When in Maine eat lobster, in Philadelphia a Philly cheesesteak, in Seattle salmon or Dungeness crabcakes. Regional culinary pride. In Italy there’s ancient culture in a town’s particular sauce or pasta dish, determined by whatever can be found or produced from nearby.
While in Rome last spring, we consumed bowls of Pasta Carbonara, while in Montepulciano, Pici alle Briciole. Both will melt your heart with their deliciousness and both are simple, which is the hallmark of the best food anyway. Recipes for both are below, along with the handmade pici pasta.
Both of these pastas are right out of the pantry, if you consider the fridge part of the pantry. Delicious food that can be prepared in a hurry with what you might have around anyway. And these can be mostly local meals by using a locally produced hard cheese instead of Parm – there are plenty around – eliminating or substituting bacon for the Pancetta, and local eggs are abundant at Farmer’s Markets. In summer there are plenty of ingredients grown nearby for the Aglione sauce.
Pasta Carbonara Recipe
One of the most luscious, easy meals ever. Make the sauce while the pasta cooks, stir it all together and dinner is ready. Classic Roman food. I am whispering this next part because it’s so anti-carbonara – you could skip the pancetta and have a meatless, creamy pasta.
Ingredients & Directions: This makes enough for four servings. While cooking approximately 16 oz. of spaghetti, linguine or fettucine-style pasta, prepare everything else. (I used Tinkyada’s fettucini-stylebrown rice pasta the other night, cooked it about nine minutes. Delish.) Dice and sauté 3 – 4 oz. Pancetta in a large pan until well-browned, add 1 T finely minced garlic, stir together for another minute, turn off burner and set aside/ Combine 1 egg, 3 egg yolks, 1 C half & half (or combine cream and whole milk), 2/3 – 1 C finely grated Parmesan, 1/2 t salt, & pepper to taste.
When pasta is done, drain it and immediately add to the pan with Pancetta & garlic/ While pasta is piping hot, stir in the uncooked egg mixture. Use tongs or a pair of forks and mix thoroughly. Though you’re not supposed to – you don’t want to fry the egg – I usually turn the burner on very low for 20 seconds or so while mixing constantly. Turn burner off, continue tossing the mixture. The hot pasta cooks the egg just enough, sauce thickens and coats every single noodle. Place steaming hot pasta into serving bowls, top with plenty of additional Parmesan and freshly ground pepper. Fresh or frozen peas are a good addition.
In the time it takes water to boil and the pasta to cook, 20-25 minutes, dinner is ready. Bon Appetito.
Pici Pasta alle Briciole
We climbed up and around the nooks and crannies of Montelpuciano one day and late in the afternoon stepped into La Grotta dei Sapori, Bruschetteria & Wine Bar, for a glass of the region’s famous wine, Vino Nobile. That and a few nibbles. A courteous chat with the owners who spoke a little English, certainly more than our bare-bones Italian, turned into a full blown conversation, halting, awkward and hilarious at times, all of us with dictionaries in hand. We discussed our wedding days, marriage, and eventually we got to food. In the end Gianna and I were pouring over our dictionaries in order for me to make sense of the famous local pasta she wanted me to know about. Pici Pasta alle Briciole.
She described how to make both the pasta and its topping, how to roll out and stretch the pasta by hand, how her mother and grandmother had taught her. With some skepticism about my own ability to pull off Pici pasta without an Italian grandmother in the wings, I took it all in, wrote down some notes, no exact measurements, and swore I would try it at home.
I finally had to dig in and give it a shot. The handmade Pici pasta from scratch takes some time, but is so much fun. Ten minutes to mix and knead the dough, another hour for it to rest, and then another 45 – 60 minutes for rolling out and creating the Pici-style pasta. I had to commit and then be patient. I have to say, with music in the background and a rustic aesthetic in mind, this pasta is supposed to look handmade, my husband and I spent a meditative 30 minutes spinning the pasta. It was so worth it, but you could skip the handmade pasta, use whatever pasta you like and make just the topping. Still a fine meal. If you like crunchy parmesan garlic bread, or can imagine liking it . . . that’s the topping and it’s easy. Note: next time I’ll make a finer breadcrumb mixture. I believe that’s the intention, the custom with this dish and will improve it somewhat.
