Pici Pasta

Pici pasta is a favorite of mine. When I see it on a menu, I order it. Pici is in a class of its own. It is fresh and chewy, and incredibly slurpable. Truth be told, I use this dough for my cavatelli as well, because of the chew factor.

When I was a kid, my grandparents would arrive on the day summer vacation began and stay until labor day. Some kids would come back from summer vacation, tanned, thin and 3 inches taller than they were when they left? Not this kid. My belly would be slightly rounder, I’d rattle off Italian phrases like I was Sophia Loren. I knew who Sophia Loren was. I was tan. We’d spend long evenings on the sun porch, eating, laughing, listening to the radio, and playing cards. My grandfather was an ace gin player and at a penny a point, we barely noticed our piggy bank dwindling. The food we ate was always delicious, and always from scratch.
Upon the gran’s arrival, the suitcases were hauled into the kitchen and unloaded. It was like Christmas. Literally. Grandma Grace would bring the Christmas stockings she collected from her bank and held from December until June. They were filled with hard candy and cheap toys; we loved them…and her for carrying on this tradition far longer than we really deserved. The grandmas were a tag team. Although they only saw each other this one time a year, they collaborated all year on what to bring with them to California. Out of the cases would come whole salami and prosciutto, buckets of polly-o and parmesan, capers, olives, anchovies. They were like traveling deli salesmen.
We didn’t think it odd at all.
Around day two or three the pasta making began in earnest. The dining room table, the pool table, the kitchen table, were all covered in sheets and dusted with flour. The pasta roller was brought down from the high shelf in the service porch and everyone was enlisted in the task of making pasta. We had one shot at making enough pasta for the summer. Mapping out how many dinners, who would be visiting, how much would each person eat, and what type and shape of pasta was a bit of an ordeal. The kitchen a bustle, until pasta making began. The room became silent. Everyone with a task; everyone working toward a common goal.
My job was always to transfer the pasta from the kitchen to its assigned table. Sometimes, most times, more went into my mouth than on the table. yes raw. Especially if it was cavatelli. I just loved the chew.
Still do.
Which is why I love this recipe. It has that bit of a chew. It also has a raw egg, so eating it uncooked is a risk you have to decide about on your own.

Semolina Pasta Recipe
*use for pici, cavatelli, orecchiette

2 cups 00 flour
1 cup semolina flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 extra large or jumbo egg (i use a duck egg)
1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup (+/-) cool water

Place 00 flour, semolina flour and salt in a large bowl. Mix to combine. Make a large well in the center of the flour and fill with egg, olive oil, and 1/2 cup water. Using a fork mix together until all flour is moistened and the mixture is coming together. Use your hands to get the dough together in a ball. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes. The dough should not be wet, and it shouldn’t be scraggy, but it should be a bit stiff. If the dough is too wet, use a bit of flour when you knead…just a bit at a time.
Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.

To roll out the pici:
Roll the dough with a rolling pin, on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4″ thick. Using a knife, cut the dough into strips about 1/8″ wide. Gently roll each piece on a lightly floured surface, starting from the center, and work your way out. Place on a tray dusted with semolina flour.
Cook in a large pot of salted boiling water for about 8-10 minutes. Serve with your favorite ragu.
** pici pasta is not spaghetti. it is thicker and a bit denser. As I said before, it has a bit of a chew to it.

Here is a short video demonstrating how to roll out your pici

Firenze in April -day three-

Day three is usually when jet lag hits. At least for me. After so many years of it being a pattern, it is probably now a learned response. Or maybe, I allow myself to succumb to it. Likely because, it is something I can say to people
and they won’t judge. Which is how we found ourselves giving rip van winkle a run for his money. After a long sleep, a long walk seemed in order. We cruised the streets of Florence until it seemed a respectable time to look for lunch. I was craving roasted chicken and potatoes. We found it on the menu of a place that looked really nice. Except they were playing Sade and I can’t stand Sade.Really, I can’t. No specific reason, just can’t tolerate her music. Reminds me too much of jazz, i think. I like a hook. Sade doesn’t give you a hook, so i refused to go in. Instead, I convinced myself that another place would be just as good.
I was wrong
Not even photo worthy. I will admit, Mike liked his. He got some sort of pasta and I ordered chicken with roasted potatoes. I was served, seriously, seriously, seriously overcooked anorexic chicken thigh-slash-leg, and french fries / I poked at it. At least I still had room for gelato.
But let me get ahead of myself here, don’t despair.

I had a bad meal in Italy, no biggie. I made up for it at dinner, and then some. We ate at a fun place. When i say fun, i mean…bring your sense of fun…because if you bring your >em>”that would never go in america” attitude, you.will. hate. this place, and they will hate you. So don’t go. If you still insist on going, don’t tell them i told you to, because I happen to like these people.

