Yesterday it was the peasant dish, today it is widely appreciated by the most refined palates. Piadina has also been the inspiration for many Italian poets, like the famous Giovanni Pascoli. And who better than him, born and bred in Romagna, to praise the food of his land?
The ‘rough bread of Rome’: la piadina.
In Europe, it was during the Renaissance that the culinary art started to develop with the first culinary schools. In Italy, every region had its own bread, but at this time, flatbreads made with no yeast become less popular. Only in very few regions, and in time of most need, was flat bread eaten by the poorest members of society. Piadina, which was called by Giovanni Pascoli “the rough bread of Rome”, is a white, unleavened, flatbread made with flour and lard, and cooked on a stone or crock hotplate. The origins of the word “piadina” are not known, it could come from the Greek word “plaukons”, which means “flatbread”. If that were the case, the word would stem from the byzantine heritage of Romagna. In the 16th century, piadina was made with very cheap and poor quality flour and cereal. In times of food shortage, portions of flour were even replaced by sawdust. In the 19th century piadina was still made with cheap products, like cornflour. A century later, piadina became a more refined bread, and the tradition behind its preparation was passed down the generations. Girls as young as 5 learnt to use the rolling pin to flatten out the bread. The traditional fillings were: sausages cooked on the grill, homemade salami, coppa pork meat, and boiled cabbage seasoned with oil, garlic and rosemary.
In the 1940s and 1950s piadina became a hit with tourists hitting the coast in the summer. At this time, piadinas were sold in little kiosks and served with grilled sausages, spit-roasted pork, gratin tomatoes and aubergines.Piadina is the speciality bread of Romagna. It is also the take-away food par excellence: you can eat it whilst walking, or take it with you to the beach. Each city has a different take on piadina. In Faenza, piadina is very thick, made with lots of yeast and baking soda, and often even eggs. It is not the piadina I like. In Forlì piadina is also thick, but not as much as the one made in Faenza, and it is made with yeast and honey, and sometimes even milk. But my recipe is very different. In Rimini, piadina is thin and the best in all of Romagna.
Today piadina is eaten every day, just like any other bread. You can find piadina in schools, in fast food chains, restaurants and hotels. Nevertheless, it is becoming more difficult to find good quality piadinas, as women cooking it the traditional way are fewer and fewer. Piadina has also become so popular that it is now sold in all supermarkets, but with processed-piadina, quality is compromised. There are still a few traditional kiosks making piadina the old way, and that is where people go when they want to eat the best piadina in town.
Piadina can be eaten as a substitute for bread. Most of the time, piadina is filled and bent into half. The most common fillings are: grilled sausages and fried onion, charcuterie, spit-roasted pork, soft cheese and rocket, gratin vegetables, or sweet jams and hazelnut spread.
Crescia o Piada sfogliata
In time, piadina has taken new forms, like “cassone” and “piada sfoglia”.
The piada sfogliata has, in reality, very antique origins, and used to be eaten by the Duchies of Montefeltro in the 15th-16th century. It is actually deemed that the piadina has taken form as a cheaper version of the original piada sfogliata. The piada sfogliata was eaten by the aristocracy and made with rich ingredients, such as eggs, lard and pepper. Today, the piada sfogliata is generaly made with flour, water, lard, and salt and pepper. The famous poet Giovanni Pascoli, who lived for a long time in Urbino, wrote in some of his letters to a friend: ‘now that I have left Urbino and have not come back for thirty years, I still think of the piada sfogliata I used to eat there’.
Cassone o crescione
The cassone, o crescione,(in romagnolo carsòn o casòun) is a piadina that is filled and folded before cooking. The name crescione comes from the original herbs that were used as fillings, called the erba crescione. The erba crescione is now not very common and has been replaced by chard or spinach. The most common fillings for cassone are: chard or spinach, with or without cheese, such as mozzarella or ricotta; mozzarella and tomato sauce; potatoes and pumpkin.
The newest version of piadina is the “rotolo”: a piadina that is filled and twisted into a roll. Here are some pictures of how we make it at the Papere.
Today, piadina is known all over Italy, and in some parts of the world. The kiosks have now become small restaurants. The piadina can also be made suitable for vegans by replacing the lard with olive oil.