A few years ago, if you had asked me what my favorite restaurant in Seattle was, I could have answered without hesitation. This is pretty unusual for me… I’m not one that easily compares things. I don’t have top 5 favorite albums or foods or movies. There are things I like, and things I don’t like, but putting them in order just seems beyond me. There are too many factors to weigh in… my mood, what I’ve been doing lately, who I’m with. So, it was odd that Osteria La Spiga always seemed to strike me as my favorite.
La Spiga was a tiny little, rustic in a kitschy sort of way, place tucked into the corner of shops along the south end of Broadway just before the “pill hill” where almost all of the hospitals in Seattle are situated. Service was always a little hit or miss, but the food, traditional Emilia-Romagna fare, was stunning. Handmade pastas with the perfect tenderness to make me swoon, slow-cooked meats which were fall off the bone tender, an affatatti misti plate with whisper thin proscuitto and other delights. But the one thing that drew me back over and over was the flat bread. Piadina is like a thick, tender flour tortilla, but with more flavor and bite. The little cut triangles of the warm bread are a perfect match for the prosciutto or cheese, or, even better, stuffed with goodies like fresh mozzarella, basil, wild mushrooms and truffle oil, and called a Crescione which in my mind translates to “food of the gods.” I could eat the flat bread, just plain and simple, piece after piece after piece if no one were around to stop me.
A couple of years ago, La Spiga moved from its funky and charming location to a new space that is about as different as is possible. Where the old location was always quite cramped, the new restaurant soars with double height ceilings and huge wooden beams, and at least 5 times the seating. The old place had a faux old world feel, while the new is warmly modern. The old location usually had one waitress or waiter for the whole room, where the new location seems to have staff winding their way around tables everywhere you look. It’s just as crowded as ever, but now there are pleasant places to wait instead of having to loom over the other diners. It’s truly a beautiful work of architecture.
The one thing, luckily, that hasn’t changed is the food. The menu may have grown along with the space, but my taglietelle ragu is as good as ever and I’d be hard pressed to find anyone that didn’t coo over the Filetto al Tartufo, butter knife tender filet drizzled with truffle oil. And then, there is the piadina. Yes, it’s still there and as good as ever.
These days though, when asked what my favorite restaurant in Seattle is, I hesitate. I still love La Spiga. I love the new space, the prompter service and the gorgeous food. But, still, I miss the old spot. I loved how its funky space and slowish service made you step back, slow down and stop worrying about what you were going to do next. You were going to sit there and eat your meal whenever it happened to arrive. And, with food like that, that was always enough. Especially when you could always ask for “a little more piadina please”.
All of that is a very long way of saying that after years and years, I finally got around to making piadina at home. Traditionally, piadina is made with lard, and as you know, I just happen to have a whole lot of lard right now. I’m sure you could substitute vegetable shortening, but I think you’d miss out on some of the flavor and tenderness of the flat bread. I’ve also seen recipes that substitute olive oil, although this would likely make a bigger change in the texture of the dough.
I ended up using a recipe from Food & Wine which was exceedingly simple to make. So simple, in fact, that I have been kicking myself for not making it sooner. The F&W recipe called for baking soda, although many of the recipes I’ve seen don’t add any type of levening. Next time around, I plan on either leaving it out, substituting baking powder or just using less, because I thought that the flatbread had a tiny bit of a bitter after-taste from the soda.
Regardless, the dough, after sitting, takes on this wonderfully smooth texture that is soft and easy to roll out to a nice thin round. Piadina should really be cooked on something like a pizza stone, but I don’t have one. A stove top griddle, however, works too, although getting the temperature right can be a little tricky. Near the end, my griddle was a little too hot in spots and I quickly scorched a few breads. Luckily, I still had plenty already cooked up for a nice lunch and nibble throughout the day.
recipe from Food & Wine
Tradition has it that you must not make piadina when the south-westerly wind blows… the warm, damp wind makes the dough too soft. So, best to save your piadina making days for the dry season.
Makes 6 rounds
3 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
4 oz lard or vegetable shortening, at room temperature
3/4 c water
1 T olive oil, plus more for brushing
Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you want to knead it by hand) and mix together with a fork. Cut the lard into 1 inch pieces and using a pastry knife cut the lard into the flour. You can just use the mixer for this, but I found it didn’t do a great job of mixing in the lard and the pastry knife was just easier.
Next, start to add the water, just a little bit at a time, and mix on the stand mixer with a dough hook on lowish speed until the dough starts to form into a ball. Increase the speed to medium, and let it knead until smooth, about 5 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover with a damp towel. Let the dough sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 225F. Heat the griddle on medium-high to quite hot.
Divide the dough into 6 pieces, and roll each piece out to 10 inch rounds. The discs should be about 1/8 inch thick. Lightly brush the bread on both sides with olive oil.
Place one or two rounds on the griddle (depending on the size of your griddle) and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until you see the little brown spots that mark when it’s done. Wrap in foil and place in the oven while the next round goes into the griddle. The piadina are best eaten warm, the day they are cooked.