What smells do you remember from your childhood? And why is it that the sense of smell can bring back childhood memories that the senses of touch, taste and sound cannot?
For me, one of the smells that reminds me of my childhood is that of piadina romagnola - the thin, Italian flatbreads that are typical of Emilia Romagna. Me and my family used to spend our summers on the Riviera Romagnola - the coastal area on the Adriatic sea, in the town of Cesenatico, where my grandfather used to rent a holiday home for all of us.
At night, we used to walk to the harbour and board a small ferry that would take us to the other side of the canal. We would then take walks on the seafront, stopping at one of the food trucks along the street and have a piadina - the smell of piadinas coming was intoxicating and I still remember it very clearly!
On some nights, when we felt 'adventurous' we would have another food specialty called 'crescione', similar to piadina but folded in two and the edges sealed before grilling on a super hot pan. Pizzaiola was my favourite version, if I recall correctly, that is tomato sauce and mozzarella.
My grandfather would sometimes take us dancing to one of the local balera - an open-air dance floor with local music - and on the way back, we would stop at a local bakery to have super-hot, freshly baked bomboloni - a kind of Italian donuts with an exploding, hot filling - custard for me, my sister and mum, chocolate for my dad.
But back to our piadina.
This flatbreads are traditionally made with lard, which makes them unsuitable for vegetarians. But in recent years, most places or stores that sell them will offer a vegan option made with olive oil instead of lard.
Making them is very easy, and I've even shared this gluten-free version of piadina before.
For the filling, I chose tomato sauce, grilled aubergines, buffalo mozzarella, and crushed pistachios - you may call it a posh parmigiana if you like.
Ingredients (makes 4 large)
For the piadina:
200g all purpose flour
100ml cold water
40ml extra virgin olive oil
5g soda bicarbonate
For the filling:
1 large aubergine, sliced lengthwise into 0.5 cm thick slices
1/3 cup olive oil
200g buffalo mozzarella
8 tbsp tomato sauce
A few leaves of fresh basil
8 tbsp toasted ground pistachios
Salt to taste
Firstly, make the piadina flatbreads. Mix all ingredients to a smooth dough. Rest the dough covered for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, sprinkle salt on the aubergine slices and place in a colander until they release their bitter moisture. Pat dry with a paper towel.
Brush each slice with olive oil on both sides and grill on a hot griddle until cooked well on both sides. Set aside.
Place the buffalo mozzarella in a colander and drain as much liquid as you can. Then tear into pieces. Set aside the tomato sauce, as well as the basil leaves.
After 30 minutes, knead the dough again briefly, then divide into equal sized balls. Roll each to about 2-3mm thin rounds and bake on a griddle or pan on each side until you see the nice brown speckles.
Top each piadina with 2 tbsp of tomato sauce, a few slices of grilled aubergine, a few basil leaves, pieces of mozzarella, and the ground pistachios. Fold in 2 or 4, as per your preference, then place on a grill and grill on both sides until the mozzarella has melted and the piadina is nice and crispy. Repeat the same process for the remaining piadinas.