The Romagna's Bread
The real foodlovers prefer it with Parma’s ham or Felino’s salami.
The piadina epitomizes very well traditions and daily rites of eating together.
Wherever in Romagna the ingredients and preparatory procedures are the same, at the limit of the sacredness. [in an almost sacred repetition].
The piadina is bread, or, better, the national food of Romagna’s inhabitants
this statement by poet Giovanni Pascoli perfectly sums up this product’s essence, able to represent Romagna and Romagnoli at their most authentic and simple.
Ascribable to the family of unleavened bread, the piadina is made of three basic elements – flour, water and salt – with the addition of lard, essential to get unmistakable taste and flavour, unique to this bread.
Piadina and Romagna have become an inseparable combination, as evidenced by the recent birth of the "Consortium for the protection and promotion of piadina" and by the relevant product specifications that govern its processing. Geographical boundaries have been set too, limiting piadina production within the three provinces of Ravenna, Rimini, Forlì-Cesena and in part of the Bolgona province, that’s to say within the nine municipalities along the route of the river Sillaro. The “piadina kingdom", therefore, follows the boundaries of historic Romagna, a region that, though not recognized at a political and administrative level, is characterized by a strong identity built through centuries of history and common traditions.
If each of the “Seven Sisters” (Cesena, Faenza, Forli, Lugo, Imola, Ravenna, Rimini), which make up the Romagna region, has different peculiarities, while being traced back to a common matrix, even the piadina geography seems to reflect these manifold varieties: thinner and wider in Rimini, going north it increases the thickness and decreases the diameter; combinations vary as well as the the colors of the kiosks of "piadinari, the famous piadina makers", located throughout the whole Romagna. However, the almost sacred value and emotions that the piadina arises when it appears on the Romagna’s tables, are everywhere unchanged, no matter whether it is a piadina made by the "home rezdora", or baskets filled with sliced piadinas that all self-respeced Romagna’s taverns serve as starters. Needless to say that, in order to honour tradition, it is almost an obligation to wash it down a good Sangiovese glass of wine.
Today the piadina is a large consumer good, not only manufactured by hand but also industrially; its orginin, though, is that of a poor substitute of bread, consumed by peasant families in place of more expensive and less satiating bread.
The history of piadina starts a long way off both in space and time; therefore it is difficult to univocally identify its origins. Traces of similar products date back even to the Etruscans and to the ancient Romans of the upper classes who, it is known, were used to eat unleavened cakes.
Similar doughs became a very important element of Roman nourishment, although the success of leavened loaves progressively confined unleavened bread to religious practices only.
Unleavened bread spread across all the eastern Mediterranean basin (e.g. Pita throughout the Balkan countries); its Greek etymology from “plaukous” (meaning simple focaccia) does support the hypothesis of piadina’s Eastern origins, through Ravenna, capital of the Byzantine Empire and gateway to the East. The analogy with unleavened bread suggests another hypothesis according to which the piadina would have arrived in Romagna through the Jewish community of Ferrara.
No matter how controversial its origins are, the piadina always come back, alternating phases of oblivion and rebirth. During famines, the consumption of unleavened doughs spread; in times of poverty, as in the late Middle Ages, peasants would bake buns made with less valuable grains and no yeast at all.
The first recognized piadina recipe dates back to 1371 and is found in the “Romandiola Descriptio” by Legate Cardinal Anglico de Grimoard:
It is made with wheat flour, soaked in water and seasoned with salt. You can also mix it with milk and season it with a little lard.
From this description little has changed, as to make a good piadina one must knead 500 g of flour with 300 g of lard; add salt, a pinch of baking soda and a lot of warm water until dough is stiff. The dough is then rolled out, more or less thinly, in rounds of about ½ cm thick and a 15 cm diameter and cooked on the “testo”, a disc of red-hot baked clay placed directly on live charcoal.
The piadina, which is delicious in itself - especially if just cooked - lends itself to a variety of combinations, especially with salami (ham in the first place) and cheeses, starting with the "squacquerone", a typical soft cheese of Romagna, often enriched with some tufts of rocket.
An interesting version is “crescione", a stuffed piadina, folded and closed before cooking. The range of fillings is very wide and can satisfy all tastes, but the filling par excellence are spontaneous herbs like chard or watercress (crescione), commonly used in Romagna’s gastronomy, which not coincidentally gives its name to this gluttony.
Always starting from a very thinly rolled out piadina dough, you can get the “tortelli on the slab”, a typical recipe of Romagna’s hillsides. In this case the filling consists of boiled potatoes seasoned with bacon, grated cheese and pepper. The filling is spread over half of the pastry sheet and covered with the remaining half; using a “tortelli wheel” you cut the ravioli into small squares and then you cook on a slab.
The story that Giovanni Pascoli writes in the poem "The Piada" (from "The new Poemetti") offers perhaps the most impressive portrait of the piadina and what it represents.
Here's how he describes the preparation:
My poor pile burns and already shines:
I’m slowly putting the black testo of porous clay
on two bricks.
Maria, pour the water into the flour and add
the salt; gift of you, God; but, think,
man sells me what you present us with!
You fill the seas, and man gives it out
in the tremolous balance: thou season
the moors and it’s missing on the table.
But you, Maria, with your mild hands,
you tame the dough and then you widen and pave it;
and here it is smooth as a sheet, and large
like the moon; and over the open hands
you bring it to me, and you lay it down soft on the
hot-testo, and then thou keep silence toward.
I turn it and stir the fire below with tongs
until it creaks invaded by
the mild-hot, and swells in bubbles:
and the smell of bread invades the house.