Oh man, this pasta.
I’m going to warn you right off the bat today that yes, I am telling you to make your own pasta. And yes, I know that conjures horrific ideas in some minds about time commitments and needing special equipment and eating gluten.
I can’t do anything about the gluten, sorry, but I can promise you that I’m not asking for anything here that requires special equipment beyond a knife, or an excessive time investment. All this recipe really requires is some prior planning, but even then, not so much prior planning that it’s easier to just not do it at all.
But, anything you need to do here is totally and completely worth it, if you like chewy, almost dumpling-like pasta and spicy, flavorful sauces. Hopefully we are all in agreement that both of those things sound fantastic?
Now, a little backstory. Up until a few months ago I had never heard of pici pasta. I’d never seen it on a menu or sold in stores. Well, I am now angry at the powers that control my micro-universe, because I was missing out!
When I went to London’s Padella, I hadn’t really considered what I would order, because I was mostly concerned with achieving the crucial goal of being seated in the tiny restaurant at all, and in any event, I was sure there couldn’t be anything bad on the menu, if the line was any indication. Once I sat down, the cacio e pepe was calling to me, so I ordered it, not really paying much attention to the pasta shape. When a plate of thick, almost wormy-looking noodles was set in front of me, I hesitated slightly. I had been expecting spaghetti or something similar. What was this? But I took a bite and forgot my expectations instantly. Turns out, cacio e pepe, a rich preparation of mostly cheese and butter, works so well with thick, chewy noodles! Bucatini move over!
But the truth was I became so enamored of the noodles themselves. Yes, they were slightly alarming, visually, but they were perfectly al dente, almost still-doughy, which gave them a pleasant, chewy, texture. Was it closer to noodles or dumplings? Kind of somewhere in between, really.
When I got home, I immediately set about trying to find a recipe, and luckily, I’m not the only person out there who fell in love with Padella’s pici. But by this point, it wasn’t winter anymore, and cacio e pepe sounded too heavy to me. I could lighten it up with veggies, but that wasn’t what I was after this time. I just wanted pasta! But then, because I was obviously still living in London mode, I cracked open my copy of the Ottolenghi cookbook, and tried out the kosheri recipe. It was good kosheri, but the tomato sauce that went on top blew me away. It was spicy and cuminy and just the right level of acidic, yet still rich. I took one bite and decided to make it just to toss with my future pici pasta.
The combo is fantastic! The sauce is like a perfect spicy tomato sauce, like arrabiata, but with a slight flair from the cumin and the cilantro that takes it out of the ordinary. And it just coats those thick, chewy noodles in the best way. You have to give it a try.
Pici Pasta with Spicy Tomato Sauce
Pasta adapted from Food52 and tomato sauce adapted from Ottolenghi.
1 1/4 cup semolina flour
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tbs olive oil
1 cup water
For the spicy tomato sauce:
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced
one, 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbs kosher salt
2 tsp ground cumin
packed 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
Make the pasta dough: Whisk together the flours in a mixing bowl, then add the oil and water and stir everything together. Knead the mixture together with your hands, then turn out onto a flat surface and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Wrap dough tightly in plastic and let rest for 1 hour or chill overnight.
Make the spicy tomato sauce: Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and jalapeno and cook for two minutes, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, water, cider vinegar, salt and cumin and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened a bit, about 20 minutes.
Add cilantro and remove from heat, let cool a bit, then blend with an immersion blender or regular blender until smooth (a few remaining chunks are ok). Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.
Bring the mixture back over medium-high heat and continue to simmer, keeping warm until ready to add to the pasta.
While the tomato sauce is simmering, shape and cook your pasta. Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Form dough into a rectangle and using a bench scraper or a knife, cut the short end into thin slices. Roll each slice out as evenly as possible into long ropes, about as thick around as a pencil. Store on a baking sheet dusted with semolina while shaping remaining dough.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, about 5 minutes, until al dente and nicely chewy. Drain, then add back to the pot and add as much of the sauce as you like (you may have extra sauce). Toss to coat and serve immediately.