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How to Make Homemade Pici Pasta Using Only Your Hands

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My love for pici, a fat, hand-rolled noodle from Tuscany, began at the London pasta hotspot Padella in Borough Market. The tiny restaurant doesn't take reservations, so a line begins to form outside before they open in the evening, and continues until they fill up and begin to turn customers away. The team at Padella make amazing homemade gnocchi, seasonal pasta sauces, and a shockingly delicious cannelini bean-on-toast appetizer, but my personal favorite, one shared by the vast majority of the customers, is their pici cacio e pepe.

Pici Cacio e Pepe with Garlic & Marjoram
Pici Cacio e Pepe with Garlic & Marjoram

Pici is always made (and rolled) by hand, lending it a rustic chewiness which is the perfect foil to the creamy, peppery cacio e pepe sauce. It's not the most aesthetically appealing dish (I hate to say it, but noodles themselves kind of look like worms—delicious, delicious worms), but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in taste: the perfectly imperfect tangles of hand-rolled noodles catch every bit of the luscious, savory sauce. If you don't want to go the cheese-and-pepper route, you could always pair the pici with another bold sauce: one with broccoli rabe, breadcrumbs and anchovies, or bitter dandelion greens.

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Regardless of how you sauce them, pici is the easiest, least high-tech way to make homemade pasta. They require no pasta machine, no rolling pin, not even any eggs—just you, your hands, and a willingness to get a little messy. Pici-making is the perfect project for a cozy Friday night, an excellent way to combat the Sunday Scaries, and, if you're feeling ambitious, it is an excellent date activity. Here's how to make it happen.

Knead that dough into shape.
Knead that dough into shape. Photo by James Ransom

To start, you'll mix up a dough just like any other time you've made homemade pasta, this time omitting the eggs. (If you haven't tackled homemade pasta before, it's super easy—here's a step-by-step guide.)

You can mix your pasta dough in a stand mixer or by hand in a bowl or on a counter. Knead it until the dough is smooth and elastic and doesn't tear when you pull it gently apart, then wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest for one hour, giving the gluten time to relax. (Alternatively, you can put the wrapped dough in the fridge overnight—just let it come back to room temperature before shaping the noodles.)

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Left: Pasta needs more kneading. Right: Pasta is ready for a rest. Photos by James Ransom

Once the dough is rested, unwrap it and cut it in half. The cacio e pepe recipe only requires half of the dough, so store the rest to make at a future time (it will last for several days tightly wrapped in the fridge), or just go ahead and shape it all now, reserving some noodles for dinner tomorrow. On a clean wood or stainless steel surface (textured work surfaces help with the rolling process), pat dough into a rectangle. Using a knife or dough cutter, slice off a thin piece of dough (around 15 grams, if you're weighing), keeping the remaining dough covered with a damp towel.

Begin to roll out the piece of dough with your fingers, starting in the middle and working towards the outside. If you ever made "worms" out of Play Doh, this will be familiar to you. The noodles should not be thicker than a pencil and not thin enough to break, but besides that, there are no rules; if they're a little uneven, don't sweat it! Place rolled noodles lengthwise on a floured tray to avoid sticking. Continue the rolling process until all the dough has been noodle-ified.

See? Just like Play Doh.
See? Just like Play Doh. Photo by Julia Gartland

When you're ready to eat, put a large pot of salted water on to boil and get ready to start the sauce—everything will happen at once, so make sure all of your ingredients are prepped. First, toast some garlic bits in a large saucepan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil until they're golden. Drain them over a heatproof bowl using a (non-plastic) colander or fine-mesh sieve, or just pick out the garlic bits using a spider/spoon and leave the oil in the pan (to use later). Spread the toasty garlic pieces on a paper towel and reserve the infused garlic oil for later in the recipe process. Step one complete!

When your water boils, cook the pasta until just shy of al dente, about 4 to 5 minutes, and drain, reserving one cup of pasta water. In the same saucepan in which you cooked the garlic, heat some of the infused oil and use it to toast the black pepper and marjoram until everything gets fragrant. Add in some pasta cooking water and stir vigorously with metal tongs or chopsticks until the sauce begins to emulsify, that is, until the oil and water begin to mix together. Dump in the pici noodles and stir stir stir until the sauce is glossy and coats the noodles. (Note: If you're having trouble getting everything to emulsify, toss in a tablespoon of butter. Not very authentic, but it works every time.) If sauce becomes dry, add a splash more cooking water. Take the pan off the heat.

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Sprinkle the grated cheese over the hot noodles and let the whole thing sit a minute, until the cheese begins to melt. Stir the noodles vigorously until the cheese yields itself up and combines uniformly throughout the sauce, turning glossy. Fold in the golden garlic bits. Divide noodles into bowls or plates, top with more cheese and pepper if desired, and eat immediately with great, messy gusto. I recommend serving alongside a sharp green salad and some bread for wiping up every last bit of the sauce. It's too good to waste.

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Pici Cacio e Pepe with Garlic & Marjoram

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Serves 2

Pici

  • 1 1/4 cups semolina flour (200 grams)
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (220 grams), or more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water (200 milliliters)

Golden Garlic, Pecorino & Marjoram Sauce

  • 1/4 cup flavorless oil, such as sunflower (50 milliliters)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram (or thyme), finely chopped
  • 1 cup pecorino cheese, finely grated (40 grams)
  • butter (if needed)
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Have you tried your hand at pici, or any other homemade pasta? Share your experience in the comments!

Tags: pasta, homemade pasta, DIY food, pici