A piadina is a thin Italian flatbread that you often fold to make a sandwich. They're easy to make, and have a lovely soft, gently chewy texture that's perfect with simple fillings like prosciutto, mozzarella and more.
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A few years ago when my husband had the opportunity to go to a conference in Bologna, I jumped at the chance to tag along. As the home to some of the most famous foods from Italy, food in Bologna is something very much worth experiencing at the source.
We managed to make it a very foodie trip, between visiting producers of prosciutto, parmigiano reggiano and balsamic vinegar and many delicious meals in Bologna and the area. We made sure to try local specialties like tortellini in brodo, pumpkin ravioli and 'real' Bolognese. But there was also so much more that caught our eye in the many markets, cafes and stalls.
Where are piadina from?
Piadina, also called piada, are from the Romagna region of Italy, hence they go by a full name of piadina Romagnola. Romagna is in the north of the country and now part of the Emilia-Romagna region that Bologna and Parma are also part of. The bread has been around for centuries, though the exact origins are, not too surprisingly, a little unclear.
Some accounts suggest it was often made to fill the gap between batches of bread, or when wheat flour wasn't available, as you could make it with other types of flour. These days, it's a popular street food or quick snack.
You'll often find them sold in specialist piadineria stalls or small shops, available with a range of fillings. Particularly in the Romagna region, in towns like Rimini and Ravenna, they're incredibly popular, and they are becoming more so in the broader region, such as in Bologna, too.
While the broad ingredients and shape are much the same, you will find some differences in thickness in different places. In Rimini, they tend to be thinner and wider (plus more often called piada), while further North towards Ravenna they are a little thicker and smaller in diameter.
How is flatbread different from regular bread?
Just like other breads, flatbreads use flour, salt and a liquid of some kind as their base. The main thing that differentiates flatbread is that, well, it's flat. Instead of forming the dough into a ball, loaf shape or placing in a baking tin, you roll pieces out thinly before cooking.
Many flatbreads are unleavened, meaning they don't use yeast, and some definitions of flatbread define it as an unleavened bread. However there are a few examples of things that you typically group as a flatbread that use yeast, like pita bread.
These are broadly unleavened, in that they don't use yeast, but many recipes use a little baking powder or baking soda. It's generally not so much that it really makes the dough rise, but more helps it be less dense.
Flatbreads like these have a lot of plus sides for the home baker. For one, you don't need to wait for the yeast to do it's magic, so it's a lot quicker to make. Also, you don't need an oven - you cook it right on the stovetop. True, you might not have all those pretty air pockets, but you still have a tasty, gently chewy bread that's great to fill for lunch.
Piadina ingredients and cooking
Traditionally you make piadina with lard though many modern versions use olive oil instead. The oil is that bit lighter (plus it makes them vegetarian). Between lightness and flavor, and that I also find good lard hard to find, I use olive oil here.
Other ingredients are flour - you can use regular flour (plain/all purpose) for these - a little salt and optionally some baking powder or baking soda (I use a little baking powder). Liquid-wise, other than the oil, you will find some areas use water, others use milk. I have used a mixture of the two - the milk makes it slightly softer and adds to the flavor.
As mentioned, you cook these on the stovetop, traditionally on a clay or iron dish. A large skillet (frying pan) or crepe pan is more realistic for most homes and works just fine.
You cook the breads for a couple minutes until it starts to bubble up, then turn and cook on the other side. If needed, you can flip back and forth to have it cooked a little more. It should be soft, but also gently crisp with lightly colored spots on the outside.
A piadina is a wonderfully tasty flatbread that's easy to make and so versatile to use. Fill them with mozzarella, prosciutto and arugula, as I have here, or with other meats, cheeses and vegetables. You can even add sweet fillings like nutella, or just snack on it plain. So many options, and so worth making soon.
Try these other tasty breads:
- Peshwari naan (a tasty Indian flatbread with a gently sweet nutty filling)
- Imeruli khachapuri (a Georgian cheese filled bread - indulgent and delicious)
- Japanese milk bread (a lovely soft white loaf)
- Plus get more bread recipes and Italian recipes in the archives.
Piadina (Italian flatbread)
- 1 cup all purpose flour plain flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoon virgin olive oil or extra virgin (or lard - see above)
- ¼ cup water may not need all - start with a little less
- 2 tablespoon milk or additional water
- Place the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and mix together. Add the olive oil and stir through to give a shaggy mixture.
- Add most of the water and the milk, if using, and stir. Use your hands as it comes together to form a smooth dough. Add the rest of the water, if needed. It should be soft but not overly sticky.
- Dust a work surface with flour and lightly knead the dough for a couple minutes to ensure the dough is well mixed and smooth. Add a little extra flour or water as needed, making sure the dough stays soft but doesn't stick to you too much.
- Bring the dough into a ball and either place in a clean bowl and cover, or loosely wrap with a damp cloth or cling wrap/film. Leave to rest for around 30 minutes (or up to an hour).
- Divide the dough into two and roll each piece into a ball. Set one aside while you roll out the first. Dust a work surface with flour, and the top of the dough and roll out into a very thin circle. You're looking for it to be about 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) in diameter. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
- Warm a wide skillet/frying pan, griddle or crepe pan over a medium-high heat. Once warm, add one of the dough circles. Cook until it starts to bubble up gently, around 2 minutes, and cook on the other side for a similar time. You are looking for it to be cooked and have gently brown dots on each side, so turn an extra time if needed. Remove once cooked, set aside and cook the other bread.
- Enjoy as it is or fill eg with a traditional filling like arugula, prosciutto, mozzarella and tomato, other ham or cheese fillings or sweet such as chocolate spread and banana slices.
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