As la pizza is to i napoletani, la piadina is to i romagnoli.
In Romagna, the part of the Emilia-Romagna region on the Adriatic coast east of Bologna, the flat bread piadina is ubiquitous. It’s ancient and like so many other good foods was born of cucina povera. It consists of flour, strutto (lard), and water (sometimes milk). Numerous dialect names attest to its favor: Piada, pie, pjida, pièda, pji, pida.
Piadina is flat like pizza but with important differences.
Pizza dough is prepared with yeast. Piadina is not although bicarbonate of soda is sometimes added.
Pizza dough contains no fat. Piadina is tenderized with lard and increasingly these days with olive oil.
Pizza is baked in a very hot oven while piadine are grilled on an unglazed terra cotta stone known as una teglia or uno testo. More energy efficient! Once upon a time, the grilling took place over the ashes of wood fires. Now it’s completed on a stovetop. A cast iron pan or griddle works beautifully.
Piadine actually have more in common with Mexican flour tortillas than with pizza. Like other quick breads, they must be eaten warm when they’re most flavorful and pliable. Cut into wedges, they are a welcome addition to an antipasto platter.
Piadine also make delectable panini. Thinly sliced prosciutto or other salumi, sautéed lascinato kale or chard, any soft cheese, arugula, whatever you fancy—just lay the fillings on top of the bread and fold.
Piadine are fun for a casual do-it-yourself supper where guests grill and fill their own. The dough can be mixed several hours ahead of time and left to sit, covered in plastic, at room temperature or in the refrigerator (warm to room temp before grilling).
I tried several different recipes from good sources, including a fine one from Chef Paul Bartolotta in Food & Wine. His piadine are 10-inches wide, a bit too broad for my cast iron skillet, so I narrowed the width.
I experimented with cooling and freezing piadine. I found the reheated breads almost better than the freshly grilled ones. Even in such a thin bread, the layers of pastry were more defined.
- 3¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup unhydrogenated lard, at room temperature OR extra-virgin olive oil
- ¾ cup tepid water
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda with a fork.
- If using lard, spoon dollops onto the dry ingredients. With two forks or a pastry blender, cut the lard into the dry ingredients until it disappears. Drizzle on the water and toss with the forks until it clumps together. (If using oil, combine it with the water and drizzle over the dry ingredients. Toss with the forks until it clumps together.)
- Turn the mixture onto a work surface and knead for several minutes until smooth. Do not add more flour. With your palms, roll the dough into a fat tube, about 12 inches long. Cut into 12 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.
- One at a time, using a rolling pin on an unfloured surface, roll the balls into 7-inch rounds.
- Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat until a few drops of water dropped on the surface sizzle. Lightly coat the surface with lard or oil. One at a time, grill the piadine for about 30 to 40 seconds each side or until flecked with golden-brown spots. Remove to a cutting board. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Continue cooking the piadine, stacking them atop one another and re-covering with foil. The piadine can also be kept warm on a baking sheet in a 250°F oven.
- Serve right away. For antipasto or a snack, cut into wedges with a pizza cutter. For a panino, top with desired ingredients and fold in half.