Pasta alle Briciole Recipe
Thank you Gianna. This is my attempt at honoring her generosity and the wonderful evening spent in her and Antonio’s Montepulciano wine bar.
These are the ingredients she wrote down for the topping: garlic, oil, medium fine breadcrumbs, parsley, Parmigiano. Here’s my interpretation of her verbal directions. Sauté 2 T finely minced garlic in plenty of oil, 1/4 C or so, for just a few seconds/ Add 3 C fresh bread crumbs to garlic, toss and toast with salt & pepper on medium heat until crispy and golden, 5 – 10 minutes/ Remove from heat/ When cool add 1 C chopped, fresh parsley and 1/2 C Parmesan to breadcrumb mix. Next time, I’ll make finer breadcrumbs. In retrospect, these were too coarse.
When pasta is cooked and drained, reserve some of the liquid, toss pasta with plenty of additional olive oil, a few tablespoons of grated Parm and enough pasta water to create a creamy consistency. Place in a large bowl or in separate serving dishes, top each dish with a generous amount of the topping plus additional cheese as needed. Elegant in its simplicity, ingenious . . . another way to use leftover bread in a most delicious way. TGIF, front steps, warm sunset, glass of wine and this bowl of pasta. Not Tuscany, but a delicious Seattle moment none-the-less.
Pici Pasta Recipe
If you’re not in the mood to make pasta from scratch, Bucatini would be a reasonable alternative. But if you are in the mood to roll up your sleeves and get down with some flour and egg, you’ll appreciate making these handmade noodles and how good they are with any topping you like, though Braciole and Aglione are traditional. Alle Briciole, recipe above, and Pici alle Aglione: “many garlic, paprika, parsley, tomato, cheese”.
Here’s how I made the pasta, using Gianna’s ingredients and her description for stretching the noodles. This makes enough for 2 very hefty or 4 small dishes of pasta. And, I found Hunter Angler Gardener Cook which offered excellent pictorial instructions on the making of Pici Pasta.
Ingredients: 1 C semolina/ 1 C all-purpose flour/ 1 T olive oil/ Pinch of salt/ 1 large egg/ 3 T water (or a little more if needed).
Directions: Place all dry ingredients in a large bowl, mix them together and then create a shallow well in the middle for the egg and water/ Mix together with a fork or with bare hands until sticky dough begins to come together, a couple of minutes/ If dough seems excessively dry add a teaspoon or two of water, if too wet and sticky, sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour/ Knead for 7 or 8 minutes right in the bowl or on a flat surface/ Shape kneaded dough into a disc, cover and let sit for an hour.
Divide dough into four sections and work with just one piece at a time, covering the rest. Roll out the small piece into a thin rectangle, or whatever shape you can manage. Dough should be 1/8″ thick give or take. Slicing down the longest edge, cut noodles about 1/3″ wide – they’ll look a lot like fettucine at this point. Then, in order to roll them, I found I had to roughly pinch each piece in order to unflatten it so that I could then roll it. Once the noodle is pinched and unflattened – which takes just a moment – do what you did in grade school with a piece of clay. Roll from the center out like you’re making a snake, stretching lightly as you go. (And yes, the pasta even looks a little snakey, which is a little creepy, let’s not go there.) Repeat the rolling from the center out a couple of times until noodle is viable and anywhere from 8 – 18″ long.
It turned out to be easier than I thought it would be and I love the idea of making a pasta noodle by hand, no machines. It took me and then my husband thirty minutes or so to make the noodles.
Bring salted water with 1 T olive oil to a boil/ Cook pasta for 4 – 8 minutes, depending on size of the noodle. Drain and toss with more olive oil and whatever topping or sauce you like. The Briciole topping is like crumbling your favorite crunchy garlic bread all over the pasta, then throwing in some parsley & Parm. Not too shabby. Thank you Tuscany.
Poppy’s recent post, A Poor Girl’s Parmesan, shows the versatility of this mostly toasted bread topping known as Pangretto.
My grandmother’s non-Italian egg noodles.