October 30, 2010

Homemade Pici Pasta

I love to make homemade pasta, but I will admit it can be time consuming and labor intensive! If you have a little bit of time, though, you can make the pasta, freeze it, and when you are ready to put dinner together, it boils in a flash and is quite a delicious and elegant meal! When I started making pasta from scratch, I started with the standard pasta verde, green pasta, which contains spinach. What I found was surprising to me- the pasta dough that contained the vegetables was actually much easier to work with than plain pasta dough. This got me thinking... what if I want to use a different vegetable other than spinach? It was fall at the time and the store shelves were well stocked with pumpkin and butternut squash puree. I bought several cans and this delicious recipe was born!

Pasta Dough with Vegetable Puree:
7 oz. pureed pumpkin or butternut squash (from a can or homemade)
generous pinch sea salt
3 cups flour (unbleached all -purpose)
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon olive oil
As a rule, when you make something like homemade pasta or you are baking, your eggs should be as close to room temperature as possible. I wear disposable plastic gloves when I make pasta dough. Not the kind you use to wash dishes, but the kind you see at the doctor's office. You can buy them at the drugstore- you should get them because they are excellent for making pasta dough, bread dough, and cutting up hot peppers.
To make the pasta dough, use a large bowl. Place the flour in the bowl and create a well in the center. If you are able to beat the eggs together before pouring the eggs into the well, that will be helpful. If that's not convenient, just make sure you either pierce the yolks with a fork or your fingers so they will combine well with the other ingredients. Add the salt, olive oil and vegetable puree. With your gloved hands, combine the ingredients together. There's no graceful or attractive way to do this, this step is a complete mess. That's why I do it in a bowl wearing gloves instead of the traditional way on a flat surface. Combine the ingredients as well as you can, if you have a lot of dryness and a lot of the flour isn't being incorporated, add some water and keep doing so until the dough is coming together sufficiently. Knead the dough until it is smooth. I now wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for about an hour.
This next step will depend on what type of pasta you wish to make and what type of equipment you have. Don't have a pasta maker? That's ok! Your new best friends are your rolling pin and your hands!
Scenario 1: Pici
You are about to embark on a very exciting journey into the world of Pici! Pici is wonderful, the shape is a long, slightly irregular tube shape that is created by rolling strips of pasta dough with your fingers. Pici originated in Tuscany and I recently learned to make it in Montelpulciano. It was actually first made with no eggs- meaning that it was a very 'poor' pasta. It's now made with at least one egg typically. (So we weren't here making traditional Pici dough, but you will be making the Pici shape)
To make Pici, take some or all of your pasta dough (this recipe makes A LOT of dough), and on a floured work surface, such as a large cutting board or clean counter, using a rolling pin, take the dough down to roughly 1 inch thick. Now, using a sharp knife, cut the dough into vertical strips, making the strips about 1/3 of an inch wide. Take one strip, position horizontally and using both hands palms down, roll up and down, which will begin to elongate the strip horizontally. Move your hands between the outer part of the noodle and the interior, to keep the long noodle as uniform as possible. Set aside and repeat with each strip of pasta dough.

Fresh pasta cooks in boiling (salted, please!) water in just a few minutes! Taste test a noodle to see if they are nicely al dente. (When boiling water for cooking pasta, or potatoes, don't salt your water before it is close to boiling. If you add the salt while it is cold, it gets stuck on the bottom of the pan and it is both difficult to get off the pan but doesn't dissolve in the water as you'd like it to.)
If you don't plan to use your Pici right away, group it into little circular piles (as shown in the picture) and dust lightly with flour. You may freeze the noodles this way. Don't wait too long to shape the noodles into the little piles, if you wait too long the noodles will be too brittle to bend.
If you're interested in a more traditional and plainer pasta dough, use 3 cups of flour, one egg, a pinch of sea salt, two Tablespoons olive oil and use generous amounts of cool water to help bring the dough together. If it still remains too dry, use cool water and olive oil in small increments to bring it together.
Pici is traditionally paired with a very simple tomato sauce. This sauce just contains garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, strained tomatoes (or pureed), and salt and pepper. Couldn't be simpler! Here's the quick recipe:

Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Hot Pepper Flakes
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves
1 tablespoon (or more) red pepper flakes
28 ounces (roughly) strained or pureed tomatoes (such as Pomi brand)

Here is how to peel and smash your garlic very quickly and easily!

Once you've prepared your garlic cloves, either put them through a garlic press or chop finely. Add to the olive oil in a dish or a jar and allow the flavors to meld together. You can actually make garlic infused olive oil this way and keep it in your refrigerator. In the refrigerator, this keeps well for up to one week. When you're ready to make your sauce, heat a dutch oven or sauce pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, it should be fragrant but not so hot that the garlic is already turning brown. Add the red pepper flakes and cook for a few minutes more. Add the tomato puree and stir well to combine. As the mixture heats, you may need to keep stirring it to combine the oil and the tomato sauce. Salt and pepper liberally, tasting it to see if you need any more red pepper flakes or salt.

Serve the cooked Pici noodles with this sauce and it will be delicious!


Anonymous said...

I have recently tried pici pasta, ironically enough in Montepulciano last month during a study abroad program. In trying to learn about making it I came upon your blog. Very cool that you learned how to make it there. Would love to know who taught you. Can't wait to use your tips.

La Dolce Duchessa said...

How fun! Have you tried it yet? We learned to make it at the Avingnonese vineyard. They have an incredible vin santo, which is what originally took us there- my husband is a very enthusiastic fan of dessert wines, and I think we have been there at least twice- this last time for a cooking class and tour. Highly recommend it! Thank you for reading! Kind regards, Jessica at La Dolce Duchessa