One of the things I love so much about food – beyond the preparing, eating, and sharing of it – is the nostalgic value it often holds. For example, the smell of olive oil heating up in a pan immediately transports me back to my grandfather’s house in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where he was always cooking up something delicious; my sister is reminded of our childhood summers anytime she has a hot fudge sundae; a friend of mine from Mexico taught me how to make avocados stuffed with tuna, tomatoes, and jalapenos, a dish his mom made him when he was little, that brings him back to his after-school elementary days.
Even if you’re a fan of Italian food, you may not have heard of piadina. Little known in the States, piadina is a flatbread that is typical of the Romagna region of Italy. It can be filled with a variety of cheeses, meats, or vegetables. It is the Romagna region’s equivalent to the Mexican taco, the American wrap, or the Scandinavian open faced sandwich – a quick but delicious meal that can be personalized any way you want and eaten on the go if necessary.
I was introduced to piadina for the first time while living in Bologna during my year abroad in 2009, and it is subsequently synonymous with that first wonderful year in Italy. Piadina (usually filled with arugula with stracchino cheese) became my go to lunch in between classes at the University of Bologna (thanks to La Piadineria very close to Piazza Verdi). My friends and I would stop there often and stay chatting for hours, sometimes ordering several different piadine to divide amongst us and try. I remember watching my friend Gloria (born and raised in Romagna) and her mom expertly rolling out piadine when I went to her house for dinner, turning them quickly on the stove and then serving them to accompany whatever delicious primo she had prepared that evening. Indeed, piadina for me is more than just a filling lunch– it is also a reminder of Bologna, one of the most wonderful places in the world for me (nothing against Rome of course!)
Everyone in Emilia Romagna has their own version of piadina, whether it be thick or thin, made with or without baking powder, or with or without milk — it is difficult to define what the “standard” piadina recipe is. This is also because the azdore (a word in romagnolo dialect that describes how a typical Romagna housewife must know how to cook) are not so quick to give away their recipes: “Mo babina, mé a vag a och!” (which roughly translates to “Honey, I just eyeball it!” in Romagnolo dialect.)
Whenever I’m missing Bologna I can thankfully make my own piadina at home. They are extremely easy to prepare – just mix up the dough, roll it out, and cook it on the stove – no oven or rising time needed. If you wanted, you could even make a dessert piadina, adding a little sugar to the dough and filling it with Nutella. Note that the classic piadina is usually made with strutto, a kind of lard that is a very common ingredient in Bolognese cooking. If you want to make this dish healthier, vegetarian, or just can’t find strutto in the U.S, no worries – olive oil can be substituted! The taste will be a bit different, but still delicious. Enjoy everyone!
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
Over low heat, mix together the water, milk, and olive oil. Next, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt and create a well of flour within the bowl. When the olive oil has melted in to the water and milk, and everything is well combined, let the mixture cool to room temperature. Next, add the liquid mixture to the center of the flour well a little at a time, and begin to incorporate the flour into the liquid ingredients starting from the inside of the well.
Continue to mix the liquid ingredients in to the flour mixture until it begins to form a dough. Turn the dough out on to a clean work surface and begin to knead tit until it becomes smooth, then let it rest for 20 minutes. In the meantime, heat a large skillet over medium low heat (in Romagna they use a special griddle to make piadina, but I imagine our American readers don’t have one of those handy!)
Divide the dough in to four equal pieces and roll in to balls. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the pieces of dough out to the desired thickness, as if you were making a small pizza. Keep in mind that the piadina will puff a bit during cooking, so it’s best not to make them too thick. Place one piadina on the skillet at a time, piercing the surface with the tines of a fork. Turn the piadina a few times – you will know it’s ready when it turns brown in a few places and is no longer doughy. Serve with whatever cheese, vegetables, and salumi you like. Makes 6 piadine.