Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pici -"Oh Wow"

First of all, let me apologize for neglecting my blog, all of my blog friends, and all of your sweet comments. I've been spread so thin lately that I can barely manage to cook, and when I do, it's noting worthy of posting. But I do really appreciate all your support, and even when I don't respond to a comment, please know that each and every one brings a smile to my face.

As I just mentioned, I've been busy, really busy. March has been totally crazy and I've been living my own personal "March Madness" between work, my internship and editing my book. But I have a goal for myself: I'll start sending my book out to agents ( know any good ones?) by April 1st- and so far, I seem to be on track, even if it means waking up at 5 am to revise for a few hours before going to work.

But enough about that, let's get to the food. You're probably wondering about the title of this post, like- what are Pici? and why do they get an "oh wow"?

Pici are a hand rolled Tuscan pasta, similar to a really really thick spaghetti, made with semolina flour and lots of love. The "Oh wow" part comes right from Gian Luca's mouth, as I opened the fridge this evening and took out my day's work for him to see.

He's been talking about Pici for months now and we never had the time to buckle down and make them. But this afternoon, when I opened up the freezer and saw the lonely pint of Ragu just hanging out, I decided today was the day. There it was, the perfect reason to procrastinate staring me right in the face.

And, since Janelle of Talk of Tomatoes proposed a pact that we start making our own pasta, I really had no excuses did I? So girl, I'm tagging you now- you're it! ( Anyone else want to join us?)

So if you need to procrastinate, or you're just in the mood for some delicious pasta, give these a try. I promise you'll be saying "Oh wow" too.

( Makes 4 servings)

1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup semolina flour ( plus more for dusting)
3/4 cup tepid water

1) On a clean work surface, make a well with the two flours
2) Slowly add the water to the middle of the well, incorporating flour from the center of the well until a wet dough forms. Knead in the rest of the dough, adding more water if the dough is too dry. Knead together to form a ball.
3) Place the dough ball aside and clean your work surface. Scrape up and discard any dried dough bits.
4) lightly flour your work surface again and knead the dough ball for a good 10 minutes using the palms of your hands ( think of it as a workout). The dough should be elastic and slightly sticky.
5) Wrap dough in a plastic bag and let it rest for 30 minutes.
6) Remove dough from plastic bag and pinch off one inch of dough. Begin by rolling the dough into a log in the palm of your hands, then place the log on your work surface and roll outwards, pressing gently with your palms. Roll the dough out until it is a long, thin strand, about 1/16th of an inch thick. This will take some practice, so don't worry if all of your pici come out to be different sizes.
7) Lightly dust a cookie sheet with flour and place the finished pici on that, careful not to let them stick together. Repeat with the rest of the dough. ( Refrigerate the pici if you won't be using them for a few hours. For anything more than 1 day, pop them in the freezer.
8) Bring 8 cups of water to boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and one teaspoon of olive oil to the boiling water. This will flavor the pici and allow them not to stick together. Add the pici and cook until cooked through, ( about 5- 10 minutes depending on the thickness of your pasta).
9) Drain and serve with ragu and pecorino cheese.
10) say "Oh wow" just to make me feel good :)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Orecchiette with Shrimp and Broccoli di Rape

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my aunts, uncles and cousins in Italy. Its been almost three years since I've been there to see them, and even though we can connect through Facebook and Skype, there is nothing like being there in person to sit around a big lunch table, talk, laugh and eat loads of homemade food.
Obviously I love going back to see them, but I also love going back to eat, and my aunts all know exactly what I crave and find a way to make my favorite dishes. My Zia Anna always makes her Crostata di Ricotta, with her homemade ricotta cheese that is like no other I've ever tasted. Zia Guiseppina make her panzarotti, which, when we were kids, we'd fight over. Zia Lena makes spectacular pastas with the wild mushrooms that my Zio Vincenzo collects on his morning walks through the woods, and finally, Zia Maria, my Godmother, makes her Orecchiette.

Zia Maria is a specialized pasta maker. I've seen her work and she's methodical but has that certain rhythm that can only be seen when one is really enjoying her work. She sets out her wooden board, coated with years of flour, on the counter near her window. There she works, always taking time to chatter with neighbors as they pass, watch her grandchildren play in the street outside, and wave her husband in from the cold. She does this almost every day, and it is comforting to think that even now as I write this post, she is probably at her window, rolling out dough and shaping the "little ears" with her thumb.
I rarely make my own pasta. I love doing it, but most days there is not enough time, so we have to be content with dried pasta from the grocery store. Luckily, with the right sauce, the pasta still has the ability to transport me to the streets of Salandra, where I am walking outside of my Aunt's window, waving to her as she works.

Orecchiette with Shrimp and Broccoli di Rape
Serves 4
3/4 pound of orecchiette
1 pound of Broccoli di Rape
1 pound shrimp ( peeled and cleaned)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring 3 quarts of salted water to boil. Add Orecchiette and cook according to package directions.
2. Cut Broccoli di Rape into small pieces and blanch in boiling salted water for 5 minutes ( this will remove all the bitterness)
3. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic cloves and red pepper flakes. When the garlic beings to brown, add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink. Add the white wine and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the blanched broccoli di rape, salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer together for another 3 minutes.
4. Drain the pasta and add to the saucepan. Stir to coat the pasta in the sauce. Top with the lemon zest. Serve hot.