Giuliana makes pici pasta

Manuele Graziani has been head chef at Albergo Le Terme in Bagno Vignoni for 9 years and when Gianluca Giorgi and I discovered he’d been taught by his mother, Giuliana, how to make pici pasta, well, we had to meet her. So Manuele gave up his day off and invited us to his home in Petroio to meet Giulana and his family.

Here in Le Marche pici pasta – a homemade spaghetti – is unheard of but over in Tuscany it’s very popular; Petroio has its own sagra, food festival, to celebrate it. In fact, folk make pici whenever there is anything to celebrate.

Giuliana is an expert, making pici strands that are well over a metre long, but I think this pasta is particularly suited to beginners (and children) because it doesn’t matter if they’re a bit wiggly or short.

A lot of cooks don’t use an egg in the dough – just salt, olive oil and water; but Giuliana likes to add one for every 400g or so of flour. Prescriptive recipes are an alien concept – she piles the flour on her board, adds the other ingredients and starts to work them into the flour. When she’s got the right consistency, any leftover flour is recycled – in the video that’s what Manuele is doing, sifting the flour for future use, while Giuliana rolls out the dough.

The eggs of course come from their own chickens – they’d never dream of buying them from a supermarket. And the olive oil comes from their olive trees. Little wonder, then, the resulting pasta tastes delicious. It’s unlikely you live in an olive grove with free-range chickens, but nevertheless take inspiration from the Italian love of top notch, home grown ingredients and seek out the equivalent.

It was great fun to watch Manuele and Giuliana at work, and a privilege then to join them for lunch. One of the lovely things about researching Pasta Grannies is how we are welcomed into Italian family life, where sitting down to a meal together is a given, and two strangers are invited to share it with absolutely no problem at all.

Here is the recipe for pici pasta, for about 4 to 5 people.

400g plain all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 egg, beaten

100ml water

Make a well in the flour and add the other ingredients. Use a fork or your fingers to incorporate them. If the dough is too dry, add a little water; if too sticky add a tablespoon of flour at a time until you’ve got a dough you can handle without it clinging to the palms of your hands. Knead for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is soft and springy and then let it rest for 30 minutes.

Have ready a plate of semola, durum wheat, flour.

Roll the dough out to about 1 centimetre thick. Cut 1-centimetre wide strips and copy Giuliana, rolling out the strip with one hand while feeding it through the palm of the other. Aim for an even thickness – this takes practice. If the strip snaps, simply squeeze the two bits together and keep going.

When your strip of dough has been transformed into a pasta string, dunk it in the semola flour, and loop it loosely before laying it on a tray in readiness for cooking.

To cook, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add salt and bring it back to the boil and then slide in your pici. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, drain and toss with the sauce of your choosing. That’s the next post!