The region of Emilia-Romagna is draped across Northern Italy like the striped top of the country’s long sock. Its capital, Bologna, is famous in food circles as the home of tagliatelle alla ragú (made by heathens as ‘spaghetti Bolognese’), and is famous to petrolheads as the home of Ducati. In nearby Modena, you can find the factories of Ferrari, Pagiani, Lamborghini and Maserati.
After an under-taxing morning lazily bolting together temperamental, unreliable automotive artwork, the people of Emilia-Romagna go on the hunt for lunch. As for many of us, the cheese and ham sandwich is a firm favourite. However, like the French with their croque monsieur, the Italians have a cheese and ham sarnie that slays all others – these guys have piadina.
Piadina is an unleavened flatbread that is served hot from the pan (or ‘teglie‘) and stuffed with fillings that run the gamut from salad, through cured meats and cheeses, all the way to Nutella. It is absolutely fair to say that the Italians are crazy about piadine. Done right, they are amazing things – the best versions are spread over with fresh squaquerone cheese, piled with Parma ham and rocket, folded over and eaten on the run.
As an unleavened flatbread, piadina was always going to be pretty old. I was thinking ‘probably Roman,’ but it is way older than that – this stuff predates Romulus, the first King of Rome. Rounds of flat unleavened bread are recorded in Italy in 1200BC by people living in alpine stilt houses in Lombardia. ‘Piadina’ itself is first written down in 1371 in a document signed off by one of the contemporary Cardinals. By this time, piadine were an important food staple for the poor, and they carried Italy’s peasantry through the bubonic plague.
In 2011, piadina received PGI status, forever pinning its authenticity to Romagna.
The traditional recipe used today is shortened with lard, and has baking powder added as a raising agent. This version could not have been made before 1843 when Alfred Bird of Gloucestershire, England invented baking powder. Latterly, the lard (or ‘strutto’ as the Italians call it) is often replaced with olive oil, presumably to enable vegetarians to enjoy this classic snack. The lard version is always a bit softer, and therefore easier to fold. We provide quantities to do both.
- 250g plain flour
- 37g lard (or 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil)
- Half a teaspoon of salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 75ml milk
- 50ml water
- You own choice of fillings (think soft Italian spreadable cheeses, Parma ham, rocket, tomatoes etc.)
If making the lard version, combine the dry ingredients and fat in a food processor first.
For both versions, place all the ingredients in a stand mixer and run the dough hook until the dough is relatively even.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 mins until smooth and elastic. Wrap, and leave to stand at room temperature for half an hour.
To cook, heat a non-stick pan on very high with no oil. Roll out 150g portions of dough into 2mm-thick rounds. You can use a cutter to be neat, but we don't bother. Stack the raw piadina with a piece of baking sheet between each one. Once the pan is hot, put one piadina in, prick it all over with a fork, and cook until good brown spots appear (about 1 min). Flip over and do the other side. Repeat with all the piadina, keeping the cooked ones warm.
Fill your piadina with your favourite things, and then stuff it in your face while still warm.