Making anything by hand is a soothing, therapeutic exercise; when that handmade thing is pasta, it’s a mindfulness practice with delicious results! We love Emiko Davies’ recipe for Pici all’aglione, a handmade pici (fat, rustic Tuscan noodles) topped with a garlic-loaded tomato sauce that is rich and simple. “In my opinion, pici should always be handmade; there is nothing like the charmingly imperfect quality of proper pici, painstakingly rolled one by one,” says Emiko.
Emiko has kindly shared recipe for Pici all’aglione with Southern Wild Co (we're adding it to our Autumn repertoire!). If you don’t have time to cook, then you must take a visual culinary trip to Italy via Emiko’s gorgeous website here, where she shares delicious recipes and stories of her beautiful famiglia, life and travels. You might even be tempted to sign up for one Emiko’s monthly seasonal cooking classes. What better excuse does one need to travel to Italy?
Note: Aglione literally means “big garlic” but actually comes from the wild leek family (allium ampeloprasum, Holmense variety, similar to Elephant Garlic which is the Ampeloprasum variety), with a mellower flavour than regular garlic. It’s a typical product from the Valdichiana area in Tuscany and has only recently been rediscovered and brought back into production (the ones I found are grown by Ortofrutticola Castiglionese). If you don’t have aglione, you can try doing this technique with regular garlic too. For those who like a bit of heat, some chilli is good in this too.
For the pici:
1½ cups/ 200 grams of plain flour
1½ cups/ 200 grams of semola, plus more for dusting
1 cup/ 200 ml water
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the sauce:
4 cloves of aglione
60 ml ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
100 ml white wine
400 gr tinned or fresh tomato pulp
salt and pepper
To make the pici, mix the two flours together on a clean surface, forming a pyramid. Create a well in the centre of the pyramid and pour in the water bit by bit while incorporating the flour by carefully swirling the liquid with your hands. Continue combining the flour and water this way until you have a smooth dough. If you find your dough comes together before you finish incorporating all the flour, stop there; if it is too sticky, dust on some extra flour. You want a ball of dough that springs back when you poke it and no longer sticks to your hands when you roll it. Set the dough aside to rest, covered, for at least 30 minutes (I use this time to start making the sauce).
Separate the dough into two pieces to begin with and on a well-floured surface roll out the first piece until it is about 2-3mm (1/10 inch) thick. Cut long strips and then with the palms of your hands on a board or between your thumb and fingers in the air, roll each flat strip from the center outwards, until you have thick noodle. Dust with plenty of semola and roll around your hand then set aside –I usually place them in a single layer on a wooden board dusted with semola or flour. Continue until you have finished all the dough.
Heat a pot of water to boil the pasta and season with 1 teaspoon of salt for each litre (4 cups) of water.
For the sauce
If you are using fresh tomatoes, you should blanch them in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds first to peel the skins off, then chop roughly.
Peel the garlic cloves and place them whole (or if extra large, halved) in the pan with the olive oil and white wine. Turn heat on low and gently heat. The aim here is to very gently cook the garlic cloves without them colouring, until they are so soft that you can them crush them easily with a fork – it will take about 30 minutes at least, covered. If you’re using regular garlic then you’ll need less, about 15-20 minutes. The reason to do this and not chop them before is that they will more easily burn in smaller pieces and you want to draw out their sweetness by the slow, low cooking. Add the tomato pulp, season with salt and pepper to taste, and continue cooking a further 20 minutes, uncovered, until the sauce has thickened slightly, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
Boil the pasta until al dente, about 3 minutes for fresh pici, then drain and toss through the warm sauce until well coated and serve immediately.
A tip for preparing for this recipe: I would not recommend trying to make this pasta too far in advance as the pici could start sticking – or drying out too much which can affect the texture. If you would like to prepare a part of this recipe ahead of time, make the sauce. It will keep well in an airtight container such as a jar for a few days in the fridge. But otherwise, start first by making the dough. Then, while it is resting for 30 minutes, start the sauce. Go back to the dough once it is rested and by the time you have made the pasta and are ready to boil it, the sauce will be ready, and still warm.
Emiko Davies is a food writer, photographer and the author of award-winning Italian cookbooks, Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence (2016), Acquacotta (2017) and Tortellini at Midnight (2019), published by Hardie Grant Books. She is based in Tuscany, Italy with her Tuscan husband and their children. Her latest cookbook, Torta della Nonna (March 2021), is a collection of the sweet recipes from her first three books and her next book Cinnamon and Salt: Cicchetti in Venice: Small Bites from the Lagoon City, detailing Venetian cicchetti will be out in April 2023. Emiko and her husband Marco Lami have a kickstarter campaign to launch Enoteca Marilu, their enoteca and cooking school opening in Tuscany. To donate, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/enotecamarilu/enoteca-marilu-natural-wine-and-cooking-school.