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From the Hills of Tuscany: Pici all’Aglione

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August is Kids Eat Right Month! We interpret eating right as thinking right about our relationship with food instead of needing to follow a moral food code that is “right” and not “wrong.”

For my family, this year has been more about handing down food traditions to my teenagers. As an Italian-American being raised in the midwest, I grew up with my mother’s side of the family that came to America from Sicily and the Calabria regions of Italy.

My great grandmother refused to learn the English language when they came here, so the only thing that I understood from her was when she came up to me and said, “Angela Maria!” That would be followed by a huge hug and kiss on both cheeks. My childhood was filled with big Italian get togethers with my uncles, cousins and my grandmother’s famous mostaccioli.  I have great memories from those times, but one thing that I truly regret was not learning to cook from - and with - my grandmother.  She cooked and we ate.  Over the years, I learned to cook on my own, but I longed to learn some of the hidden secrets in an authentic Italian kitchen.

Eating right is thinking right about our relationship with food instead needing to follow a moral food code that is “right” and not “wrong.”

Flash back to current time, I just celebrated my big 5-0 birthday and was able to do something quite special. My husband and I flew to Tuscany and I got to cook on a Tuscan farm with an amazing woman named Sandra. All of the ingredients we used to cook that day came from her farm; from the meat, vegetables, cheese and herbs. Sandra’s motto is to eat what food is available around you and do not waste the resources.  We spent about 5 hours cooking, eating and drinking wine with Sandra on my birthday and I learned so many authentic Italian cooking techniques from her.

When we got back from Europe, I was able to recreate one of the recipes that I cooked with Sandra at Podere Il Casale with my children. I taught Hannah and Evan just like Sandra taught me. It wasn’t mastaccioli, but it was an authentic regional dish called pici all’aglione. Unfortunately, we did not have the aglione mushrooms from Tuscany here in Texas, but we got pretty close and it was amazing! The homemade noodles are truly a delicacy.  Making handmade noodles is surely a weekend project vs. weekday quick option, however, the flavor profile is worth your time.  


Basic Water-Based Pasta by Podere Il Casale

  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Serves: 4
  • Cooking Time: n/aIngredients:
  • 300 g (1-1/4 cups) all-purpose or semolina flour
  • 150 ml (2/3 cup) water, warm but not hot
  • 20 ml (1T+1t) extra virgin olive oil                                                                       
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Tip the flour onto a clean working surface - we use a wooden board.  Use your fingers or a fork to make a well into the center.
  2. Pour the water and olive oil into the well.  Add the salt.  Start mixing the water with the flour using a fork, gradually drawing into the flour from the sides of the well, until a batter forms and the liquid has been absorbed by the flour.  Set the fork aside and bring the dough together with your hands.
  3. Mop up any leftover flour with your dough and start kneading it.  If the dough feels sticky, add a little flour, one tablespoon at a time, until you can handle it well.  If the dough feels dry and crumbly, sprinkle it with a bit of lukewarm water until it becomes pliable.
  4. Knead the dough for another 5 minutes by pressing the heel of one hand deep into the ball, keeping your fingers high, then press down on the dough while pushing it firmly away from you.  The dough will stretch and roll under your hand like a large shell.  Your dough is ready when it feels silky and smooth, and bounces back when you press your thumb into it.  Place the dough in a lidded bowl or wrap it in cling film and leave to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  5. To shape the dough into pici, divide it into 3 pieces and roll each piece out into 1/4 inch thick sheet using a rolling pin.  Cut the sheet into long strips of dough, about 1/4 inch wide.  Take each strip of dough, and using your hands, roll them into a rope-like shape, starting from the center and working toward the extremities.  Make sure that your work surface is generously dusted with flour at all times.  Place the pici on a floured baking sheet and cover with a towel until ready to cook.


Pici all'Aglione by Podere Il Casale

Total Time: 20 minutes     Prep Time: 10 minutes      Serves: 4      Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Prepared pici using above recipe
  • 4 aglione or garlic cloves
  • 750 g (3-1/4 cups) tinned or fresh tomatoes, cubed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Make the sauce: heat some olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Set a large pot of water to boil, generously seasoned with salt, over high heat.  Cook the pici in the boiling water until al dente, about 3-4 minutes.  Save some of the starchy pasta water while draining the pici.
  3. Transfer the pici to the saucepan with the tomato sauce.  Toss the sauce, adding a little of the pasta cooking water, if needed.  Serve and enjoy!


For those that want to learn how to cook Tuscan style, visit Sandra and her husband's farm page at Podere Il Casale.  She has a wonderful cookbook (these recipes are found in there - pages 163 & 169), she sells food products from her farm that can be shipped to the U.S. and you can take virtual cooking classes with her.  Sandra was so warm and welcoming.  The ultimate would be for you to go there, however.  Tuscany is a place like no other when it comes to food and flavor.  The wine is some of the best in the world, too!  

What is your family food heritage?  Whatever it is, don't let it end with your generation.  Be sure to spend some purposeful time showing your kids how true connection and memories can be made in the kitchen.  If you don't have any cooking traditions, start making your own.

If you want some ideas on how you can connect with your kids in the kitchen, give us a call at 888-422-8070.  Some of our dietitians offer virtual, one-on-one cooking sessions.  Or, check out our group virtual Simple Tasty Health Cooking Classes that take place every month.  Many families do it as a great way to spend time together.



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