Pasta isn’t an easy thing to make. The first time, your pasta is always garbage. You swear that you’ll never do it again because the store bought stuff is totally better than this crap you just made. But just like with anything, after you do it a few times, you get the hang of it and it becomes easier, tastier, and super enjoyable. A few months ago, I decided that I was going to make pasta once a week. The same recipe, the same shape over and over again. I chose to work with a semolina/00 flour and water dough. The most basic. The basis of all pastas: flour and water. This type of pasta dough is for hand making shapes like orecchiette and pici.
PICI. Ugh. Pici. Pronounced pee-chee, the badass brother to spaghetti and bucatini. It’s basically a hand rolled fat spaghetti, about the thickness of bucatini but without the hollow center. =0 They’re chunky and doughy and so freaking incredible in my carb loving opinion. Bonus points on pici: zero equipment needed to shape them and they’re supposed to be imperfect. Doesn’t make a difference if some are long and others are short or even if the thickness isn’t consistent throughout. It’s so forgiving. Down side of pici: It’s pretty damn labor intensive to roll them each strand individually. BUT, if you take a Sunday afternoon to do this, “in the easy” as my family would say, it’s relaxing and therapeutic. Almost like meditating. My brain goes into some trans at some point during the rolling process.
I quickly came to the realization that my AP flour was not going to cut it and that the semolina flour you can grab at any grocery store was too coarse for the dough. To make pasta like an Italian, you must buy Italian products. Amazon to the rescue. Though I wasn’t able to find an old Nonno with huge pasta kneading hands to help me out. The tipo ’00’ flour is your super fine, powdery white flour. But that semolina flour… daaayyummm. Just as fine and powdery with a gorgeous pale yellow hue. Trust me when I say that the grocery store semolina is not like this. The dough from this combination of flours was super silky and supple, literally like baby butt. Yes, I just compared food to a butt. In my searches, I also decided to pick up squid ink for some black pasta to match my black soul (I’m not evil, I just really like the color black). It adds a saltiness to the pasta that I just love.
I wanted to keep the sauce very simple. Something that wouldn’t out-shine the pici. I had recently planted some sorrel in my garden and that ish grows like wild fire. When life gives you a truck load of sorrel, make pesto. A good ol’ regular pesto is great here too if you have a favorite recipe you make on a normal basis. The addition of grated lemon zest brightens the dish. It’s glorious. THAT CURED EGG YOLK THOUGH… lit. It’s totally optional, but give it a try man. I use this Bon Appetit recipe with the inclusion of a bunch of cracked black pepper. You can leave out the squid ink for a regular (even vegan) pici. I’ve been making it like a cacio e pepe pasta too with tons of feta cheese (it’s a family thing).
Other notes from my pasta project: I have a serious aversion to having flour on my hands and I can eat a whole pound of pici by myself.
SORREL PESTO SQUID INK PICI
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
1 cup sorrel leaves, or arugula if sorrel is out of season
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup grated parmesan
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup olive oil
1 pinch salt
fresh black pepper
cured egg yolk (recipe from Bon Appetit), optional
FOR THE SQUID INK PICI: In a bowl, combine flour, semolina flour, and salt. Turn out onto a cutting board and mound the flour. Create a well in the center leaving a thin layer of flour at the bottom. In a small bowl, whisk the water and squid ink together then pour it into the well. Using a fork, begin to incorporate the flour starting with the inner rim of the walls of the well. Try to retain the walls until you have a thick paste. Using a bench scraper start to fold the dough onto itself from all sides. After the dough begins to form, switch to kneading with your hands. Knead the dough for at least 8-10 minutes, no less! The dough should be smooth and elastic at this point. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for at least 40 minutes.
Prepare a sheet pan with coarse semolina or flour. Cut the pasta dough into 4 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time and making sure that the rest are wrapped tightly, flatten the piece into a rectangle that is about 1/2 “ thick. Using a knife, cut ¼” strips. Using your hands against the cutting board, roll each piece into a long pici. They should be as thick as bucatini. I roll mine to 3/16” thick. Transfer the rolled pici to the prepared sheet pan. Continue with the rest of the pasta dough.
FOR THE SORREL PESTO: Place the all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process on low until the mixture is finely chopped and emulsified into a pesto. This will keep, in an air-tight container, for 1 day.
TO FINISH: Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the pici for 6-10 minutes (This will depend on how thick your pici is. Make sure you’re testing it). Drain the pici and transfer to a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Immediately add 4-5 tablespoons of sorrel pesto and toss. Turn the heat off once the pici is coated well with pesto. Grate/zest lots of parmesan, cured egg yolk, and lemon over top of the pici. Season with a bit of maldon salt. Serve immediately with a garnish of sorrel leaves.