Everyone knows about pizza as an Italian food. Whether you like thin crust and wood-fired, or Chicago-style deep dish, we've all eaten quite our share of pizza.
And yes, it is better in Italy (at least certain parts of Italy) - but that's not the point of this note (maybe another one later - let me know if you'd like to hear more).
What I didn't know is that Italy has several other delicious "flat" foods as well. Foodie Alert!
flickr photo from AmUnivers
When we were in Ravenna, we discovered Piadina - a local flat bread - looks a little like a pita. We weren't particularly impressed by the looks of it and figured we've both had pita so we'd skip this one.
But - we were seeing it everywhere, with all kinds of fillings, eaten by all kinds of folks, and at different times of the day. In the guide books, it was touted as a local "specialty." AND since we've said that this trip is, in part, about FOOD, we decided to give it a try - despite the calorie threat.
Boy, are we glad we did. It's not a gourmet thing, but it is definitely a comforting street food. We can see why it's everywhere in this northeast corner of Italy.
We had two different types, one with a veggie stuffing and one with a meat and cheese stuffing -- and, no, we didn't take pics b/c we were hungry & just ate them, so these photos are from folks on flickr willing to share. ( I know I'll never have a career as a photo-journalist. I just get too involved in things and forget to take the photos - even when I'm planning on sharing!)
flickr photo from avlxyz
In each type of piadina we tried, the texture of the bread was a little different, one more chewy, one more crumbly, but both were slightly crunchy on the outside. The taste was super familiar and took me a minute - but then I had it - piadina tastes like biscuits! which, of course, took us both on a long nostalgic reverie...
Not just any biscuits - and those of you not reared in the South my never have had this taste -- but I mean the biscuits my grandmothers used to make - not with butter (as so many of the recipe books instruct these days), but with lard (self-rising flour, lard, buttermilk). Crunchy on the outside and tender-moist-crumbly on the inside.
Turns out Piadina is made with lard (hooray for taste-buds) - and is hugely popular in the Romagna region of Italy. We saw it sold in restaurants as appetizer courses, in bakeries as sandwiches, and in street kiosks layered with cheese, ,honey or Nutella. (Piadina recipe here).
Tasty - homey - flat.
Lucca - Cecina
The old town of Lucca is a little specialized in terms of restaurants. Most feature regional specialties and are geared toward tourists -- trying to represent "home cooking" in a gourmet vein so they can charge lots of money for it. As you browse around, they all start looking the same.
We went seeking out a little dive - which was the only place we could find that served cecina - a chickpea flatbread particular to this part of Tuscany. We had read about it - and we both love things made w/ garbanzo beans (hummus, falafel, laddu, etc.), so we wanted to try it.
Da Felice is a tiny hole-in-the wall shop on via Buia in Lucca. It's been there for decades and is run by a family with a couple of extra staff. From appearances, they make their money from takeaway pizza - in & out of the wood-fired oven throughout the evening. Both times we visited (yes, twice), we were the only non-Italians in the place the whole time we were there (we ate in - to do some people watching and pizza-making watching).
The pizzas go in and out of the oven in a steady stream, cooking pretty quickly, but about every 30 minutes or so, they put in a new cecina & it takes 15 minutes to cook. We watched many orders for pizza slices include cecina orders (2 slices, Marguerita pizza and 2 slices, cecina). If you come in between one cecina being sold out and another getting out of the oven, you're given your drink and asked to wait. You don't pay until your cecina is in your hand.
The cecina is a very different kind of food. It's crispy, but has a tender, almost pudding-like center. It gives you the impression that the batter must start out like a custard. It is very tasty - but the chickpea flavor is hard to identify - mostly it's just a tasty, crispy, hearty mouthful. Best eaten hot. And it goes really fast.
We noticed that the cecina goes into the wood-fired oven on a metal disk (unlike the pizzas that just go in on the stone floor of the oven). Since the batter is so liquid - it needs the edge of the disk to keep its shape - and I figure the disk helps assure that crispy outer crust.
The cecina was lovely -- another discovery in eating flat - and VERY local.