At some point last week I found myself standing in my kitchen kneading dough to make Tuscan pici pasta with cacio e pepe. A few years ago I never thought I’d be that person making pasta – like my grandmother used to do on special occasions or for Sunday lunch. I used to believe I was a disaster in the kitchen, and never even try to learn from my mum or grandma…sigh! Thankfully we grow and change and now I can cook and truly enjoy it. The thing is: making pasta is extremely simple. If I can do it, anyone can. It’s fun and very gratifying to create a whole dish from scratch!
I prepared this recipe last week as I was working on a brand collaboration and the brief was to style and photograph a Tuscany-inspired dish. I immediately thought about pici, a type of handmade pasta typical of southern Tuscany.
A few years ago I spent a week in Tuscany and visited the picturesque Tuscan town of Certaldo Alto. In a little tavern I ate Pici all’aglione and I can still remember the taste and texture of that fantastic dish!
The main ingredients of pici all’aglione are garlic and tomatoes – this is the most popular way to serve pici. At Trullo in London (and at its sister restaurant Padella), they serve pici with cacio e pepe, a traditional pasta seasoning from Rome. It’s a crossover between Tuscany and Lazio which works really well. However at £9 for a tiny portion of pasta, you might just want to learn to make it at home and save the pounds.
Pasta is made of flour, water and salt. Even if you use the best quality black pepper, extra virgin olive oil and mature Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese, it remains a cheap dish.
My advice: learn how to make your own Tuscan pici pasta cacio e pepe. I assure you it doesn’t take too long. About 15 minutes to mix the ingredients into a dough; a few hours to let it rest; another 15 minutes to roll out the pici and 10 minutes to cook it. With half an hour’s work you can create a delicious dish for yourself!
- 250g plain white flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 125ml warm water (room temperature)
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled
- 150g mature cheese, grated (Grana Padano, Parmesan or Pecorino)
- freshly ground black pepper
Put the flour on a large wooden working surface, make a well in the centre of the flour and add the salt and olive oil. Add the water little by little, stirring with your hands until a dough is formed. The required quantity of water may be different each time. Knead the dough until firm and smooth: you’ll need about 10 minutes.
Flatten the dough, brush it with a dash of olive oil and cover with cling film. Let it stand at room temperature from 2 hours or overnight.
Roll out the dough into a thick sheet (at least 5 mm). Cut the dough into strips, then roll each of them with your hands to make a kind of thick spaghetti.
Dust the pici with flour and set aside to dry for at least 20 minutes. Cook them in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, mix the grated cheese with black pepper, beat in some of the pasta water very gradually to make first a paste, and then a sauce the consistency of bechamel.
In a medium frying pan, fry the garlic in extra virgin olive oil. Cook on very low heat for a few minutes until the garlic is lightly golden. Drain the pici pasta (saving some of the cooking water) and stir it into the garlic-infused oil. Pour the pasta into the cheese bowl. Toss it furiously. If required, add more cooking water, little by little, to make a sauce that coats each strand.
Divide the pasta between bowls, sprinkle over a little more pepper, and serve immediately.