Everyone wants to be an Italian nonna

In this age of instant gratification with thirty second food videos or turning on lights with a voice command, it is comforting that cooks are drawn to preparing food like our grandmothers and great grandmothers did. There has been a resurgence of cookbooks that deliver such recipes: Heirloom Kitchen, Tortellini at Midnight  and the upcoming release of Pasta Grannies (on the EYB library record you can access reviews/information on each of these titles). 

In an effort to keep traditions alive there are a group of women, Tuscan Women Cook, who provide a week-long culinary immersion vacation in the Tuscan village of Montefollonico.  Since 2000, these women teach participants generational recipes created in the homes of the families of Tuscany taught by the local “nonnas” or grandmothers. 


One of the most “hands-on” pasta they make is pici (from appicciare, to “stick/cling/adhere”), a long, luscious thick noodle that was created centuries ago. With little money for food, the resourceful cooks of Tuscany came up with a recipe for pasta that required only the basic provisions of water, flour, and salt.  With these three simple, inexpensive ingredients and nimble hands, pici because a staple in most homes of the region.  This basic pasta dough is hand mixed, flattened, and cut into thick stripes, then rolled and pulled into long, irregular, pillowy pasta ropes.

Pici tastes great tossed in a variety of sauces. A favorite of Tuscan Women Cook guests is the pungent aglione sauce taught by nonna, Simonetta. This spicy, tomato-based sauce gets its taste and texture from a prodigious pile of fresh, chopped garlic. Just when you think you’ve chopped enough garlic, chop some more and then, one more head of garlic after that. Now you’ve got the authentic aglione. Add the pasta and you have classic pici con l’aglione.
Other sauces that work great with pici are a sugo di carne (meat ragu), cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese and pepper), carbonara, and a primavera (chopped vegetables).

Last year, Valerie Bertinelli and her husband participated in Tuscan Women Cook and hosted a “Pasta Perfecto” segment showcasing the recipes she learned while in Tuscany, on her hit Food Network series, “Valerie’s Home Cooking.” I so enjoyed watching this episode and I am thinking of starting a GoFundMe to visit Italy and these women! Valerie’s pici adaptation can be found here and a video of the segment here.

We are sharing the recipe and photo with the permission of Tuscan Women Cook

Pici pasta
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Perhaps the most “hands-on” pasta Tuscan Women Cook guests enjoy preparing is pici (from appicciare, to “stick/cling/adhere”), a long, luscious, thick noodle.

  • 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Water
  • Pinch of salt

Beat egg in a large bowl with a pinch of salt, the olive oil, and some lukewarm water. Add the flour to obtain a smooth compact dough. Let the dough rest, oiled and covered for 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a floured wood surface, roll out with a rolling pin to a thickness of 0.2 inch and cut into 0.4-inch-wide strips.

Wind each dough ribbon by hand into the shape of very long, twisted thick spaghetti. As the pici are made, lay them down on a surface sprinkled with cornmeal and sprinkle the top with cornmeal so they don’t stick together. Cook in salted water for three to four minutes.

Tomato sauce with aglione

  • 4-6 aglione cloves (a delicate form of garlic; garlic can be easily substituted)
  • 2-1/2 cups canned tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh basil
  • Salt to taste

Chop the garlic and sauté with olive oil over medium heat. When the garlic starts to color (do not brown!), add the tomatoes, basil, and salt. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Combine with pasta.

For more information on Tuscan Women Cook, please see their website. For pricing information, click their book now link. Check your local PBS listings for an upcoming episode of Dream of Italy where host Kathy McCabe and her father Steve attend a day of cooking in Tuscany. You can also watch Season 1 and Season 2 on Amazon Prime Video.

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