Being asked questions during cooking classes is a normality, and often the most basic becomes the most intricate. We tend to compare foods with “it looks like, or taste like.” We often confuse ingredients, techniques, and taste. Someone from the group compared quesadilla to Piadina. The possible misunderstanding prompted me to share some primary notions that can be useful.
Let’s begin by saying that mashed potatoes are not potatoes pureed, just like Piadina is a very distant relative to Quesadilla, because:
Quesadilla has no fat in the mixture, made with corn masa, thinner, and dry to the palate. Quesadilla requires a moisture spread of some sort and a filling to make it palatable. No one will eat it dry, or without a filling, therefore it cannot be included in the bread category. Piadina is bread, that can be eaten warm with olive oil and salt and without filling if preferred.
And so the story goes.
Legendary film director Federico Fellini loved it, and the poet Giovanni Pascoli wrote poems about piadina. The most straightforward combination of 00 wholemeal flour, lard, water, and salt has never tasted so natural and wholesome. Those essential elements continue untouched to this day. The simplicity and quality of the ingredients make it a digestible and practical street food snack, consumed at every hour of the day, in kiosks, beaches, picnics, and while standing on street corners. We can call it Piada, pieda, pida, and pié, depending on the municipalities; still, the rustic flatbread represents the people’s frugal meal, and now elevated to stardom here in the US by numerous hand-held food franchises. And so what is Piadina? Let’s figure out how to make it and stuff it.
It is a synonym of the territory, a symbol of the Italian agricultural culture, and the nobility of the farmers who strongly promoted until it achieved the ambitious recognition of the IGP appellation. There are two Piadine Romagnole you should know. Besides the classic Romagnola, another Romagnola variation from the Rimini area exists, and it’s equally delicious. (Romagna is the twin region of Emilia, geographically recognized as Emilia Romagna).
Based on the Production Regulations, the classic Piadina Romagnola has a diameter between 15 and 25 centimeters and 4 to 8 millimeters in height. In comparison, the Rimini variety has a diameter ranging from 23 to 30 centimeters, but much slimmer. Both types are popular in Rimini, Forlì-Cesena, Ravenna, and Bologna (up to the communities near the archival course of the Sillaro River tributary).
The raw dough of Piadina Romagnola does not contain yeasts or raising agents (disodium diphosphate, corn, or wheat starch). Additional ingredients, such as the bicarbonate (sodium hydrogen carbonate), appear only in the manufacturing process choice.
The more traditional version has lard, as quoted above because the fat allows preserving the most authentic flavor of the piada. However, those who want something lighter can opt for extra virgin olive oil, perhaps from the hills of Rimini or Brisighella, if available.
From a nutritional perspective, the piada (piadina) fat (lard) ingredient is unsaturated and has less cholesterol than an equal amount of butter by weight. Unhydrogenated lard contains no transfats; for several century lard was regarded as a “poverty food” because of its plentiful availability and the fat of choice, especially among farmers and bakers.
An average Piadina Romagnola does not exceed 500 calories. Choices of filling will contribute to increasing the calories, such as high-fat creamy cheese and hams. However, plenty of options are available for a healthier filling version.
The cooking of Piadina
The recipe below offers the steps in making piadina at home with significant results. Mix the dough and shape into equal individual portions. Once the dough has rested, roll each part with a rolling pin.
Cook piadina, in hot terracotta surfaces or cast-iron; either method will work very well. The latter often takes precedents among traditionalists because the steel surface heats up considerably, allowing homogeneous cooking, color, and aroma. A sizeable non-stick skillet can substitute the cast-iron, but owning an iron pan and learning how to use it can offer several advantages for other cooking forms. Place the piadina in the pan and move it a little. Some parts will swell, and piercing the surface with a fork will prevent the piadina from swelling.
Repeat the operation on the other side. Cooking times are essential, as the pan’s temperature must not be less than 200 degrees- three minutes on each side, to avoid the risk of burning. Never keep the heat low: otherwise, the piadina will take longer to cook, losing all the moisture and becoming dry and hard to chew. Piadina can also be prepared in advance and stored, but not in the fridge. Wrap it with a cotton cloth, so it remains soft and fragrant.
How to stuff it
Piadina Romagnola allows great freedom in the choice of fillings. In the inland areas of Romagna, cheeses and cured meats are most popular, as well as Squacquerone cheese with rocket, or tomato, and eggplant au gratin with Prosciutto of Parma.
