When we were in the Tuscany region of Italy a few weeks ago, I made it my mission to try Pici pasta dishes whenever I saw them on a menu. This is not a pasta dish that one can find easily in the U.S. Pici pasta is like spaghetti, but pencil-thick and perfect for hearty sauces. At one trendy restaurant, we tried a wasabi sauced pici which was delicious. Somehow they captured all the flavor of wasabi without all the heat!
While I loved eating pici everywhere I went in Tuscany, I was even more pleased when I learned how easy it is to make at home. No fancy pasta making equipment required (although I did inherit my mom’s counter-mounted, hand-cranked pasta machine, but more on that in a future post 😉). Pici is made by hand, literally. And even though my noodles were nowhere near as perfectly shaped as the ones I ate in Italy, they were still delicious and beautiful.
This is also an eggless dough. Just mound 2 cups of all-purpose flour on a smooth, clean surface and make a well in the middle. Drop 1 Tbsp of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and 2/3 to 3/4 cup of water into the well. Carefully mix with your hands (oil your hands to keep dough from sticking). Keep mixing until dough comes together. Knead on the counter for 10 minutes (a good pre-pranzo workout!). Then cover the dough with a dish towel for 20 minutes to let it relax. Finally, cut or pull chunks off and roll them into long, pencil-thick strands. If they break, don’t stress. They will still taste wonderful. Once your strands are rolled, drop in a stock pot of boiling, heavily salted water. Boil until the noodles rise to the top and are al dente to taste (pull one out after a while, drop on counter to cool, then bite – it should still have a little “bite” in it, but be cooked). Once done, scoop out and into your sauce. Enjoy!
Look at those thick noodles! I made a homemade red sauce for this dish (recipe below), but you could put any sauce you like on these noodles. We also paired this with oven-roasted shrimp. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon!
One of my favorite sauces from Tuscany was wild boar – mmmm! It was wild boar hunting season when we were there. Every morning while having our coffee we heard the sounds of gunshots in the hills.
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt
2 medium onions
3 garlic cloves
Olive oil for pan
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1-2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook onions in oil with pinch of salt until softened, then add garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, and parmesan rind (the rinds are very inexpensive, add a ton of flavor, and you can usually grate enough cheese off them before using for sauce to sprinkle on your final pasta dish). Cook on low for 30 min – 1 hour while you make the pasta. Before adding pasta, taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper to your liking.
Feel free to customize this sauce. You can add tomato paste at the onion cooking stage to really amp up the flavor. You could sprinkle in some red pepper flakes to give it more heat. You could add fresh herbs or other cooked veggies at the end if you have them. And of course you can easily turn your red sauce into a meat sauce by adding cooked ground beef, turkey, or chicken.