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Sugo finto - a perfect example of Italian cucina povera - quite literally means fake sauce, or fake ragu. When meat was considered a rare and costly ingredient, sugo finto would instead be made, giving both the appearance and taste of a traditional ragu, but without the meat. Pici is the perfect beginner’s pasta, with absolutely no equipment required, and quick to make once you’ve got the hang of rolling out each thick spaghettoni-like noodle. A fantastic vessel for slurping up all of that delicious sauce.
This recipe is suitable for vegetarians, and can also be suitable for vegans if you omit the cheese.
450g durum wheat semolina flour
15ml extra virgin olive oil
Fine semolina for dusting
Very good quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 large carrot
1 celery stick
1 white onion
4-5 garlic cloves, left whole
10-12 sage leaves, finely chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary
3 bay leaves
70g double concentrate tomato paste
1 cup of red wine
4 large truss tomatoes, peeled and chopped (see notes)
2 cups vegetable stock
Parmesan rind, if you have one
Pecorino Romano, to serve
Measure out the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour all of the water into the centre, then using a fork start to whisk until you have a thick custard-type of consistency. Then moving to your hands, scoop and flip flour from the sides of the bowl into the centre and press with your fingers. Keep turning the bowl and do this until your dough has come together.
Take the dough out of the bowl and discard any loose flour that hasn't incorporated. Knead on a work surface for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Cover and rest for at least 30 minutes to allow the dough to hydrate and let the gluten relax.
Divide the dough into four pieces. Work with one at a time while keeping the other pieces covered so they don't dry out. Using a rolling pin, flatten the piece until it's about 1-2cm thick. Brush each side with olive oil, then cut into strips around 1cm in width.
Using the palms of your hands roll each strip out into a long, round noodle. Start with your hands in the centre then work them outward, stretching the dough into a thick noodle (or spaghettoni). Keep going until your noodle is about 1/2 cm thick. Pici is a rustic shape, and irregularities are the beauty of hand rolled pasta!
Set each noodle aside on a baking sheet lined with fine semolina or a clean tea towel while you continue with the rest of the dough.
Finely chop the carrot, celery and onion and in a large casserole or heavy pan, sauté on a low heat in 3 tablespoons of EVOO. Cook gently for 10 or so minutes, making sure not to let the onion brown or burn. Add a dash of water as needed to prevent sticking or burning.
Add the garlic cloves and sage and cook until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and let that cook for a few minutes to really caramelise, before adding in the red wine to deglaze the pan. Let the wine reduce and the alcohol burn out, before adding the rosemary, bay, chopped tomatoes and vegetable stock. If you have a Parmesan rind, add that in too for extra flavour.
Allow the sugo to come to a boil then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 30-40 minutes or until the sugo has significantly reduced and you are left with a fairly thick consistency, not dissimilar to a ragu. Stir through 4 tablespoons of EVOO and season generously.
Discard the rosemary sprigs, garlic cloves and parmesan rind from the sugo.
Bring a pot of well salted water to boil and cook the pici for around 5 minutes, or until they start to float. Pici are quite a dense and chewy pasta, so try one to make sure they’re cooked to your liking.
Using tongs, transfer the cooked pici directly to the sugo, along with a splash of the pasta water, tossing gently to coat in all of that luscious and surprisingly meat free goodness.
Divide between four bowls and serve with grated Pecorino Romano.
You can quickly peel fresh tomatoes by submerging in boiling water for a minute or two, then transferring to an ice bath. The skins will slip off.
If you find your dough is either two dry or wet after you've kneaded it for at least 2 minutes, add a dusting of flour and knead before adding more if it still feels required, or use a spray bottle to spritz the dough with water.
Gabriella is a Londoner born to Armenian/Canadian parents, with a love of all things Italian, especially pasta. She fell in love with food between the pages of her mum’s Reader’s Digest cookbooks, and at the table of her grandmother’s Cypriot kitchen, watching dolma be rolled and lahmajun made.
When she’s not making her favourite carb, she can be found sharing some of her recipes on her blog, drinking far too much coffee, or hanging out with her dog, Gordon.
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