piadina Italian flatbread

17 January 2010

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Most cuisines from around the world include some form of flatbread – essentially a simple dough made with flour, water and salt that is rolled out before being cooked. Think chapati, lavash, naan, pitta, roti and tortilla, to name only a few.

Whilst in Italy recently, my sister’s boyfriend was fortunate enough to be taught how to make piadina, the traditional flatbread of the Romagna region, by a friend’s mother. Today I watched him make it and can’t wait to give it a try myself. No more late night/early morning trips to the corner shop in my pyjama bottoms, desperate for a bread fix. Once you’ve mastered this, it will become a staple. The quantities below are approximations since the measuring is done largely by eye and by handling the dough to check its consistency. Like so many things worth doing, practice makes perfect.

Ideally you need to source some farina di grano duro, flour made with the best quality hard durum wheat, and mix this half-and-half with plain flour. If you can’t find it, you could substitute wholewheat semolina flour as we did, although the mixing ratio is then slightly different, as described below.

Piadina Romagnola

1.25 cups plain flour
0.25 cup semolina flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
around 1.5 tablespoons milk
around 1.5 tablespoons water
around 1 tablespoon olive oil

You will need a large surface on which to work – a scrupulously clean kitchen counter or table, or a big pastry board.

Make the flours into a pile in the middle of your work surface and mix them together. Add the bicarbonate of soda and mix it in. Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk, water and olive oil. Add a generous sprinkling of salt. Start incorporating the flour into the wet ingredients with your fingers, little by little. Keep mixing until everything comes together, then knead until you have a smooth, elastic but relatively stiff dough.

Divide the dough into two balls and cover them with a damp tea towel to stop them drying out. Heat a large flat non-stick frying pan (or an authentic Italian testo – flat iron pan – if you have a really well-equipped kitchen).

Take one of the balls of dough and roll it out until it is a few millimetres thick. Put the flatbread in the hot pan and prick the surface all over with a fork. After about 15 seconds, turn the bread over and do the same on the other side. Flip it again and repeat the process until each side has been in contact with the pan for about 30-45 seconds – the outside of the bread should be crispy, with a few blackened spots.

Remove from the pan and do the same with the other ball of dough.

Best served warm.

Piadina is conventionally cut into quarters, then each piece is split horizontally and stuffed with fillings such as cheese and prosciutto, or even Nutella for a sweet treat. We ate ours with a delicious soup – recipe for that coming up tomorrow!

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