Making pasta from scratch - 'Le Piccage' (aromatic herb-infused pasta strings)
STEPS 3 INGREDIENTS 3 TIME 25 MINS
When it comes to making pasta from scratch, this herb-infused long pasta - called le piccage (pron. pee-car-jay) - is a simple yet interesting variation that I highly recommend you try.
I learned this pasta dough recipe during Easter vacation 2011, when Chef Catia Saletti kindly gave my wife, my mamma-in-law Marisa and I an exclusive class at her excellent Trattoria dei Mosto restaurant in Liguria, Italy.
'Le Piccage' literally means 'the strings' (or "apron strings" as Catia explained it, waggling hers towards me), and this fresh pasta is flavored with a good helping of the herb marjoram. (In case you never heard of or used this herb, my wife Laura tends to class it alongside thyme and oregano due to its aroma and similarly small green leaves.)
The ideal tool for making this pasta is a wobbly-edged ravioli cutter that will cut your dough into attractive frilly strips. However failing that a sharp knife and straight edges will do the job just fine.
When we cooked up this dish during our lesson, Catia served her piccage with what she called a 'vegetable ragu' sauce (in effect this pasta primavera sauce only with an anchovy and pitted chopped black olives added), however you can be very flexible with your sauce choice. How about simple and delicious cherry tomato with basil sauce? Or a clean and mean seafood sauce? Le piccage go with pretty much any sauce so long as it's not too heavy.
Serves 4 (as primo piatto starter), or 2-3 as a main
General/all-purpose plain flour (ideally super-fine 'double zero' type)
STEP 1 - The first step is making our fresh pasta dough using eggs and flour. Catia makes this using the same proportions as she does for mandilli hankerchief pasta, only here we also add the dried marjoram when we add the eggs.
- Pour out all the flour onto a clean work surface (or pastry mat) and use your hands to form it into a large bowl shape. - Break three of the eggs into the middle.
- Now carefully add just the yellow yolks of the remaining two eggs (tip these between half shells to separate away the whites).
- Now one two large pinches of dried marjoram to each egg yolk (i.e. 10 total).
- Using a flattened fork, whisk these eggs into a smooth orange mixture.
- Pop a little of the walls' excess flour into the center and stir into the eggs, thickening the central mix.
- Then use your fingers to mix together the egg mixture with the rest of the flour. Keep mixing this guey mess until a dough starts to form (just a minute or two).
(If the dough continues sticking to your hands after all the flour is used, sprinkle on a little more to take away the excess moisture.)
STEP 2 - Once a dough ball has formed, lightly re-flour your work surface and start rolling it flat with a rolling pin. The shape is unimportant.
- As you do this, regularly turn and occasionally flip the dough. You are aiming for a final thickness of just a couple of millimeters. Expect to be rolling for around 10 minutes.
(You can also sprinkle in a little more marjoram as you roll, if it doesn't look like there's much in there.)
Tip: this stage is when a pasta machine can come in useful. Just pop your dough through its rollers a couple of times and you'll save most of this 10 minutes of rolling. See my pasta machine guide.
STEP 3 - Take your 'frilly edged' ravioli cutter if you have it, or a sharp knife otherwise, and chop the flat pasta dough into inch-wide strips.
- Now we'll chop the other way, slightly on the diagonal, to create rough rectangular ribbon shapes. Aim for 2cm or 2/3rd-inch wide by 10cm/4 inches long.
Done - you have delicious piccage all ready to cook!
To cook: drop in a large pan of boiling, well salted water and after the shapes rise to the surface give them just a minute or two more.
To serve: simple, just smother in your favorite pasta sauce. Buono!
See also: if you're a fan of making pasta from scratch (and if you've tasty the fresh stuff, why wouldn't you be?), then Chef Catia also taught me how to make another variation. It's a Ligurian specialty called 'mandilli de sea' (hankerchief pasta). With its parsley stuffing and her porcini mushroom sauce, it makes for one very special dish.
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