I’ll bring some cheese on the table. Almost every dinner ended like this. During the first years of marriage mum gradually learnt to cook: she had never been adventurous, never had the curiosity to experiment with new recipes, but she had always put all the dedication and love of a newly wed bride before and a young mum after.
She had little time once back home from work: clothes to be ironed, a house to be cleaned, a little girl to play with, then two… she made up for the lack of cooking experience and organization with the typical generosity of an Italian woman.
The cheese was always present, it would end up an impromptu dinner or help a not too successful one. Mum would take some cheese out of the fridge: it was always Pecorino Toscano. Sometimes it was fresh, soft, a delicate aroma of butter and hay. When in season, she would peel a ripe pear and I would eat them together, the most perfect dessert: the sweet and juicy pear and the fresh milky pecorino teamed up to perfection.
Sometimes she would share a slice of aged Pecorino, directly crumbled over pasta, or sliced and accompanied by some crusty bread. The aged pecorino was intense and nutty. I have always preferred the fresh one, more delicate, while mum and dad would fight for the last crumble of aged pecorino.
Today, after more than thirty years, mum is a good cook. When I do not feel like cooking dinner, when I am too tired or I wish I could live in the city for one night to have pizza or sushi delivered to my door, mum is my take away solution, my favourite trattoria where there’s always a table for two in a corner. The Tuscan Pecorino or, for us, simply the cheese, is always present on our table.
When I moved on my own I began to buy my own pecorino: first at the supermarket, then at our weekly market, now directly from some local producers. Even if my fridge and pantry are full, I feel there’s something missing if I do not have at least one slice of pecorino. I grate the pecorino over a bowl of pasta, stir it into a creamy risotto, serve it as an appetizer during cooking classes along with honey or onion jam. It helps me to serve a decent dinner when I completely forget that it is time to cook and Tommaso shows up hungry in the kitchen. It is an ingredient in many recipes but also something that you can enjoy on its own, with a glass of wine or fresh fava beans.
Then, it is with undisguised pride that I introduce you this new collaboration with the Consortium of Pecorino Toscano PDO. In the upcoming months I will share with you how to use the fresh and aged Tuscan pecorino in simple recipes for a midweek dinner, for a Saturday night at home or for a crowd of old and new friends.
Pici with butternut squash and Pecorino Toscano PDO
Let’s start with one of the most representative recipes of the area of production of Pecorino Toscano, pici, thick home-made spaghetti which are typically made in Val d’Orcia. It is probably the simplest fresh pasta you can learn to make, as it only requires two ingredients, flour and water, and no other kitchen appliances but a rolling pin and a pizza cutter, or a good knife.
During my cooking classes pici impress everyone when they realize how simple and intuitive it is to roll them out: it is exactly like playing with play doh. In making pici you become a child again and while you eat them, thick and chewy, more doughy than dry spaghetti, you will suddenly find yourself among the velvet hills of Val d’Orcia, one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
But let’s look at the recipe in detail, let me see if I can convince you to make them during the holidays: this time the pici are made with plain wheat flour and a part of wholemeal rye flour, which gives even more texture and flavour to these home made noodles.
The dressing is seasonal, my pièce de résistance during autumn cooking courses: butternut squash and leeks cook on low flame doused with extra virgin olive oil until they become a sauce, crumbled fresh sausages add a savory and peppery note and a generous handful of fresh Pecorino Toscano PDO melts in the pan and embraces the pasta.
You can prepare these pici with their butternut squash and sausage dressing in about one hour. Have I convinced you to try them?
- 250 g of water
- 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pinch of salt
- 360 g of all-purpose flour
- 140 g of whole rye flour
- Semolina flour or corn flour for dusting the pici
- 1 leek
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 500 g of butternut squash
- 200 g of fresh sausage
- Black pepper
- 200 g of Fresh Pecorino Toscano PDO
Pour the water into a large bowl with the olive oil and salt. Add gradually the two flours, stirring with a fork.
When the dough will be too hard to be mixed with a fork, move the dough onto a wooden board and knead by hand to incorporate all the flour. Knead the dough until smooth. You might need more flour if too sticky or more water if you are not able to collect all the flour. Let the dough rest on the wooden board covered by the bowl for about half an hour.
While the dough is resting, prepare the sauce for the pici. Thinly slice the leek, both the white part and the green part.
Collect the leek in a pan, drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and season with a generous pinch of salt. Cook the leeks on low flame for about ten minutes, until they are soft.
Add now the cleaned, peeled and diced butternut squash and the sausage, after you have removed the case, cut into small pieces. Stir and cook on low flame for about twenty minutes, until the squash is soft, almost a cream.
Now season with salt and pepper and add the cubed Pecorino. Cook the sauce until the pecorino starts to melt, then turn off and set aside.
Now work on the pici again. Roll out the dough on the board with a rolling pin to a thickness of about half a centimetre. Do not use flour, it won't stick. Brush with olive oil to prevent it from drying.
Cut the dough with a pizza wheel into strips not larger than a centimetre and get ready to make pici. Roll the pici as they were play doh worms. Children are great at it.
Keep beside you a bowl of semolina and corn flour and dip your picio in the bowl as you go, then wrap it around your hand and put it aside on a tray.
Cook the pici in salted boiling water a few minutes, drain them al dente and pour them into the pan with the seasoning. Toss with some cooking water, stir to melt the cheese and serve immediately.