Pici pasta swimming in creamy Cacio e Pepe cheese sauce? We can’t think of any other Italian dish that is so comforting and satisfying at supper.
Looking for the best homemade pici pasta recipe to toss in creamy Cacio e Pepe sauce?
Our step by step guide to making quick & easy pici pasta is inspired by our travels to Tuscany. We’ve paired the thick Italian noodles with a simple Roman cheese sauce called Cacio e Pepe.
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What Is Pici?
Pici is a thick, hand-rolled pasta that looks like fat spaghetti or Japanese udon noodles. It originates from the province of Siena in Tuscany. In the nearby wine growing region of Montalcino the pasta is referred to by locals as pinci.
Pici pasta dough is typically made of a mix of flour, water and a pinch of salt. Some recipes call for a cracked egg and olive oil, which is optional and often incorporated according to Italian family traditions.
What is Cacio e Pepe?
Cacio e Pepe is a popular Italian pasta sauce that literally translates to “cheese and pepper.”
Cacio e Pepe is a pasta dish attributed to modern Roman cuisine. Since all the ingredients keep well over a long period of time, it was a quick, easy and simple dish for shepherds and farmers to cook for dinner.
The traditional pasta sauce recipe is often described as Italy’s version of Mac & Cheese. The major difference is that Mac & Cheese sauce is a thickened mornay, after producing a roux (butter and flour) and béchamel (cream and cheese).
Cacio e Pepe is a simple sauce made by blending pecorino and parmesan cheese with cracked pepper, salt, pasta water and butter.
The pasta is prepared in boiling salted water and once al dente it is poured into a mixture of grated pecorino, parmesan, black pepper, salt, butter and a little hot, starchy, pasta water. The heat quickly melts the cheese, and the starches in the water help bind the pepper and cheese into a creamy and emulsified sauce.
Travel to Tuscany by Eating Pici Pasta Home
I love traveling to Europe!
During my first visit to the continent I traveled for 5 months by train and plane. I had the opportunity to eat my way through Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, Slovakia, Greece, Turkey and Italy.
What I love most about traveling to Italy is the opportunity to sample unique dishes in each region and city. The dishes in Tuscany (Florence, Pisa, Volterra, Saturnia, Pitigliano, Sorano, Montalcino, Siena) are unique from what you’d find in Venice, Modena, Milan, Rome, and Amalfi Coast.
If you’re visiting Tuscany on a romantic honeymoon you’ll find homemade pici pasta on every menu, from large cities to small towns. It’s the signature pasta shape for the region and can be enjoyed tossed in a variety of authentic sauces. Pici Cacio e Pepe is the most common recipe you’ll find on menus, often served out of scooped out pecorino wheels at the table.
While we always suggest enjoying pici pasta fresh the day you make it, in Tuscany local shops sell large bags of dried pici, which you can fly home to cook up in your kitchen.
Once back home from an Italian holiday you’ll have a newfound appreciation for the flavours of Tuscany and can impress friends and family by making homemade Pici Pasta with Cacio e Pepe.
Where To Eat Pici Cacio e Pepe
If you live in a large city in Canada or America you’ll likely have access to a local Italian restaurant that serves traditional handmade pasta.
Haven’t traveled to Italy before? It may be helpful to first sample pici pasta at a local Italian restaurant to better understand how the dish might be served. Order pici cacio e pepe off a restaurant menu to get an idea of the thickness of the noddles, texture and flavour of the sauce.
In Toronto, popular Italian restaurants in Yorkville, King West and Ossington that may serve Pici Cacio e Pepe include Bar Vendetta, Buca, Superpoint, Amano, Fabbrica, Oretta, FIGO, Nodo, Locale Mercatto, The Good Son, Taverna Mercatto, Ascari Enoteca, Il Fornello or Gusto 101.
My Family Loves Pici Cacio e Pepe Pasta
Like many Canadians and Americans, one of my families favourite comfort foods to enjoy at dinner is Mac & Cheese.
My mom used to make Mac & Cheese for my sister and I when were were little kids every year for our birthdays. Our family recipe uses French technique, forming a roux, then adding milk and cheese to create a mornay sauce.
Cacio e Pepe with Pici Pasta is Italy’s unique take on Macaroni and Cheese. Rather than using flour to thicken the sauce, Italian chefs use starchy pasta water. And instead of mixing milk or cream in a traditional bechamel sauce, the creamy sauce uses fresh butter.
Most traditional Mac & Cheese recipes feature cheddar and gruyere. Since pici originates in Tuscany, most Cacio e Pepe recipes showcase locally made sheep’s milk pecorino and parmiggiano reggiano. When the shredded cheeses mix with hot pasta water and melted butter it creates a rich and creamy sauce that is uniquely Italian.
