Kevin and I are currently enjoying season 10 of Masterchef Australia, and one of the contestants, Gina, cooks up the most amazing looking pasta dishes. In the most recent episode we watched, she introduced us to spinach pici, a long thick pasta known as “fat spaghetti,” which is all you need to know about the shape.
Being from the “thicker the noodles, the better” school of thought, I couldn’t believe it had taken me 21 years to discover this upgrade from spaghetti. It was also the perfect opportunity to transform the handful of baby spinach wilting away in our fridge from food waste to… actual food. Who cares if they’re starting to wilt when they’re going to pureed, anyway?
Not only does the spinach add some #health points, it also gives the pasta a beautiful, vibrant green colour. (Kevin thought they were green beans… LOL green beans wish they could be this tasty.)
Pick a Sauce
Wikipedia lists five traditional sauces commonly paired with pici pasta: briciole (breadcrumbs), aglione (garlic tomato), boscaiola (porcini mushrooms), cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper), or ragù (meat sauce). But since I had half a jar of plain tomato sauce (from Marcella Hazan’s recipe) leftover in the fridge, I used that instead.
First I boiled the spinach pici in a small saucepan, then when I was nearly done the batch I threw some tomato sauce on the heat in my non-stick. As soon as all the pici were cooked, I tossed them in the sauce for a minute, and slid them onto a plate. Sprinkled some fresh thyme over top and time to eat!
After plating, I realized I’d inadvertently made a dish in the colours of the Italian flag (if you count the white of the plate as a colour, which I do)!
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
Spinach Pici Pasta
I made the spinach pici dough with a recipe from Cilantro and Citronella, which in turn is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s version. This makes two servings, but halving it for one is easy. (I would just make the full recipe and save half for another day, since it freezes and refrigerates well. That’s what I did.)
See end of the post for some step-by-step images of the process.
- 180 g baby spinach
- 100 g durum semolina flour (sub more all purpose flour if you don’t have this)
- 200 g all purpose flour
- sauce of choice (I used 1/2 cup tomato sauce)
- Puree the spinach in a blender or food processor until very fine. Don’t add any water!
- Pour spinach puree into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, then add the two flours.
- Start mixing on low speed.
- As mixture comes together, bring it up a notch and continue kneading on the second speed setting for 3–5 minutes. If it still looks very crumbly and dry after 1 minute, add 1–2 tsp of water. By the end of kneading, the spinach pici dough should be fairly smooth and very tacky.
- Lightly dust a work surface (a large chopping board works great) and your hands with flour.
- Remove the dough ball from the bowl and place it on the floured surface, flattening it slightly.
- Slice the dough in two with a knife. If you’re making just one serving, wrap up one piece in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge to use tomorrow.
- Take one piece of dough and slice off a thin (about finger-width) strip. Slice this strip into small pieces the size of your thumb.
- Roll each piece out between fingers and work surface into a long thin noodles. Use your judgment and preference in deciding how thin to make them, keeping in mind they expand to almost double the size after cooking.
- Bring a pot of water to the boil, then add 1 1⁄2 tsp of kosher salt and bring the heat down to simmering (medium heat—dial 5—on my stove).
- Drop a piece of pasta into the water. Depending on the size of your pot, you can boil several at once. I added 2–3 at a time. Don’t crowd your pot because you don’t want the pici tangling and sticking together!
- Whenever a piece floats to the surface and stays there, it’s ready. Scoop it out and lay on a plate or piece of foil to cool, and repeat with all the rest.
- Heat your sauce of choice in a skillet and toss in the cooked pasta. If you’re feeling lazy, you can’t go wrong with good old olive oil and garlic for some aglio e olio!
- Slide onto a plate and top with whatever herbs and spices you want. (I did thyme, but next time I’d add some black pepper as well.) Enjoy!
Playing with Pici
As I was rolling out the pici, it didn’t take long for my mind to wander. I started to think about other fun shapes I could make my pasta. I ended up setting aside a small portion of my dough and twisting them into mini pretzels. This experiment was a total success! The pretzels took about the same time to cook as the regular pici noodles, and they are just fun to eat. Their shape also holds the perfect amount of sauce for each bite.
For Day 2’s batch of pasta, I eschewed the traditional pici shape altogether. Instead, I experimented with some gnocchi (the easiest: just slice into little pillows, no need to roll) and attempted some hearts. The hearts turned out more like “β” but oh well! Also, while the gnocchi weren’t bad, I much prefer potato gnocchi over these ones. These flour gnocchi taste a little dense and stodgy.
Pici ‘n’ Cheeze
Instead of repeating the tomato sauce dish, I cooked up my next batch of spinach pici with some vegan mac ‘n’ cheese sauce.
This isn’t the first time I’ve made this particular cheeze sauce. I had to give it a second chance after I fucked up the first attempt by forgetting to cook the onion. Lesson learned: raw onion tastes great in lots of things, such as burgers, but it doesn’t belong in cheesy pasta sauce.
This time, I followed the recipe properly and made sure to boil the onion nice and long with the other veggies. However, overall it’s still not a great cheese sauce, imo. It’s got a good consistency, but I find it lacking some depth of flavour. I think it would make a decent base, so I’m going to experiment with some different combinations of spices for my next batch. For now, the best vegan mac ‘n’ cheese sauce I’ve ever made is still Isa Chandra’s roasted red pepper mac.
Nutrition and Cost Information
My rough calculation works out the full recipe to cost $2.67 with 1,470 calories. That’s $1.34 and 735 cal per serving.
Feel free to contact me for sources on the nutritional and carbon emissions information presented here. Note that I am not a nutritionist and guidelines on this page are provided for informational purposes only.