Week Six: Italian Breads
Today, I give you a very obscure Italian bread: the piadina. I don’t actually even recall seeing this bread in the times I’ve traveled to Italy; it’s only been in textbooks and anecdotal recountings that I’ve even heard of such a thing. It’s a true Italian flatbread: rustic, simple, and so very delicious. Piadine (the plural form) originated in the Romagna region of Italy, in the central-North area of the country. It was originally a peasant’s food, as it is unleavened, and made of a few simple ingredients.
Yes, it is very similar to the Mexican or Central American flour tortilla, both in composition and in form. They both utilize a medium-protein flour, salt, water, and some form of shortening. The tortilla traditionally uses lard, however, while the piadina generally uses olive oil. Both are rolled to the same approximate size and thickness; but the tortilla is far more common than the piadina. Tortillas are served with every imaginable food, and are often used in lieu of utensils. On the other hand, piadina are more often served with lighter fare, such as salads, or slivers of cured meats and cheeses. A recent addition to the piadina’s repertoire is a thin spread of that heavenly gift to the palates of the world, Nutella.
Another main difference between the ubiquitous tortilla and the obscure piadina is just that: the variance in popularity. And why? They are equally as indigenous to the culinary culture as one another, and each is just as ancient as the other; but despite the nearly-identical makeups, the tortilla is far more easily associated with salsa and cilantro than the piadina is with pesto and parsley. My best hypothesis is that we (in the US) are geographically closer to the home cooking of the Mexican and Central American kitchen – and both of these breads are typically more of a home-cooked item than an accompaniment for a fine dining dish. Additionally, Italians have far more experience with many other wheat-based breads; while the Mexicans and Central Americans were long relegated solely to the use of corn-based breads, which adapt well and easily to the flatbread format.
Both breads are common street-vendor foods; but again, the piadina is most often seen at those sorts of carts, or in a home kitchen; while the tortilla may now be found in nearly every kitchen, from the lowliest to the most haute. I say, it’s time to give the piadina its due! Made so super quickly, from ingredients you probably have in your kitchen right now, they are a great accompaniment to anything you want to eat bread with. They have the soft texture and fruity olive-oil-flavor of many other Mediterranean breads, but also the speed and ease of a typical flatbread.
Since these breads can bake up soft or crisp, depending on how long you cook them (or reheat in an oven), you can be the decider on texture – not always the case with good bread! As another suggestion, Michael Chiarello recently introduced these breads to the Food Network crowd, and spread the dough with an olive oil/garlic/crushed red pepper paste, which looks absolutely fantastic. Try mixing cayenne into the dough itself, or maybe just some dried basil or oregano. Of course, the more you mix into/add to the basic dough, the further you get away from the authentic (and rare!) piadina experience. But if the Italians have taught me anything, it’s to follow the passion of the moment, and just go with what you’re feeling. Capisce? I know you do!
From Bread by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter
Makes four 7-inch rounds
6 ounces unbleached white flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
7 tablespoons lukewarm water
1. Sift the flour and salt together into a large bowl; make a well in the center.
2. Add the oil and water to the flour and gradually mix to form a dough. Knead on a lightly-floured surface for 4-5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 20 minutes.
3. Heat a griddle or a heavy pan over medium heat. Divide the dough into four equal pieces and roll each into a 7 inch round. Cover until ready to cook.
4. Lightly oil the hot griddle, add one or two piadine, and cook for about 2 mintues, or until they are starting to brown. Turn the piadine over and cook for a further 1 – 1 1/2 minutes. Serve warm.
1. My piadine seemed to keep fairly well in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator; but when I reheated them in the oven a couple of days later, they were rather tough. I highly recommend eating them as soon as possible after baking.
2. If your pan is too hot, the piadine will develop burnt spots where the air bubbles form. If you don’t mind, this is not necessarily a problem.
3. I recommend using all-purpose rather than bread flour. Long story short, the protein content of all-purpose flour works better in this application.