Saturday, July 30, 2011


Piadina Rimini style

I am hopelessly in love with the piadina, the large flat round bread (25cm circa in diameter) of the Romagna region, north of Tuscany (the region is Emilia-Romanga). It was love at first sight and I have remained faithful to it since the first day I indulged. I am very happy however, that it is something that is only sold in abundance within the boundary of its native area, and that I live in Tuscany. Otherwise, the temptation to dive into a pool of piadinas would be an incessant torturous desire.
Piadina Ravenna style
There are kiosks selling piadina (piada or pida, as it can also go by) on street corners or on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere in particular, everywhere in Romagna, and it replaces the bread in the baskets on tables in trattorias (when the large bread circles of joy are cut into triangles). The kiosks sell the piadina alone (for people to take home, as others in different regions would buy bread) or they make up a sandwich with it, adding a variety of fillings such as prosciutto, rocket, sausage, cheese……it is irresistible. The kiosks also sell the crescione (or cassone), a piadina form of the calzone pizza, which is a piadina folded over to make a welded pocket, with the filling inside, and cooked in the oven. In the trattorias, a classic starter is the freshly made, still warm piadina cut into wedges and served with a plate of squaquerone (white soft runny cheese) and a plate of prosciutto and you create your own trinity of taste – caramelised figs is a great thing to add to the cheese also!
The ingredients of piadina are flour, lard, salt and water – no yeast so that it remains flat. There are now some places which replace the lard with olive oil, but otherwise the recipe remains the same throughout the region and it is the thickness of the piadina which gives it the signature stamp of local origin. Ravenna, one of the most northern cities in Romagna, makes their piadina very thick (or ‘alta’ – high- as the Italians say), whereas Rimini, one hour directly south on the Adriatric coast, makes theirs very thin. But, as the Romans said (and the piadina is similar to the type of flat bread that the Roman soldiers made), ‘in media stat virtus’ -the best is the equilibrium of the two extremes - and I prefer the piadina from Cesena, situated right in the middle between Ravenna and Rimini. It is the compromise of the two – it is perfect. 
Tuscan bread
The first written testimonies of the piadina date to 1371 when the cardinal legate, Angelico de Grimoard, listed its ingredients "Si fa con farina di grano intrisa d'acqua e condita con sale. Si può impastare anche con il latte e condire con un po' di strutto" (it is made with flour, water and salt. It can also be mixed with milk and a bit of lard).
Not that I dislike the typical bread of Tuscany, I just don’t dream about it as I do the piadina. Many people, however, don’t show any affection at all to the traditional pane toscano as it is flavourless, due to its lacking salt as well as its rather tough crust. The saltless Tuscan bread was already immortalised by Dante in the XVII canto in Paradise of the Divine Comedy in the early 1300’s.  He wrote : ‘tu proverai sì come sa di sale lo pane altrui’ (you shall learn how salt is the taste of another’s bread) when referring to his exile from his beloved Florence. 
Bruschetta using Tuscan bread
One explanation for the lack of salt in the bread was that Pisa, in the twelfth century, one of Florentia’s many enemies, increased the price of salt to the inland cities and the Florentines retaliated by using it only when necessary, for meat preservation, thus taking it out of the bread. Another explanation for the saltless recipe is of a culinary kind. As the Tuscans have always traditionally liked strongly seasoned (speziato) and pungent meats, strong tasting pecorino cheese (sheep cheese) and liver pate, the bland oven baked bread was ideal to balance these flavours (again the in media stat virtus rings true) and is perfect to use when mopping up the sauces afterwards. It is true that Tuscan prosciutto is ‘salato’ (salted) and not ‘dolce’ (sweet) like that of Emilia-Romagna. Tuscan bread is not eaten by itself, it requires an accompaniment. In fact, as a starter in traditional Tuscan trattorias, there is often Fettunta (translation is oily slice, fetta – slice & unta – oily) on the menu which is quite simply a slice of Tuscan bread rubbed with garlic and then drizzled with good local extra virgin olive oil and salt. 
The lack of salt is also linked to the bread's relatively short life span.  It does indeed become rock hard after a few hours, hence the Tuscan imagination with the number of dishes requiring stale bread (panzanella, ribollita and pappa al pomodoro).
Tuscans do, however, make a bread that is tasty by itself, the Schiacciata. This is a bit like a ready-made fettunta, which seems like squashed (translation of the name) focaccia and is covered with oil, salt and sometimes rosemary. During the grape harvest season, the Tuscan bakers make an addition to their bakery selection, a winner for those with a sweet tooth, with the schiacciata con l’uva. Some of the freshly picked grapes, instead of going to make us some good chianti, end up being baked on top of the bread dough, pips and all, as well as a good dose of sugar and it turns into a slice of heaven!
Schiacciata con l'uva

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! I wish that all "foodies" would follow your lead and give us not just recipes and empty (mostly snobby) platitudes, but the real living history, warts and all, of why we eat what we eat.