Below the tiny village of Monteriggioni, 20 minutes from Siena there is a small trattoria, Bar Dell'Orso, that serves traditional dishes from the area.
The place is famous for their wild boar and cured meats. As a vegetarian, I don’t eat those, they have a few vegetarian and vegan options that are outstanding. Every time I go back to Tuscany I try to eat their “pici.” This thick hand-made spaghetti is rustic, simple and delicious. My favorites are pici with Tuscan kale, or with Cacio and Pepe (cheese and pepper).
Bar Dell’Orso is a homey, simple place. All their attention is focused on serving good food, not on the appearance of the place. I really appreciate this focus, since too often there is more attention paid to making a dish look good than to making it taste good.
During winter Bar dell'Orso has a few seats inside, and you can find yourself sitting on a stool back-to-back with a stranger enjoying their food. I love it!
Last time I went there I talked with the woman who makes the pici dough and asked for her recipe. She makes the pici with a combination of soft wheat flour and semolina. Since then, I’ve followed her recipe whenever I make pici.
This time, my pici were served with Briciole or breadcrumbs, which were a staple in the farmers’ kitchens. Briciole were a substitute for grated cheese for the poor, since there was always some stale bread around.
Mix the two flours together on a wooden board. Make a well in the flour and add some warm water, little by little.
Knead your dough for 5-10 minutes until smooth and soft.
Wrap your ball of dough in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Once it has rested, you can make your pici.
With a rolling pin roll your dough 1/4 of an inch thick. Drizzle some olive oil on top and spread all over your dough. This will prevent your pici from sticking together.
Cut the dough in strips with a knife or a pizza wheel. Roll the pici as they were playdoh worms :). Leave the pasta on the side dusted with semolina flour.
Wash and chop the Tuscan kale. In a big pot with salted boiling water place the kale and let it cook for about 10 minutes. In the meantime, place the bread in a food processor and let it run until you have breadcrumbs. In a small frying pan on medium heat add 1 table spoon of olive oil and the breadcrumbs. Toast them until nice and golden and then leave aside. In a bigger frying pan add 5 tablespoons of olive oil and the chopped garlic on medium heat. Let the garlic gently fry for a couple of minutes without burning it, and then remove the pan from the heat.
Add your pici to the boiling water with the kale and cook for 4-5 minutes. Taste them to check if they are done -- they should be chewy but without the taste of flour. Drain the pici and kale in a colander and place them in the frying pan with the olive oil and garlic, toss them for 2 minutes in the frying pan over medium heat, and then serve with the breadcrumbs sprinkled of top, black pepper and some grated parmesan if you like.
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In another three weeks I'll start leading a course at the Amazon Community Center in Eugene called'Eat and Speak the Italian way': Italy conjures up great food and a musicality of language. Learn to express yourself in Italian as you learn recipes with our Italian-born instructor. I'm pretty excited about it. And scared. I'm excited because the idea of...