks in just 4 minutes on the stove. It makes a good twist on bread, especially during the summer, when it is too hot to turn on the oven.

Piadina is the most classic specialty from the Romagna region (Forlì-Cesena, Ravenna and Rimini) along the Adriatic coast. It is usually made with wheat flour, water, salt and lard (or olive oil) to enrich it and make it fragile and more flavorful. The dough was traditionally cooked on a testo (terracotta dish) but nowadays flat pans or griddles are commonly used.

Piadina is so popular along the Adriatic Coast that there are hundreds of specialized kiosks called piadinerie that sell warm piadinas filled with a variety of melted cheeses, cold cuts and vegetables. One of the most classic fillings is prosciutto, creamy cheese like squaquerone, crescenza or stracchino and greens like rucola (arugula) but there is also a popular sweet version with fillings such as Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) and jam. The variety is unlimited! Every family has their own recipe but there may be also small differences depending on the zone of production. Piadinas produced around Ravenna are generally thicker, while those produced around Rimini and the Marche region are thinner and of larger diameter.

The origin of Piadine seems to date to the 1200 BC where the Etruscan settled in the north of Italy. They used to prepare unleavened breads made with a paste of toasted, grounded wheat grains and water that was cooked on hot stones or tiles. They handed down the recipe to the ancient Romans and in most regions of Italy the unleavened bread evolved into focaccia, pizza and others yeasted bread. In the Emilia Romana piadina survived as a bread for the poor and later became popular among wealthy people and tourists. Nowadays is a symbol of the Romagna cuisine.

Makes 5 rounds
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- pinch sea salt
- 2 oz extra virgin olive oil (or 2 oz lard)
- 1 cup cold water

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you want to knead it by hand) and mix together.

Add the olive oil and the water, just a little bit at a time, and mix on the stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed until the dough starts to form into a ball. Increase the speed to medium, and let it knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Let the dough sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Heat the griddle on medium-high to quite hot.

Divide the dough into 5 pieces, and roll each piece out to 10 inch rounds.

The discs should be about 1/8 inch thick.

Lightly brush the bread on both sides with olive oil.

Place each rounds on the griddle (depending on the size of your griddle)

and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until you see the little brown spots that mark when it’s done.

The piadina are best eaten warm from the griddle. When they are still warm add the filling ingredients. You can use any soft cheese or cold meat you want. I made my piadine with teleme cheese, fresh basil and coppa toscana. Yummi!