When Criterion producer Susan Arosteguy was at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, last month, she met local cooking teacher and cinephile Ron Deutsch in line for a screening. They got to chatting, and Ron told Susan about his website, Chef du Cinema, where he blogs about food and film. We liked the site so much, we asked Ron to start creating posts for us on Criterion titles and food inspired by them. Here’s the first one.
My film and food adventure began last year, when the Central Market Cooking School here in Austin, where I’d been teaching occasional classes that paired meals with trips I’d taken—a poor man’s Anthony Bourdain—asked me to come up with something new. I thought, Dinner and a movie. The first class was on Casablanca, with a four-course Moroccan meal. After the cooking demo, we served the food and watched the movie. And so Chef du Cinema was born. I began keeping the blog as a way to supplement the classes. But right away, I realized I was having so much fun researching and writing for the class that I wanted to do it more often (since the classes are usually months apart from each other), and that got me to start the posts called TV Bites, which I write every two weeks or so, and where I discuss a movie and post one recipe. While the classes are skewed toward more popular movies, the blog is a place where I can explore movies I like but that may not have broad enough appeal for a class. I should mention I’m not a professional chef, and the recipes I come up with are ones you should easily be able to re-create at home. I pull recipes related to either the location or theme of the movie, for a dish served in the movie, or that come from a celebrity involved with the movie. A class in February, for example, focused on the Stanley Donen classic Charade, which Audrey Hepburn is in. For the meal, I contacted Hepburn’s son, who shared some recipes from her private, unpublished recipe book. In addition to the classes, on the blog, I offer up one dish and a movie about every two weeks. I have two self-imposed rules: I only do movies I love, and no “food” movies.
When Criterion asked me to pick a film from their catalog, I was sure I’d be overwhelmed trying to choose one. But the first film on their list of new releases was Federico Fellini’s Amarcord, and I stopped right there. I’d been dying to give it the Chef du Cinema treatment, as it’s been one of my favorite movies since I first saw it in a theater over thirty years ago. Partly because I love Fellini in general and partly because I spent part of my youth living in a seaside resort town in New York State and could relate to Fellini’s memories of his own youth in the Italian seaside resort town of Rimini. (How much do I love Fellini, you ask? Well, the one time I was in Italy, I took a train to Rimini, in the dead of winter, to lay flowers at the Maestro’s tomb.)
The fact that Rimini is on the coast would suggest any good grilled fish dish or fish risotto as a perfect accompaniment to this film. However, there is a popular street food I couldn’t resist learning to make. Piadine (or piade) are Italian flatbread, their version of pita bread or flour tortillas, that you stuff with good stuff, fold in half, and eat. They are extremely popular all over the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Fellini was said to be a great fan of them. He and his Amarcord cowriter, Tonino Guerra, would spend many evenings at Osteria La Sangiovesa, a restaurant just outside Rimini, which Guerra designed the interior of, and which is known for its excellent piadine.
In Fellini’s youth, however, piadine were poor people’s food, sold at stalls along the beach called piadinerie. These days, however, they’ve gone upscale—even Starbucks sells them. Relatively simple to make, they can be filled with a variety of traditional and nontraditional fillings.
I found a quote, attributed to Maddalena Fellini, the director’s sister, recalling an old Rimini saying: “Ogni donna fa la piada a modo suo” (“Every woman makes the piada in her own way”), and this is certainly true even today. I found recipes that ranged from three ingredients up to seven. Some swear they must be made with lard, others with olive oil. The one below is not definitive, because there is just no such thing. One thing everyone agrees upon, though, is that piadine must be eaten within minutes of being made. You can’t make them and let them sit. (There is also the similar cascione (or crescione), for which, instead of cooking the bread, then filling it, you stuff it first, then close it like a calzone and panfry it.)
Once you’ve made your piadine, your choice of fillings is limitless. You can go traditional with just cheese, or cheese and sautéed arugula (and/or prosciutto—or any good Italian salami or cold cut), or Italian sausage and peppers. The cheese traditionally used is Italian squacquerone. But if you can’t find it, try crescenza, taleggio, or stracchino, or any soft cow’s milk cheese you like. Some nontraditional filling ideas: grilled chicken and Caesar salad; bacon, Brie, and tomato; butternut squash and pecorino romano; sautéed garlic shrimp and asparagus; grilled eggplant, zucchini, and fontina. There is also a traditional sweet piadina made with Nutella and banana. Just let your imagination and taste buds guide you.
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
7 tablespoons lard or olive oil
¼ teaspoon honey
1 cup warm water
Put the flour, salt, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. If you’re using an electric mixer or food processor with a dough hook/paddle attachment, pulse to mix; otherwise, stir or whisk. Add the lard or oil and the honey and mix at low speed until the ingredients are combined. Gradually add the warm water (and I mean slowly) until the dough forms a ball. You don’t want it too moist, just a nice, firm dough—not gooey. Remove the dough and knead it by hand for about 3 minutes. Then return it to the bowl, cover, and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Traditionally, piadine are cooked on something called a testo, similar to the Mexican comal. If you have a comal, use that. Otherwise, a large skillet or griddle will work. You can also cook them on an outdoor grill. Whichever way you choose, heat it now.
Divide the dough into 8 equal-sized balls. Roll each of the balls into a thin pancake, about 8 inches in diameter. Getting a perfect circle takes practice. Feel free to cheat by using a plate or a pizza cutter, or just go rustic and do the best you can!
Place the piadine one at a time on the cooking surface. If they start to puff up or get bubbles, use a fork or spatula to punch them down. Depending on your heat source, they can take 1 to 4 minutes per side. When they start getting some nice color or char, flip them.
Remove from heat, insert your fillings, fold over, and eat! If not eating right away, put in a preheated oven at 225°. But remember, piadine are best eaten as soon as they’re made.