A billion years ago, when I was in college doing my Graphic Design degree, we took a class trip to Florence. At the time I was quite obsessed with E.M. Forster’s A Room with a view and I remember I taking my copy with me trying to retrace the heroine’s steps around the city. I guess I felt a real kinship with Lucy Honeychurch – after all we share a name and I quite fancied myself the romantic ingenue. Sadly there was no George Emerson to sweep me off my feet but I was instantly hopelessly smitten with the city, the culture, the incredible museums (I wanted to live at the Uffizi) and the amazing food.
At the time we really didn’t have much money to spend on fancy restaurants. We visited any place cheap and cheerful enough to house a large gaggle of students and I remember we feasted on fresh vegetables, bread, pizza and pasta washed down with plenty of red wine. The food was hearty, unpretentious and, above all, delicious.
I have tried to create a dish here that celebrates the best of Tuscan food. The hand rolled pasta (called Pici in Tuscany) is essentially a type of rustic spaghetti that requires no pasta machine, just a little patience. It’s very easy to make, albeit a touch laborious, so you may want to make this with a friend to help you. Obviously you can serve this with normal spaghetti but the pici is actually the perfect canvas for the fresh tomato and fennel sauce.
For the sauce
2 x 400g (14oz) cans plum tomatoes
or fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped
3 red onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 slices Pancetta, finely chopped
1 tbsp sugar
1 bay leaf
250ml | 1 cup water (more if needed)
120ml | 1/2 cup red wine
1 bulb fennel, chopped
600g | 21.2oz raw, shell on jumbo prawns
Salt and pepper, fresh thyme to season
1. Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a large pot and add the garlic, onions, fennel, pancetta, bay leaf and sugar.
2. Cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are soft, 5-10 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and season with a generous pinch of salt. Stir together and add the water and wine.
4. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes until sauce is reduced. If it looks too dry add a little more water.
5. Removed the bay leaf then blitz the sauce in a food processor until blended but not completely smooth.
6. Return the sauce to the pot and bring back to a simmer. Add the prawns and cook for 5-8 minutes until they turn pink.
7. Remove the prawns with a slotted spoon and set aside until cool enough to handle then peel and return to the sauce. Check the seasoning before serving over the pici with a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves and a drizzle of olive oil .
Note: you can use raw peeled prawns in the recipe but I find that shell on prawns have lots more flavour and are more succulent.
For the hand rolled pasta
350g | 2 3/4 cups 00 pasta flour
1 tbsp virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
About 180ml (3/4 cup) water (or as needed)
Semolina for dusting and rolling
1. Put the flour on your worktop and make a well in the centre.
2. Add the olive oil, salt and half the water and start mixing everything together with your hands.
3. Keep adding more water, a little at a time, until the dough comes together.
4. Knead for 5-10 minutes until elastic then cover with plastic wrap and rest for an hour.
5. When you are ready to form the pasta, roll the dough into a sausage shape then cut into fist-sized pieces. Keep them covered.
6. Dust your worktop with plenty of semolina then take one piece of dough, flatten then roll it out thinly.
7. Cut into thin strips then roll each piece into a long noodle working from the middle outwards. The pici don’t all have to be the same length – rustic is the name of the game here!
8. Keep the hand rolled pasta on a semolina dusted tray and cover with clingfilm as you roll the rest of the dough.
9. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add a generous pinch of salt and a glug of olive oil. Add the pasta and boil for 6-8 minutes. Drain then toss with a little olive oil before serving with the sauce.
I’m submitting this recipe to the #TuscanyNowCookOff competition organised by Tuscany Now.