Giuseppina Spiganti is 93 years old. She is something of a local treasure, as she is the last surviving member of the group which began a pici sagra, a local food festival, 50 years ago. The village of Celle sul Rigo had a marching band, which was in need of money, so a sagra, celebrating the local pasta, pici, was born. At the time it was very unusual to honor a poor dish; nowadays, the festival is so popular, the organizers need more than three-quarters of a ton of flour to make enough pici for the crowds. The townspeople are fiercely proud of this tradition. Giuseppina was taught to make pici by her mother-in-law.
For the pasta:
- 3 1/3 cups (14 ounces) 00 flour or plain (all-purpose) flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1 egg
- 2/3 cup (5 1/2 fluid ounces) water
- Semolina flour, to roll the pici in
For the garlic sauce:
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 garlic cloves, ones that have not developed their “anima” or green shoots
- Fresh red chili peppers, to taste (Giuseppina used one, sliced into three)
- 2 tablespoons tomato purée
- 14 ounces plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
The sauce has to simmer for a couple of hours, so start this before your pasta. Pour the olive oil into a small saucepan—it should cover the base to a depth of 1/4 inch. Warm up the oil over a low heat and sauté the whole garlic cloves until you can crush them with a spoon; they shouldn’t burn. This will take about 20 minutes. About 15 minutes into the cooking, add the chili pepper, and continue frying the two ingredients for the final 5 minutes. Stir through the tomato purée, followed by the plum tomatoes. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, season with salt, and add half a tin of water. Let this simmer very gently over a low heat for 2 hours, adding a splash of water from time to time if you need to. You want a thick sauce at the end. Giuseppina uses a food mill to purée the sauce—to make sure the garlic and chili disappear. You could also use a hand-held blender.
Make the pasta dough as described in the Egg Pasta Dough recipe, but swap 3 of the eggs for water. Fill a shallow bowl with semolina flour to drop your pici into, to stop them from sticking together. Place a small bowl of water to the side of your pasta board, so you can keep your fingers moist while rolling the dough into pici (or use a small spritzing bottle filled with water).
Roll the dough out quite thickly, about 1/4 inch. Then slice it up, making 1/2 inch x 5 inch batons. Take each one, place it on the board and place both your hands together over the pasta. Keep your fingers straight and roll out the pasta, moving your hands apart. You are creating a spaghetti strand, so try and keep the pasta even in thickness. Giuseppina’s pici are much slimmer than some of the tubby versions you see on the Internet; aim for about 3 millimeters in diameter and 15 3/4 inches long.
Drop your finished pici into the semolina. If the bowl starts getting a little crowded, move them onto a tray.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop the pici in. Cook for 2 minutes and then test for doneness. Drain and stir through the sauce—you want it to cling to the pasta and not puddle around it. Serve immediately. Traditionally, no cheese is added.
Recipe excerpted with permission from “Pasta Grannies” by Vicky Bennison, published by Hardie Grant Books, October 2019.