I’m almost embarrased to write this post, as its inspiration comes from a dining hall. Yes, that’s right. Ordinarily, the food in college dining halls is mediocre at best and can be downright awful at times. Soup quite obviously made from yesterday’s leftovers, oily fries and burgers…it’s enough to drive a person to the cereal bins for dinner. (In others, apparently dining hall food inspires great creativity, however.) At Caltech, where Dylan was a grad student, what is essentially a dining hall turns into an a la carte servery at lunch each day, and caters to professors, staff, and students alike. While the quality of the offerings is better than what I remember from my college dining hall days, most of it is nothing to write home about, so to speak. But there’s one item on the menu that I’ve been so enamored with that when I would come to visit Dylan (before I moved out to Pasadena permanently), I would make him promise to take me to the dining hall for lunch at least once.
I know I’ve probably lost all culinary credibility at this point. But a great idea is a great idea, no matter its origin. And though Caltech didn’t come up with the idea of the piadine, as it turns out, I have never seen them offered elsewhere. A piadine is essentially an unleavened, just-out-of-the-oven flatbread with a spread and a salad on top. Sort of like a healthy pizza, sort of like an open-faced sandwich, the piadine orginally comes from Emilia-Romagna in Italy and has an infinite number of variations. The piadine pictured above, for instance, is a mediterranean version, in which hummus is spread on the dough before it goes into a pizza oven for a brief baking, after which it is topped with baby spinach, tomatoes, feta, olives, and diced cucumber. I also really like caprese-style piadine, covered with pesto and then topped with spinach, mozzerella and tomatoes dressed in vinaigrette. Yum!
For those who don’t have a pizza oven at home, apparently piadine can also be made on a grill or in a griddle pan. Napastyle gives instructions on how to make the dough as well as suggestions as to various topping combinations. Apparently, even Emeril has gotten in on the piadine action- his onion and gorgonzola combination sounds particularly enticing to me. Caltech also offers cobb and caesar varieties; really nearly any salad can be transformed into something a little more interesting this way. If only all dining hall food were so inspired.