A few years ago now a group us went on a trip to Tuscany, staying in a hillside villa. It’s a fantastic place, full of history, beautiful villages and enormous elaborate churches. Lots and lots of churches in fact.
As has been typical for many of our holidays, the weather was terrible on arrival. We’d packed summer gear but on arrival the locals explained (graciously, in English) that it was the worst weather they’d experienced for about 15 years. But, thankfully, the weather did perk up though and we got to visit Pisa, Florence, Sienna and Montepulciano, a fabulous little town with great wine shops doing a roaring trade in exports. It was on the way to Montepulciano we stopped at a cafe in a small roadside village. Full of locals, it was just the sort of stereotypical place I expected to see in Italy. A mis-match of furniture with chequered paper table covers and constant exuberant chatter of the locals. Just my kind of place!
Being a huge fan of Italian food, I could have tried the entire menu, but I ordered Pici pasta, a Tuscan ‘specilialty’ the roughly translated menu read. It’s basically spaghetti with gigantism, being (typically) hand-rolled lengths of pasta. This gives in an uneven thickness as a result. It came with an excellent meat ragu sauce and was delicious, in fact I was tempted to go for seconds.
I was pleased therefore to find some recently in a local deli. It was machine made and had none of the endearing ‘wonkiness’ going on but was close enough for me!
I tried to keep it basic and made it with a simple tomato sauce and basil. It wasn’t quite as good as that spur of the moment stop in Italy of course, but it was close enough until I can return.
- 200g Pici pasta
- 1 can of tomatoes
- 1 large garlic clove, sliced
- 1 stick of celery and 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- 1 large onion, sliced
- Olive oil for frying
- a handful of basil leaves, chopped roughly.
- About a tsp of sugar (if you need it)
- salt and pepper to taste
The sauce benefits from being cooked on a low simmer for a while. Start with this because the sauce will wait for the pasta, but the pasta will not wait for the sauce once it’s drained!
Start by frying the vegetables (except the tomatoes) in some olive oil for a few minutes on a gentle heat until the onion is soft and slight browned.
Add the tomatoes and allow to simmer away for a good 20-30 minutes. Halfway through (before it gets too thick) I used a stick blender to make it smooth, but you don’t have to.
Halfway through the sauce cooking time, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water. It’s thick and so takes a good 20-22 minutes to cook.
Just before the pasta is ready, finish the sauce. Add the sugar if needed (I did – we don’t get the beautifully sweet tomatoes the Italians are spoiled with) and salt to taste. Stir through the chopped basil and a little more oil if you like. Take it off the heat.
Drain the pasta and return to the pan. Use spaghetti tongs and mix the sauce in thoroughly. Prego!