Pici Pasta … delightful chewy strips of dough!
‘Pici’ are a type of homemade, hand rolled spaghetti that originates from the southern Tuscany area. If done properly ( ‘pazienza’ as Nonna Emanuella would say ) they can be as thin as the end of a shoelace. Children will adore helping you make them as the finished pici pasta look like wriggly worms, they are chewy to eat which is part of their beauty. Teamed with a rich sauce, like ‘cinghiale’ ( wild boar) or ‘sugo al anatra’ (duck ragu), they are buonissimi!!!
They are traditionally from the Southern Tuscany area, and in and around Montepulciano and Pienza, you will find them in abundance. The dough for the ‘pici pasta’ is soft and springy and easy to work with. After letting it rest, it can be pulled and stretched to the desired length, the more the better as it does tend to not stay stretched out so use your muscles and make them thinner than you think you need. If they are too thick then they aren’t as good as it does change the texture in your mouth. Think about it the same way as making breadsticks. They aren’t the quickest dish to make, though there are some cheating workarounds that I will share with you ( I hear Nonna Emanuella telling me that I shouldn’t ever do the shortcut as you will taste it in the end result!)
Once you have made the pici pasta dough, flatten it out into a large flat piece if pasta about an inch thick. Rub the top with olive oil and let sit for 30- 40 mins ( time to open a bottle of wine at this point … )
At this point you can either
a ) Remain authentic and get the rolling pin out and start working up a sweat
b ) You can run the pici pasta dough through the second largest setting on your pasta machine, then cut it into strips and then roll from there. This avoids the need to roll it all with the rolling pin so can save some time. A pasta machine is italian isnt it? Its not technically cheating!!
Makes 8 servings
3 and ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons (500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup water
⅓ cup olive oil ( this is optional, the traditional recipe DOESN’T have olive oil but I tend to like it with )
Put all the ingredients in a bowl and
a ) – mix by hand, they didn’t have electric mixers in the olden days after all. It really doesn’t take that long and there is something quite cathartic to kneading
b ) – of the electric mixer and using the paddle attachment, mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead for about 5 mins on medium.
Whichever method you use the dough needs to be very smooth and resilient to the touch. Put the dough onto a lightly floured work surface then press flat with your palm. At this point add a little olive oil over the top, and wrap in a tea towel moistened with hot water. Let it rest for about 30 mins while you have a glass of wine or work on the sauce to eat with the pici.
Cut the pici pasta dough into very thin strips, rolling each strip to about 20 cms long. They do puff up whilst cooking so make them thinner than you think they need to be. Roll them once, then roll them through a thicker granular flour, even semolina, let them sit for 10 mins then roll them out again which will make sure that they elongate after the inevitable shrinking that will occur.
Cook in well salted ( remember it must taste like sea water, not the little shy ‘pinch’ that most people put in the water. Normally 3-5 minutes is enough, then drain and toss through the sauce. Remember they will always be chewy, this is the characteristic of this pasta.
Great sauces in my opinion are duck ragu, wild boar sauce or ‘aglione’ which is a very traditionally garlic and tomato sauce. Another favourite is ‘Pici alle Briciole’ which is basically old bread crumbled up and cooked in a pan with generous garlic and olive oil then tossed through the pasta. Sometimes the simple things are often the best!
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