You must make a reservation at Il Latini, a restaurant that looks small but it isn’t. You make a reservation and queue up. Then the crowd starts building. Then the fervor starts building. Everyone starts thinking that their reservation is the most important.They open the door and it becomes a bit of a fiasco. They start calling out numbers, not names, but numbers. due, cinque, due, tre. Everyone starts pushing and throwing up their hands saying we are due, we are cinque, but mostly; they start yelling “I have a reservation.” Rest assured, everyone has a reservation and everyone gets in. And all the stress of getting in, is forgotten, when the food starts arriving. First the antipasto. Then you make choices: soup or pasta. Pasta? Do you want: ravioli, gnocchi, pappardelle, or spaghetti? Or perhaps all of them. Hubs chose ravioli, and I chose soup. did i mention that at this place they open a bottle of wine, and you pay for what you drink. Drink the whole bottle 10 euros. Drink only half, 5 euros. Drink less, pay less. I love this system.
The main course: roasted meats. You want chicken, rabbit, steak, lamb, pork, veal? All of them, some of them, one of them, none of them; you decide. And of course, the side dishes. This is what our table looked like.
loaded table
You should know, we cleaned our plates,but declined dessert. It was a good idea because, they brought out a plate loaded with cantucci and glasses of vin santo. Just as we thought it was all over they brought us a glass of moscato. You know,as you do. If you don’t know the drill
you think ahhh, they get you drunk so you aren’t freaked out by the bill. Because, come on, this kind of meal doesn’t come cheap.
Unless you are at il latini. They have reasonable in spades.

Pisa-Lucca in April–day two

Saturday in florence is like Saturday in any city. Locals pouring into town to do their weekend shopping and tourists milling about in large groups, staring upwards. Just an all around crowded situation. Which is why we got out of town. Pisa and Lucca the destination. Turns out, it wasn’t such a bad idea. The weather had turned runny just as we took our seats on the excursion bus. Rain began pouring down. I never think i am a fan of the organized tourist train/bus/walk, but i nearly always give them a try. I am hardly disappointed; except when it includes food. Which is a big bad bust, most of the time. Those i avoid, because as you know, I am all about the food. Speaking of which. We had steak and eggs for breakfast.There are no photos, because i forgot. By the time i remembered it didn’t look so appetizing. Just trust me; leftover bistecca fiorentina with a couple of fried eggs and hunk of bread, is money.
In Pisa we did a tour of the church, which is beautiful but dark. Too dark to take photos. Because in churches, you can’t wear a hat and you can’t use a flash. The real draw in Pisa is the tower. A leaning tower.I love all the great photos that people fashion; holding the tower up, grimacing under the supposed weight. They never cease to humor me.However, I rarely see this maneuver.
Someone kicking the darn thing over.It is funny, right? That is my husband. He enjoys a good laugh as much as I. We hooted over this one for hours.
Time for lunch. In a tourist town, where restaurants actually name themselves restaurant tourista, getting a good meal is a bit dubious. We found one just outside the main tourist area called Trattoria Bruno.
Mike’s penne pasta with rabbit and boar was outstanding.
rabbit pasta
My handmade pasta with porcini mushrooms was also delicious. The pasta so thin, you could almost see through it.
From Pisa we got back on the bus and headed to Lucca; a medieval city that is usually quite lovely.However, on a rainy Saturday with many of the venues closed for the afternoon,
there was little to see. After getting a bit drenched in the rain we stopped for a hot chocolate. In this part of Italy, hot chocolate is more like warm chocolate pudding, than chocolate water. You decide if it sounds better or not.
e poi
which means and then not the poi you eat in Hawaii, which is not Italian by any means. Despite having the same name
We visited a winery just outside of Lucca, where it turns out, they make the house wine for one of my favorite places in New York City. Sant. Ambroeus. When i was getting married
my dress came from vera wang. Before my first appointment and subsequently all my fittings, I would have coffee and a little something at sant ambroeus. So when the proprietor of this winery in Lucca off-handedly mentioned the restaurant I perked up with “on madison avenue!?!” Sje and i had a bonding moment. It is her brother’s place and all the “house wine” comes from here.
It is pretty good. A tasty drinkable wine. I was set to buy quite a bit, but then my new friend the owner gave me the name of their american distributor, so i wouldn’t have to pay for shipping. Which now means, i’ll probably buy a whole case.
After the wine and the food and the travel by bus, we were pretty wiped out and without plans for dinner. We grabbed a quick porchetta sandwich and called it a night. Actually,a night and half a day,since jet lag reared its ugly head. We slept about 12 hours. Waking up just in time to search out lunch….

Tomato Chutney

Basically, I am obsessed with this stuff. It is a recipeI I swiped from my visit to Ca’ di Gosta, in the hills of Umbria. It was served one afternoon and after catching me licking the jar clean, Jenny shared the recipe with me. Great on a turkey sandwich or a perfect condiment to roast pork. Make it. make. it. now.

Tomato Chutney
makes approx 6 pints
3 lbs cherry tomatoes-cut in half
1 head garlic-peeled and finely chopped
1 heaping tsp crushed red pepper
about 2″ root ginger–peeled and finely chopped
10 oz cider vinegar
1 1/2-2 lbs dark brown sugar
generous pinch of kosher salt
Place all ingredients in a large pot. Stir and allow to sit for 30-60 minutes. Place over medium heat, stirring occasionally and allow it to get to a dark, jammy like consistency. This should take the better part of an hour. When you think the chutney may be ready, taste for flavor. You can adjust the sweet/sour/spicy at this point by adding more sugar, vinegar or red pepper. Test for doneness by placing a small bit of the chutney on a cold plate. If the chutney allows you to run a finger through it leaving a clean break, it is ready. You do not want it to get hard like a candy. Place in glass jars and store in the refrigerator or if you are familiar with proper canning procedures, process for 15 minutes (at sea level) in sterilized jars.