From Cesena to Rimini

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The driving distance between the town of Cesena and the town of Rimini is insignificant, about 27 kilometers or 17 miles. But as far as the making of piadina, Emilia Romagna’s iconic unleavened flat bread, there is a significant measurable difference between the  making of this Italian flatbread sandwich between the two. Although Cesena piadina and Rimini piadina both share the same ingredients (O or OO wheat flour, lard (sometimes olive oil), a pinch of salt, baking soda or mother yeast and water) and both are cooked on a traditional testo (teglia), or griddle, the thickness of the piadina between Cesena and Rimini becomes thinner. 5 mm thick in Cesena to 3 mm (1/8″ thick) in Rimini.

This unique creation filled with local greens, salumi and cheeses layered onto a simple flatbread of freshly cooked dough is served at family tables and from small carts throughout the towns and villages of Romagna and neighboring cities (I have had it in Ferrara). The thickness and size is a function of the locale – softer, thicker and smaller inland, thinner and larger toward the coast. Extra virgin olive oil makes a lighter and crispier piadina. Lard from rendered pork fat or strutto makes a richer and softer piadina. The piadina is a staple of Italian street food and its regional variations are one of many that make seeing and savoring Italy such a gastronomic delight.

At Montetiffi, a village near Sogliano, 90 kilometres (56 mi) southeast of Bologna , original clay pots are still made to cook piadina. This craft dates back to 1527 when the pot makers of Montetiffi are mentioned in historical documents.

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A Snack in the Reggio Emilia Style

centovini spuntino reggianoI’ve been anxiously awaiting my first harvest of Swiss Chard so I can make a snack from one of my favorite parts of Italy – Emilia Romagna. Known as Spuntino Reggiano (a “snack in the Reggio Emilia style”) it is a good munch or light meal that takes its name from the city of  Reggio Emilia between Parma and Modena. The region is populated with some of Italy’s most famous foods and tastious salami and cheeses including a savory cake made with spinach and chards called erbazzone.

Erbazzone is a traditional contadino dish often baked in a wood-fired oven with a rich double crust eaten as a hearty mid-day meal of waste not want not. In certain dialects it was referred to as scarpazzone (scar-paz-zó-ne)  from the Italian word for shoe, scarpa meaning that peasant families would use the whole chard not just the tender green leaves but the white sides (the shoe) of the chard as well.

A flavorful herb sandwich or torta di verdura (savory green pie), erbazzone is made in the spring and summer as a snack or a picnic lunch to be enjoyed in the countryside with a bottle of Lambrusco wine. Cut in smaller pieces it makes a perfect appetizer or breakfast buffet dish especially when served with grilled mortadella wedges. Found throughout Northern Italy there are of course regional variations with different ingredients (ricotta* to replace parmigiano, sometimes raisins, nutmeg and sugar added to make it sweeter) sometimes Swiss Chard mixed with spinach leaves or beet greens, sometimes adding pine nuts or almonds. There is a mountain version made with rice originating in the Emilian Apennines near the commune of Carpineti, that follows the  historic  food itinerary of the land of Matilda of Canossa with a food festival dedicated to “hundred years of historic moments” celebrating the food culture of the region.

*a Tuscan version uses broccoli rabe and ricotta