What is piadina?
Piadina, or piada, pieda, pida, or piè, according to local dialects, is a flatbread made from wheat flour typical of Romagna and the upper part of the Marche region, in particular in the Italian provinces of Ravenna, Forlì-Cesena, Rimini, and Pesaro and Urbino.
Piadina looks like a thin, flattened, circular sheet and is eaten in slices or whole and stuffed to taste: cold meats, cheeses, and vegetables or jam, honey, or spreadable chocolate, like Nutella.
The two main variants of piadina
Piadina Romagnola has very ancient origins. It comes from a poor and simple peasant tradition, but over the years, it has appeared on the tables of many gourmets and has achieved worldwide fame.
Currently, piadina is registered in the list of traditional Italian agri-food products (PAT) of the Emilia-Romagna region. In 2003, some associations for the promotion and protection of the Romagna piadina requested PGI certification for the two variants of this product: Piadina Terre di Romagna and Piadina Romagnola di Rimini.
The differences between the two piadina variants above concern the size: traditionally, the piadina prepared along the coast (in the area between Riccione and Rimini) is thinner and wider than that consumed inland (e.g. in the Cesena and Forlì area). In further contrast, the piadina in the Pesaro area is often prepared as a puffed version, which is even tastier because it is fatter and made strictly with lard.
Piadina is the quintessential street food of Romagna. In fact, you can’t travel through Romagna without noticing the famous and characteristic chioschi, small shacks like the one pictured below, where piadina is made and sold mostly by women called piadinare.
History and origins of the flatbread from Romagna
The first to cook a rudimentary version of piadina were the Etruscans, who were the pioneers in the cultivation and processing of cereals and therefore in the production of sfarinate, which closely resembles modern-day piadina. Both are prepared without yeast and cooked on a metal or stone plate.
Sfarinate, the rudimentary piade, continued to be also produced in ancient Rome, where they represented food for the rich, because they had to be eaten freshly cooked; already after a few hours, in fact, they became hard and unchewable. Therefore, they were not suitable for plebeians who, on the other hand, needed food that could be kept for a long time.
In the Middle Ages, there was an inversion of roles, so to speak: given that all the leavened products were the domain and exclusive preserve of the rich, simple piadinas produced without yeast and with less valuable flours, such as barley, became the food of the poor.
As cooking schools were born and gastronomy became a real art, the piadina was relegated to the corner of poor food. It was considered a “rude bread,” widespread only among the less wealthy classes who also added acorns and dried legumes to its dough to make it as nourishing and satiating as possible.
During the twentieth century, the piadina experienced its period of resurgence, initially spreading over all the Romagna tables. Then it became a street food, prepared and cooked to order in kiosks along the Adriatic coast, and therefore, thanks to tourists, it gained international fame as early as the 1950s.
Traditional piadina Romagnola
- 4 cups flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ cups lukewarm water
- 1.80 oz rendered pork lard*
- Pour all the flour onto a flat surface, making a well in the center.
- In a bowl, mix the baking powder and salt.
- Pour the salt, baking powder, and rendered pork lard (or olive oil) into the center of the well and start mixing it with the flour.
- Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until quite smooth, uniform, and soft but not sticky (if it’s still sticky, add more flour).
- Make a ball and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Let it rest at least 30 minutes at room temperature (if the dough is being prepared more than 1 hour in advance, you can keep it in the fridge and, when needed, remove one hour before using it).
- Heat a large nonstick pan on medium-high heat.
- Divide the ball into about 5 pieces (about 140-150 g per ball).
- On a flat surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a circle of desired thickness (ideally about ⅙ inch).
- Once the pan is hot, add a circle of dough, pricking it all over with a fork to avoid air bubbles.
- Cook for about 1-2 minutes for a thin piadina, 2-3 minutes for a thicker one, or however long it takes for brown spots to form on the bottom. Then flip and cook for about the same time.
- Remember that piadina should be served hot, so it’s recommended to have your fillings ready (see below).
- Once cooked, you can serve piadina immediately by placing your desired filling on one side of the circle and then folding it into a half moon, or by cutting the piadina into triangles to use like pieces of bread.
Fillings for piadina
Piadina is traditionally eaten with salumi (cured meats) like salami, but you can also use prosciutto, coppa, or something similar. It is also very common to serve piadina with a very soft, young cheese traditionally from Romagna, called stracchino, which is spread on the surface of the piadina and served with arugula on top. Una bontà!