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La Piadina Romagnola
Italy is blessed with an astonishing variety of breads: in Tuscany, the bread is unsalted, around Torino they make bread sticks a yard long, and in Romagna, along the Adriatic Coast, they make the piadina. It's a flat bread cooked on a testo or griddle, and unleavened–and considering that this sort of bread dates back to the Neolithic–you might expect it to be quite old.
Instead, it dates to the introduction of corn in the late 1700s: further north, in the Veneto, Lombardia, and Piemonte, especially the poor used their cornmeal to make polenta, cornmeal mush. However, Romagnoli preferred bread and since cornmeal dough doesn't rise well–especially when cut with other secondary seed crops (or even chestnuts)–they made flatbreads called piade and cooked them on testi.
It was the tenant farmer's food and many families survived on little else.
However, they did keep wheat flour handy for when the landowner or other notables came calling, and then made flatbreads using wheat flour and added lard for added richness to produce piadine. As the lot of the general population improved during the 20th century–to the point that people could afford the ingredients–the piadina stopped being a treat for the wealthy and became everybody's everyday bread.
Little wonder; it's tasty to bite into, wonderful when spread with cheese, an excellent foil for cold cuts, and (when folded) perfect for containing all sorts of things (e.g., grilled sausages and onions).Continue to 2 of 10 below.
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What You'll Need
You'll want to make a batch of piadine–expect people to eat a couple at a sitting, or even more if the setting's right. So for four people, you'll want to make at least 10. You'll need:
- Either a large (12 inch, or 30 cm) diameter non-stick skillet or griddle
- A rolling pin
- 2 1/4 pounds (1 k.) unbleached flour
- A heaping tablespoon (20 g.) of salt
- A little less than 1/2 pound (200 g.) rendered lard
- Hot water
A few observations:
Continue to 3 of 10 below.
- You can halve the recipe if there are just two of you, but you can also make the full recipe and keep half the piadine in the refrigerator (they'll keep for a week) to cook when needed.
- Romagnoli are known for their love of lard, and one of the people running the piadina course I took at Riccione's Bagno 97 Adolfo, La Spiaggia delle Donne (more on this anon) told me she sometimes buys cured lardo di colonnata and chops it with a heated knife, which renders the fat while freeing up bits of lean meat. It makes for a much richer piadina.
- If you instead would rather not use lard, you can use olive oil–about 200 mL or 4/5 cup. The result will be a considerably lighter piadina.
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Let's Get Started!
Make a mound of the flour on your work surface, scoop a well in it, and dribble the lard and salt into the well.
Note: At the course, we made five–rather than ten piedine–so the amounts shown are halved.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
04 of 10
Make a Dough Ball
Mix well and add enough hot water for the dough to hold together, but not too much. At the most a cup, though do so gradually, because if the dough is too moist you'll have to add more flour, and that will toughen the dough. Work everything into a ball and knead energetically for five to eight minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Because of the lard in the dough, there should be no problems with the dough's sticking to your work surface.
Cover the dough ball with a cloth and let it rest for a half-hour.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Make Little Dough Balls
When the dough has rested, roll it out into a snake, divide it into 10 equal portions, and shape them into balls.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Roll out the Piadine
Take a ball, flatten it into a disk with your fingers, and then roll it out, flipping it and rolling in different directions to make the piadina round. If your first one is some other shape, don't worry–roundness comes with practice, and a couple of the women who participated (veterans who took advantage of the opportunity to make a snack for their kids) made piadine round as dinner plates and all the same size.
How thick, you wonder? Thinner is better, we were told, and you should aim for two to three mm or close to 1/16 of an inch. Again, because of the lard in the dough, the dough won't stick to your work surface.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
07 of 10
Keep on Rolling
Keep rolling until you have used all your balls, putting the rolled out piadine on a tray. As you can see, mine weren't perfectly round.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
08 of 10
Time to Start Cooking!
When you have finished rolling, heat your skillet or testo over a fairly brisk flame until it is hot–a drop of water should dance merrily on the surface–and drop your first piadina onto it.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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The dough is moist and with the heat, it may puff up. If it does, tamp down the bubbles with a spatula and continue cooking; after a couple of minutes, check the underside and when it looks done (bone white with dark spots), flip it to cook the other side.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
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The total cooking time for a piadina is three to four minutes, and it is done when both sides look like this. Slide it off the skillet onto a cloth-covered serving dish and cook the next.
If You're Cooking Half the Batch Now and Saving the Rest for Later
Sear the piadine you plan to keep for a few seconds on either side, put them in a sealed container, and put them in the refrigerator. Finish cooking them when you need them, and expect the partially cooked piadine to keep for about a week.
How to Serve a Piadina
You can stack them and slice them to make wedges, which are nice as is, spread with cheese, or smothered with a cold cut. You can also fold a whole piadina in half to make a pocket and fill it with whatever suits your fancy (e.g., grilled sausages and onions, which are common at roadside stands). The piadina's potential to add joy at a cookout is obvious.
I want to thank the folks at Riccione's Bagno 97 Adolfo, La Spiaggia delle Donne for organizing the piadina course. I had a great time, my piadine were good, and I learned something. The piadina course is just one of many things they do, and if you're beach lounging in the northern half of Riccione, you should consider staying with them.