Yesterday I saw a post on Instagram that brought back vivid memories of two of my favourite meals in Italy. It was handmade pasta (tonneralli) with a really simple carbonara sauce. The tonneralli made me reminisce about the handmade pasta we had enjoyed all over Italy, but in particular Siena and Capri: rustic, thick, not-quite spaghetti. The woman who posted it described the meal as close to a religious experience, and I can relate to that; some of the meals we enjoyed in Italy will stick with me for the rest of the life.
In Siena we had a dish of toothsome pasta ribbons with a simple tomato sauce and finely chopped boiled egg. Apparently the egg addition is typical of Italian ‘peasant’ food – an affordable source of protein. In Ana Capri, the smaller, ‘top’ town on the island of Capri, we had thick worms of pasta that were deliciously chewy and served with a seafood sauce.
I’ve tried making pici pasta since, and it was a little overwhelming – the texture wasn’t quite right. That Insta photo set off a mad fresh pasta craving though, so I decided to try it again last night with the addition of a little olive oil, hoping it would add a little chewiness. Traditional Sienese pici is made with just flour and water so I can’t claim this is authentic, but it’s damn good.
I am firmly in the no-cream camp when it comes to carbonara.
2 cups high-grade flour
½ tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
2 tbsp olive oil
100g pancetta (or guanciale, if you want to be traditional and can get it)
3 egg yolks, beaten
freshly ground black pepper
grated parmesan or other hard cheese
Put all the pici ingredients in a large bowl.
Start with about three-quarters of a cup of warm water and stir with a spoon to combine. Keep adding a little more water and stirring until you have a loose but not wet dough.
Tip the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface and bring it together into a ball. Knead the dough, using the heels of your palms, for about 5 minutes, until smooth and slightly elastic. It should spring back when you push it with your fingertip.
Shape the dough into a disc and wrap it in plastic wrap. Rest for at least two hours. (I left mine out of the fridge.)
Separate the dough into two pieces and rewrap one piece so it doesn’t dry out while you work with the other. Use a rolling pin (or bottle of wine . . .) to roll the dough out into a rough rectangle about half a centimetre thick. Cut into strips a centimetre wide. Don’t worry if they are different lengths or slightly different widths – this is rustic pasta.
Use your hands to roll each strip of pasta into a thick worm. As you work, place each worm onto a lightly floured clean tea towel.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.
Add pici to the boiling water. Add pancetta to the sizzling oil and stir until crispy then turn off the heat.
The pasta should take about 5 minutes to cook, but this will depend on the thickness so check it regularly. I like it al dente and slightly chewy.
Drain the pici and add to the pan with the pancetta. Take the pan off the element and add the egg yolks, stirring immediately to coat the pasta evenly and avoid the egg scrambling. Add more olive oil if needed. Season generously with pepper and taste before adding sea salt if required.
Before serving, sprinkle generously with parmesan.
I served the pici carbonara with baby peas on the side, which I admit I stirred through the pasta before eating it.