What is a Piadina? I asked myself the same question the first time I saw it on a menu. It was only after I asked my Italian friend what the difference was between a piadina and a panino that I learned what it was – a flat bread sandwich. I know, you’re thinking, why would anyone want to replace thick slices of delicious foccacia with an unleavened tortilla? Why mess with such a good thing? The thing is, a piadina isn’t just any old tortilla – it’s light and flaky and oh-so-delicious that it deserves a category all of its own.
After living in Florence for several months, I was used to eating delicious focaccia paninis stuffed with peppers and salami and oozing green with extra virgin olive oil. But when I arrived in Bologna I noticed there weren’t any signs for paninis – instead there were signs for piadine. I was slightly saddened at first, but that all changed when I took my first bite of a classic piadina. “Well, there goes my panini eating days”, I thought to myself, -“hail to the piadina!” And thus began my obsession.
With origins in the Emilia-Romagna region, the piadina is particularly popular in towns such as Rimini, Ravenna, and Forli’. Although its ingredients may vary, it is typically made by kneading together flour, lard, salt, and warm water. The dough is then separated and rolled out into 8 inch rounds which are then cooked on a hot clay griddle. After the bread is made, its stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables and sometimes even nutella. The classic piadina is made with Squacquerone cheese, prosciutto, and fresh herbs and is best served warm.
Of course, I’m not the only one who has been obsessed with this delicious Romagnola treat – Giovanni Pascoli, an Italian poet from the late 1800’s dedicated an entire poem to the sacred piadina:
So where can you try a piadina? If you’re in the Emilia Romagna region, you can find them pretty much anywhere – bars, cafes, street stands – but for the rest of you in other parts of the world, the only way you’ll get a piadina is if you make one. So, gear up those cooking skills and clear the kitchen – here’s a recipe for the classic piadina.
Classic Piadina: Arugula, Prosciutto, and Fontina
- 31/2 cups of all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 cup butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices
- 3/4 cup cold water
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb ricotta cheese
- 6 oz fontina cheese
- 11/2 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice or lemon zest
- 4 oz prosciutto, thinly sliced
- 4 cups arugula
There are two methods for making the piadina dough. The Modern Method – using an electric stand mixer with a dough hook, OR the Ancient Method – using your very own hands. Both methods will work just fine, although the second one requires a bit more attention.
The Modern Method: Using your electric stand mixer, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add in butter, 1/2 tbsp at a time with the mixer on low. Continue adding the butter until mixture is light and crumbly. Then, add water 1 tbsp at a time until the dough forms a ball around the hook.
The Hand Method: For those of you without an electric mixer or with an adventurous spirit, you’ll have to knead the dough by hand. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add small chunks of butter and using your fingers, work the butter into the dough until light and crumbly (Similar to a pie crust, you want the butter to be in tiny little pieces throughout the dough to give the final product a light, melt-in-your-mouth texture.) Add water, 1 tbsp at a time until you can work the dough into a smooth ball. If dough is too moist, sprinkle with a little flour until smooth.
Once you have your dough ball, knead the dough for about 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface until nice and smooth. Cut it into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a small disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and place dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days.
When you are ready to cook your piadine, roll out out each dough disk on lightly floured surface using a rolling pin. (*A trick for rolling out the perfect circle: make sure the dough is in a smooth circle disk when you start. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough. Then, turn the dough a quarter (90 degrees) of a circle and flip it. Roll again. Continue doing this until you reach your desired thickness). Roll dough until you have a 1/8 inch thick disk.
Heat a griddle pan or grill. Brush each disk with olive oil. Place disk on griddle or grill and cook for about 3 or 4 minutes each side, until bubbly and brown spots appear. Remove from heat, wrap in foil and keep warm in the oven.
Combine ricotta, grated fontina, lemon, and basil. Spread cheese mixture on one half of each piadine. Add sliced prosciutto and arugula. Fold the piadina in half (like a quesadilla) and place on low heat. Use a panini press or spatula to press each piadine until cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Using a pizza cutter, cut each piadina into desired number of slices.
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