Karen Scalise Dolinar
Special to The Union

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January 20, 2009
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Timeout for piadinas

Move over panini. You have some company. Piadinas (pee-yah-DEEN-ahs), crispy Italian grilled flatbread sandwiches, are coming into the spotlight on American menus, and in Craig Priebe's cookbook "Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas" you will find savory versions of this popular Romagnan specialty and sweet dessert piadinas as well.

He even provides a menu for an All Piadina Party, perfect for Super Bowl Sunday, a birthday celebration, or any casual get-together that calls for a fun menu with some make-ahead advantages.

Round out the fare with a warming bowl of minestrone, ribollita, or favorite chili, one of Priebe's flavorful salads, and his simple but delicious dessert, Piadina Rosti with roasted pears, mascarpone, and honey, in a sweet and buttery flatbread crust.

And besides offering one of the best collections of ultimate pizza recipes I've seen assembled in one book, some being international pizza competition winners, Priebe also presents a variety of indoor cooking equipment, including the panini press, clamshell and Tuscan grills, as options among today's new ways to achieve satisfying crisp-crusted pizzas and piadinas indoors.

"I wanted the indoor methods to be easy," says Priebe, "but the result had to taste as good as the outdoor product."

Tuscan grills, also called fireplace or hearth grills, are making a comeback, Priebe says, for their recreational value as an occasional way family or friends can come together to grill foods, such as pizzas and piadinas, in a warm and cozy setting in front of the fireplace.

Piadinas, which comprise about one fourth of Priebe's book, are crispy Italian sandwiches made with a rustic flatbread, lightly grilled, and folded over an Italian-inspired filling. "Recipes vary as infinitely as the clouds blowing over northern Italy's wheat fields," says Priebe.

Along with the traditional and basic unleavened piadina flatbread in his book, you will also find recipes for the mildly hot Jalapeno Piadina Flatbread with cilantro, which works well in vegetarian sandwiches, such as Piadina Radicchio; a red-hued Tomato Basil Piadina Flatbread, when you want "fresh Italian flavor" in your sandwich, and bright color on your mid-winter party buffet; and Priebe's Yellow Corn Piadina Flatbread, which has a "pleasant chewiness" and partners well with Italian ingredients in fillings.

His Dessert Piadina Flatbread, like the Yellow Corn Flatbread, relies on butter rather than olive oil, and a little sugar, in its soft dough for a sweet, biscuit-like crust. You can cut and roll out Priebe's Dessert Piadina Dough into smaller rounds than the usual 8-inch size for its savory counterparts, and use less filling, but you might have to eat two dessert piadinas with this plan.

To make your own sweet or savory piadina flatbreads Priebe recommends using a stand mixer or food processor to make quick work of combining and kneading dough ingredients. He kneads the dough by hand, he says, because it's relaxing and likes to think some of the energy and affection he pours into the dough transfers to the finished product so that family and guests feel the love.

Catch some mild winter weather and grill the dough rounds outdoors for a slightly smoky flavor and crispier effect. Or, follow Priebe's step-by-step instruction with photos for very satisfying flatbread cooked indoors, simply using a skillet (preferably cast-iron), or flat griddle over medium-high heat, to grill each side of the dough for about a minute until bubbled and lightly browned. The rounds," Priebe says, "are best when grilled just before filling them with meats, cheeses and roasted vegetables," or foods such as roasted fruit, citrus curd, chocolate and ice cream for dessert piadinas.

"Piadinas are all about simplicity, elegance, and great taste," says Priebe.

And the secret to building a better piadina, he explains, has a lot to do with yin and yang, how opposites attract:

Hot flavors such as jalapeno, habanero, or chili powder need a cool or sweet counterpart, such as fruit, apple or mango being good choices.

Flavors that are spicy but not necessarily hot, such as cumin, curry powder, mustard, and ginger, find balance when paired with smooth, cool, or crisp flavors such as avocado, or cucumber.

Salty proteins, such as prosciutto, Parmesan, blue cheese, or anchovy, are terrific when partnered with sweet grilled pineapple or other caramelized fruit in season.

A puree or creamy cheese calls for some crispiness and crunch in the form of raw greens, such as romaine, endive, or arugula, and toasted nuts, such as pine nuts or walnuts.

Variety of color and shape in a piadina's filling will get your guests' attention and increase the anticipation of pleasure.

The lineup of both savory and sweet piadinas Priebe developed for his All Piadina menu is a crowd-pleaser that will make your house a favorite party destination. To make things easy, Priebe offers a timeline listing what you can do a week or day ahead, so you will have plenty of time with friends on game-day to root for your favorite team. Platters of piadinas, cut in half for just the right serving size, will dazzle and delight those at your gathering.

Piadina Genovese features grilled chicken with pesto, pine nuts, and olives, and was inspired, Priebe says, by the "classic antipasto of chicken breast smothered in pesto." Priebe relies on roasted pecans instead of pine nuts in his pesto for "a robust, earthy taste." A satisfying alternative would be the heartier Piadina Saraceno, an opportunity to use a handful of special mushrooms in a juicy filling along with Italian sausage, cheese, pan-roasted peppers and onions, and shaved Parmesan. Priebe created Piadina Saraceno to honor the Cured Meat and Cheese Festival held annually in Bologna at the ancient Saraceno market, the site of many "grand fairs honoring certain Italian traditions."

Thinly sliced soppressata, a spicy Italian deli meat, teams up with wafer-thin Parmesan crisps and honey in Priebe's Piadina Dolce e Salato for a flavor experience with "triple the pleasure." Soppressata, an Italian delicacy, is a type of dry salami, that comes either hot or sweet, imported or artisan soppressata being best, says Priebe.

To accentuate the Italian spirit of the menu, consider including Piadina Neapolitan with its three colors of the Italian flag: green, white, and red. Piadina Neapolitan, Priebe's favorite savory piadina, is a grilled cheese sandwich, Italian-style, with fresh mozzarella "that melts into milky pillows," tomato, basil, and a cheery, golden-red flatbread crust.

Serve guests their side of vegetables at the party with the vegetarian Firenze, a festive piadina with a crisped flatbread pocket filled with colorful strips of roasted bell peppers, grilled eggplant, shaved Parmesan, and a tasty tomato-balsamic vinaigrette.

Some vegetarian friends might also really welcome Piadina Radicchio which offers the option of a soft-green Jalapeno flatbread crust, and filling of mellowed radicchio, Gorgonzola, and roasted garlic cloves, "flavor mines with a rich, sweet taste and soft, buttery texture."

Regarding dessert, you could say Priebe is forward-thinking. "When I plan a meal I start at dessert and work backwards," says Priebe. Piadina Limone was his dessert of choice for the All Piadina menu. I prepared Piadina Limone for a birthday party recently. And I used a panini press to grill the flatbread dough, making a sweet, slightly crisp crust with light grill marks, that held the tart lemon curd, whipped cream, blueberries, and crumbled shortbread cookie. Piadina Limone was scrumptious.

Priebe also highly recommends Piadina Caramelata, his favorite dessert piadina, but especially for those guests "with a sweet tooth." The Caramelata, which includes chocolate fudge, warm caramel sauce, and optional ice cream among filling ingredients, Priebe developed as a sweet reminder of the flavors he enjoyed in the Marathon Bars of his youth.

Whether you decide to make sweet or savory piadinas, Priebe's recipes or your own with his guidelines in mind, Priebe says, "Make plenty because they always go fast."

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The Union Updated Jan 20, 2009 10:17PM Published Jan 20, 2009 10:17PM Copyright 2009 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.