Going towards the coast, fish prevail: in the Rimini area, the piadina is typically paired with sardines or saraghina, radicchio, and onion. Another combination can include green asparagus, mascarpone cheese with a drop of traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena. There are, however, many combinations, including the classic watercress, potatoes, and sausage, which seems to be the favorite among locals. Lately, the new trend includes gelato, fresh fruit compotes, and Nutella, the omnipresent hazelnut spread, incredibly popular among the younger generation.
It can be a single dish with an excellent source of carbohydrates and proteins, all depending on the ingredients chosen for the content,
The origins of the piadina.
The history of piadina has very ancient roots. In the 7th century BC, the Etruscans were the first to use a mixture of flour and fat as a substitute for bread. Nevertheless, it is with the Romans that the piadina becomes widespread. The name was panis depsticius or crushed bread. The Roman politician and writer, Marzio Porzio Catone, the Censor, wrote the recipe in his Liber de Agricoltura around 160 BC. Thanks to the simple preparation and storage, it was unleavened bread with which the soldiers fed during the war campaigns.
It became popular around the 12th century AD as popular table additions thanks to low-cost cereals, not taxed by the landowners. The word piadina appeared for the first time in an official document of 1371, used by Cardinal Angelica in his description of Romagna as land territory.
For centuries, piadina has replaced bread, especially in times of crisis and famine, because of its easy-to-retrieve ingredients. In better economic times, those who were a little more affluent opted for olive oil instead of lard. At the end of World War II, severe bread rations afflicted the country; the piadina was much more present on the fortunate ones’ tables.
Watch out for imitations.
As with all food varieties, there are imitations frequently marketed. The Industrial Property Office of Canada sought a trademark (La piadina in North America) in a 2019 application. The Consortium for the Promotion and Protection of Piadina Romagnola PGI rejected and dismissed the request, based on the Consortium regulatory guidelines. Someone is always attempting to counterfeit a classic Italian cuisine product but often short-lived because veritable food relies on the quality of ingredients and artisanal procedures.
Piadina will be here to stay for further generations to enjoy. Its popularity has increased over the years. It has now appeared on fine dining tables worldwide while remaining the people’s street food snack, evidenced by the stats below.
According to the Consortium data, it went from 6,500 tons of Piadina Romagnola Igp in 2014 to over 27,000 in 2019.
Almost 50% of the piadina produced is Igp certified. In contrast, the total number of piadina produced is 51,000 tons, of which 42,000 are for large-scale distribution (2019 data), an increase of + 6.2% compared to 2017.
We Italians are traditionalists and habitual, not so inclined to alimentary revolutions. It is no wonder we do not believe in the “it looks like, or taste like.” but seek originality.
Classic piadina Romagnola
Ingredients for six
3 -3/4 cups of double 00 Italian flour (all-purpose flour can be a substitute)
Three tablespoons of high-quality lard or 50 grams of extra virgin olive oil
Two teaspoons of sea salt
1 -1/3 cups of bottled water
Pour the flour on the work surface, forming a fountain. Add the lard (or extra-virgin olive oil) and knead the dough using just enough lukewarm salted water to obtain a relatively firm dough. Knead vigorously for approximately ten minutes. Allow the dough to rest for 15-20 minutes. Divide the dough into six equal pieces. Roll or stretch each piece of dough into a disk 8 inches in diameter. Riddle each disk with the tines of a fork.
Heat a heavy well-seasoned black cast-iron pan on the range top. Before cooking, test the pan by letting a few drops of a cold waterfall on it. The pan is ready when the water skips and sputters across its surface. If the water just sits and boils, the pan is not hot enough to use. When the pan is hot, place a disk of dough on its surface. Let the disk heat well on one side and then turn it over. When little charred bubbles form on each side of the disk, the dough is ready. Cook each disk of dough in this manner, stacking the cooked piadine in a towel so that they stay warm.
Serve the piadine plain as a bread substitute, or cut into wedges with slices of prosciutto, salami, cooked ham, or grilled sausage. Piadine may also be heaped with sautéed, garlicky field greens, or folded over with a filling such as cheese, mortadella, or a cooked green vegetable such as radicchio or broccoli raab.