Every population on Earth has discovered its own way to the Fundamental Equation of Food:
flour+water+heat + ε = good
(ε being the “etcetera” list parameter) and each claims its own to be the right real thing. (A little later, somebody tried to cook partially rotten dough and bread was discovered, opening the way to even more pointless debate on what consitutes real bread. We’ll touch the topic in a future post.)
Today we’ll stick with the most basic version of the Fundamental Equation, which of course produces unleavened bread, usually cooked in small, flattened discs for no other reason that chewing a thin, melt-in-the-mouth slice is generally considered preferable to attacking a rock-hard clump with your bare teeth.
So, depending on your current whereabouts you can now feast on nam, chapati, pita, tortilla, crêpes —or piadina, typically served in Italy with a patronising smirk to non-locals or flat-out foreigners.
A piadina dinner is not uncommon: piadina, your favourite fillings and possibly some salad are an extremely satisfying (and fast) solution for when you are not too much in the mood for cooking.
First off, let’s debunk some mythology: there is no such thing as “original” piadina. Even the well-known piadina romagnola is but one of the many versions, and you won’t find two identical recipes, as every Italian household has a personal recipe for almost everything.
There are over a hundred different varieties of piadina; consider that the “etcetera” parameter, ε: in your piadina you can independently add: lard, olive oil, salt, baking soda, egg yolk and milk. That’s a whopping 128 different versions for the combinatorially oriented among you. And we are not counting the fillings (see below).
Personally, I like one of the simplest versions, as follows. Today’s recipe is very special, as it is Grandma Ortolani’s (i.e. Simona’s mom) own , and she is also starring in the photos.
Apron-to-table time: 25 minutes.
Here’s what you need for 8 to 10 piadina (count 1.5-2 piadina per person):
- 500g all-purpose flour
- 180g of water
- 50g extra virgin olive oil
- 70g milk
- a pinch of salt
Secret: you can experiment and pick whatever proportion of liquids (milk/oil/water) you prefer, as long as they add up to 300g. I do not advise eliminating water altogether, as this will give you a dough that is too “heavy”.
Throw all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix vigorously for 4-5 minutes. That’s it.
Alternatively, make a volcano-like mound of the flour, put the salt, milk and olive oil in the volcano, pour some water and start working the dough with your hands, adding as much water as needed to get a soft, non-sticky dough.
Once the dough is ready, divide it into about 10 parts, and flatten each to a thickness of about 2mm and cook on a very hot pan or hot-plate, pinching repeatedly with a fork to avoid bubbles, and turning every 30 seconds. Cooking time is about 3 minutes, depending on whether you prefer it soft, tortilla-like or more tenacious and crisp.
How to make your piadina recipe
This recipe will give you a basic, unleavened, moderately tenacious piadina.
Of course you are free to experiment, but just to reduce the recipe space, here are some guidelines; the nice thing about piadina (one of the many) is that it’s so simple it’s almost error-proof, making it ideal for exploration:
- for softer piadina → add a teaspoonful of baking soda
- for a millefoil piadina → use 50g of lard and reduce the olive oil to 1tablespoonful
- for a millefoil, more flavourful piadina → add 50g of lard and one egg yolk, and reduce the olive oil to 1 tablespoonful.
Every household develops its own “perfect recipe”, you are invited to find yours. Piadina is an excellent companion to most dishes, but owes its fame to its “standalone” version, that is filled piadina…
Piadina filling favourites
I think it is only fair to assume you will make piadina to have some sort of Italian meal. So, while no one really keeps you from filling it with something more exotic, here’s a (partial) list of actual italian piadina stuffings, in order of my personal preference:
- arugula and stracchino
- bologna and stracchino
- sausage and “erbe” (chickory and spinach, boiled, wrought and sautéed with olive oil and garlic)
- hot sausage, mozzarella and tabasco
- sausage and mozzarella
- “erbe” and pecorino cheese (fresh or mid-aged)
I am very conservative on these issues, so I rarely go beyond number 2. But, for the joy of the more combinatorially oriented among you, here’s a list of single fillings you can use or combine into couples, triplets, quadruplets or what have you. Enjoy over
- hot sausage
- cured ham
- “erbe” (chickory and spinach, boiled, wrought and sautéed with olive oil and garlic)
- roast zucchini
- roast bell peppers
- roast eggplants
- fresh pecorino
- mid-aged pecorino
- hard-boiled egg slices
- fresh onion
So, what are you doing still reading, go make some and buon appetito!