Menu
Search
Menu
Close

We make mistakes so you don’t have to.

Try CooksIllustrated.com Free for 14 Days

Email is required
How we use your email address

Quick and Easy Italian Flatbreads

By Annie Petito Published

Meet piadine: the rustic, tender-chewy rounds that you can make without yeast, lengthy rising times, or even your oven.

Making bread, whether it’s crusty baguettes or plush, buttery brioche, is incredibly rewarding. But it almost always takes a long time—and, depending on the loaf, a lot of finesse.

That’s why I love making flatbreads. With little to no yeast, these thin, rustic rounds come together fast and cook up even faster, sometimes right on the stovetop. And piadina, the centuries-old Italian flatbread, might be the easiest and fastest to make of all.

Associate editor Annie Petito rolls dough balls into 9-inch rounds.

Originally from the northern region of Emilia‑Romagna but now popular all over Italy, piadina (“little plate”) delivers a moist, tender chew that falls somewhere between the texture of a flour tortilla and that of an unpuffed pita. Traditionally, the dough was made from flour, salt, lard (Emilia‑Romagna is pig country), and water and the breads were baked on earthenware disks over an open fire. Contemporary recipes often call for leavening the dough with baking powder and cooking the rounds in a cast-iron skillet on the stovetop, but the process is just as quick (about an hour) and straightforward: Mix the ingredients to form a smooth dough, let it rest briefly, roll it into disks, poke them with a fork to prevent puffing, cook them until spotty brown on both sides, and eat them warm—usually folded around sandwich fillings such as meats, cheeses, greens, or spreadable sweets such as Nutella or ricotta with honey.

A few ingredients, an hour’s work, and endless versatility? No wonder this bread enjoys a cultlike following (it has even been the subject of poetic verse). I could feel myself joining in the fervor even before I started cooking.

A Poet Who Loved Piadine

  • Denizens of Romagna cherish their native piadine with the same pride that Texans feel for smoky brisket, and have for centuries. In fact, 19th-century poet Giovanni Pascoli canonized the flatbread in his work “La Piada,” describing it as “smooth as paper, and as big as the moon.” These days, the region is still full of dedicated piadinari, who sling the flatbread as a quick lunch or snack.

     

     

     

     

     

    Giovanni Pascoli

A Little Lift

The first decision I wanted to make was whether or not to include baking powder, since that would significantly affect the texture of the bread.

I mixed two batches of dough in the food processor, adding ¾ teaspoon of baking powder to one batch along with the flour and salt. Then I worked cup of lard into each, followed by a slow stream of water that transformed the mixture into a soft dough. I shaped each batch into four balls, covered them with plastic wrap, and let them sit for 30 minutes so the gluten would relax and make rolling them out easier. I then rolled them into 10-inch disks (a common size), poked them, and cooked one from each batch in a preheated 12-inch cast-iron skillet.

Both breads were tender and a bit too rich thanks to all that fat in the dough. But the leavened crumb was softer and more open, preferred to that of the denser unleavened piadina. The baking powder was in, and going forward I also rolled each round to 9 inches in diameter, which helped them sit flat in the skillet (the actual cooking surface of a 12-inch skillet can be less than 10 inches, so a 9-inch round just fits).

Lard? Oil? Doesn’t Matter

Lard is the fat of choice in most piadine recipes because it’s traditional, not because it’s essential for a great dough. Unless you use high-quality, flavorful lard, which gives pastry and bread a subtle savoriness but can be hard to find, lard tastes neutral. It doesn’t improve the texture either. Often when we incorporate a saturated fat into a baked good (such as flaky biscuits or pie dough), we use a high ratio of fat to flour and cut the fat into the flour in distinct pieces in order to achieve flakiness. Neither is true for piadine: They need only a small amount of fat, which is fully processed into the dough, so the saturation of the fat is irrelevant.

  • Lard

    Many brands of lard (including our supermarket winner from Morrell) taste neutral and don't offer any benefit over vegetable oil when it comes to making piadine. 

Oil and Water

Before decreasing the amount of fat in the dough, I wanted to know if the lard was contributing something unique that other, more conventional fats didn’t offer.

I set up a four-way test of doughs made with lard, butter, and vegetable and olive oils, and it was immediately clear that there was neither a flavor nor a texture benefit to the lard. (Meanwhile, the flavors of butter and olive oil were too distinct.) The fact that there was no textural benefit was surprising, since swapping a saturated fat (such as lard) for an unsaturated fat (such as vegetable oil) can lead to disastrous results in some applications (such as pie dough or flaky biscuits). But here, with a lower ratio of fat to flour in the dough, it didn’t matter, so I opted for pantry-friendly vegetable oil.

From there, I made a batch of lean breads with just 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, but they were dry and tough, so I went up to 3 tablespoons, figuring that would restore the crumb’s tenderness. But even then the bread was dry, so I stuck with 3 tablespoons of oil and increased the water from cup to ¾ cup. Without making the bread too sticky to handle, the extra liquid hydrated the dough and made it less dense so that the piadine were softer and more flexible but retained just enough chew.

Into the Fold

The piadine were great (especially when warm; their softness and pliability are ephemeral) and almost ready for fillings, except that they tended to char in spots instead of brown attractively. I’d been preheating my cast-iron skillet over a strong flame, so I ran a couple of lower-heat tests and found that moderate heat was the way to go; turning the burner to low caused the breads to dry out before they had a chance to brown.

I kept the breads folded in half under a clean dish towel so that they held their heat and their shape (think “training” a rolled cake), which made them easy to fill with thin slices of rich, salty cured meats; cheeses; or vegetables and tidy to eat as sandwiches. And, frankly, the filling possibilities were endless.

You don’t have to fill them, though. Who doesn’t love a swath of plush, fresh bread alongside a bowl of soup? Or a salad. Scrambled eggs. Soft cheese. Creamy dips. The list goes on. And since you can basically make piadine on a whim, you should.

Folding the warm flatbreads in a clean dish towel helps them hold their heat and shape.

Get Your Fill(ing)

The flatbreads are an excellent accompaniment to any dish that pairs well with fresh bread, but they’re tailor-made for folding around a flavorful filling—sweet or savory. A few of our favorite combinations are salami, fontina, and artichoke hearts; roasted red peppers, balsamic vinegar, arugula, and ricotta; and tomato, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil. But use your imagination.

Meats

Salami, mortadella, prosciutto, nduja (spreadable sausage), bresaola

Greens

Arugula, basil, sautéed greens (rabe, spinach, chard)

Cheeses

Ricotta, mozzarella, stracchino or goat cheese, fontina, mascarpone

Vegetables

Artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, tomatoes

Sweets

Nutella (with mascarpone), honey (with ricotta)

Recipe Italian Flatbreads (Piadine)

Meet piadine: the rustic, tender-chewy rounds that you can make without yeast, lengthy rising times, or even your oven.

Comments