How To Make Homemade Pici Pasta
There are many ways to making fresh pici pasta at home.
Nona’s in Tuscany are famous for rolling out thick and flat sheets of pici pasta dough on their kitchen tables. They cut the pasta into strips, rolling the dough between the palm of one hand and the table. The other hand keeps busy, wrapped around the remainder of the dough strip until it has reached optimal thickness.
Pici pasta can also be formed by rolling the strip between the palms of two hands. Both methods help form a thick noodle, slightly thinner than a pencil.
Every family has their own unique way of rolling pici pasta at home. A multitude of variations exist, with some chefs spreading out the dough with a rolling pin or wine bottle. Some use a sharp knife or circular pizza cutter before rolling the strips of dough by hand.
We suggest trying as many techniques as you’d like until you find a method that works best for you.
How To Make Easy Cacio e Pepe Pasta Sauce
Once your pici pasta noodles are finished place the baking sheet by your stove for easy access. Drop the noodles in boiling salted water and remove after 5-7 minutes, once they are al dente.
Since the Cacio e Pepe sauce requires the use of pasta water, be sure to scoop out the starchy water before straining the pici in your sink.
You’ll want to ensure your pepper has been freshly cracked, cheeses have been grated and butter has been measured before cooking the pici in water. This recipe comes together in under 10 minutes and is best enjoyed warm so make sure all your ingredients are ready.
As soon as the pici pasta is added to the boiling water, add the cracked pepper and butter into a large non-stick skillet. Simmer until the fat is fully melted. Once the pasta is al dente, pour the starchy water into the butter and pepper mixture before straining the pici in your sink.
Quickly stir the pepper, butter and pasta water mixture until combined and immediately start sprinkling the pecorino and parmesan cheese. Wihtin moments you’ll see the Cacio e Pepe sauce thicken. Add the pici pasta and toss with tongs so the noodles are fully incorporated into the sauce.
Serve pici cacio e pepe in large pasta bowls and sprinkle with shredded pecorino cheese.
Since this dish is soft and high in carbs, fat and salt we suggest pairing it with a salad. A crunchy salad offers a nice contrast with its juicy and acidic characteristics. Some of our favourite salads include Easy Vegan Chinese Cucumber Salad, Cajun Spicy Chorizo Corn Salad, Cherry Pecan Kale Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette, Cumin Chickpeas and Pistachios and Fennel, Apple, Celery and Roasted Hazelnut Salad.
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Best Homemade Pici Cacio e Pepe Pasta
Cacio e Pepe Pici Pasta
- Large pot
- mixing bowl
- Weigh scale
- measuring cup
- measuring spoons
- French knife
- baking sheet
- Non-stick pan
- cheese grater
Pici Pasta Dough
- 250 grams Semolina flour
- 250 grams All Purpose flour
- pinch Salt
- 1 Egg
- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 cup Water lukewarm
Cacio e Pepe Sauce
- Kosher salt to taste
- 6 tbsp Unsalted butter cubed
- 2 tsp Cracked pepper
- 1 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese finely grated
- 2/3 cup Pecorino cheese finely grated
- Mix the flours and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the olive oil, egg and water. Combine ingredients by hand until a shaggy dough forms.
- Turn dough onto work surface. Knead for 10 minutes, adding more flour to keep dough from sticking, until it is smooth, elastic, and doesn't easily tear when you pull it apart.
- Wrap dough tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least an hour, giving the gluten time to relax. When the hour is almost up, set a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.
- Once dough is rested unwrap it. On a clean wood or stainless steel surface pat dough into a rectangle. Using a knife or dough cutter, slice off a thin piece of dough, keeping the remaining dough covered with a damp towel.
- Begin to roll out the dough with your fingers, starting in the middle and working towards the outside. The noodles should be about the thickness of a pencil.
- Place rolled noodles lengthwise on a floured tray to avoid sticking. Continue until all the dough has been made into pici pasta.
- Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a 5-qt. pot. Season with salt; add pici pasta and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup pasta cooking water.
- Meanwhile, melt 2 tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and cook, swirling pan, until toasted, about 1 minute.
- Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to skillet and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and remaining butter. Reduce heat to low and add Parmesan, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. Remove pan from heat and add Pecorino, stirring and tossing until cheese melts, sauce coats the pasta, and pasta is al dente.
- Transfer Cacio e Pepe Pici Pasta to bowls and serve with freshly cracked pepper and grated Pecorino cheese.
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