Buongiorno! I have just returned from a whirlwind tour of Italy. Whirlwind being the operative word. Well, make that tornado. A delayed flight, a missed connection, issues rebooking, delayed arrival, delayed baggage… Yes, travel 2022 is every misery you’ve heard and read about.
How does one make lemonade out of those lemons?
And when in Rome, Umbria and Tuscany, one eats pasta!
To my pleasant surprise there were lots of vegan options available throughout my trip. Some dishes that were” veganized” such as the Spaghetti Carbonara and Rigatoni all’ Amatriciana that I had in Rome (exquisite!) and some that were, by nature, vegan.
Pici All’Aglione, the basis for the pasta dish I am sharing today, is by nature vegan and a Tuscan specialty. I happened upon the recipe while visiting a Truffle shop in the hilltop town of Montelpuciano. I noticed a basket of what looked like enormous heads of garlic with a sign that read L’aglione, which I soon found out means big garlic in Italian. I inquired about these incredible specimens and the shopkeeper regaled me with information regarding this local allium vegetable that dates back to Etruscan times. She then shared the recipe that bears its name, Pici All’Aglione, literally Pici, a kind of pasta, with big garlic.
Now, keep in mind that the recipe was shared by mouth, like in old times when recipes were handed down without the written word. Luckily the shopkeeper had excellent English skills and I made sure to ask in detail the cooking instructions. I bought one of the smaller heads of garlic, as some were as big as an orange! I was then left to forage for the rest of the ingredients and cook from memory.
I went to a local farmer’s market in the next town, Pienza, to buy the tomatoes, where I understood clearly when the vendor pointed to one bin of tomatoes and sternly asked “salsa?” and another bin of tomatoes “ensalata?” Italians take their tomatoes seriously, so do not put your sauce tomatoes in your salad or your salad tomatoes in your sauce! I bought a large bag of “salsa” tomatoes, which are what we would consider plum tomatoes. Upon tasting these beauties I understood! There is no tomato like a “salsa” tomato grown in Italy. It should be considered an art form.
I went back to the villa we were sharing with friends to get cooking. A pleasure as this was a stunning kitchen in which to cook. Newly renovated American style and fully stocked, including pasta, which is why I chose to use penne vs. pici, the pasta associated with this dish. Several bags of penne were what we had at the house. Plus, my lovely recipe provider said any pasta was ok. Trust me, you want the ok in Italy, as each region is quite serious and particular about their food specialties.
That night, on our terrace overlooking the sun drenched hills of Tuscany, we enjoyed this local dish with many a bottle of local Nobile de Montepulciano wine. Oh, the wine in Tuscany. But the best part? All agreed that the Pici All’Aglione was their favorite pasta dish of the trip and… would I cook again tomorrow? Hey flattery will get you everywhere, including another home cooked meal prepared by a turista in a country known for its incredible cooking.
Please note that elephant garlic is the closest cousin to Tuscany’s l’aglione in this country, so seek that out for this dish. Ripe plum tomatoes are best but you could also use cherry tomatoes. Choose what’s sweetest and juiciest. Use whatever pasta you have on hand. Pici is similar to spaghetti. And cook your pasta truly al dente! I used to think I cooked that way until I ate pasta in Italy. It’s very chewy to the bite and delicious that way with this zesty sauce.
Good Italian extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves elephant garlic, sliced
1 cup Italian dry white wine
2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes cut in chunks
Salt to taste
Big pinch crushed red pepper flakes or to taste
Fresh chopped basil, optional as I added this to the recipe
1 package good Italian penne or other pasta. 16-17.6 oz, depending on the brand
Heat 3 Tablespoons of the EVOO in a Dutch oven large enough to hold the pasta.
Add the garlic and cook over low heat, being extra careful not to brown or burn it. Let the garlic soften in the pan several minutes.
Add the white wine and bring to a simmer. Cook the garlic and wine, covered, over a very low simmer for about 10 minutes. Smash the softened garlic with a potato masher.
Add the chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer once again. Add salt and crushed red pepper to taste. Stir up.
Cook covered over medium low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In the meantime cook the pasta al dente timed to match the sauce being done. Reserve ½ cup pasta water and then drain the pasta.
Add the pasta water and the pasta to the sauce. Stir up.
Add a few good swirls of EVOO and some fresh chopped basil if using and heat through. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Serve immediately.
About Deborah Brooks
Deborah is currently a documentary film producer. She is also a former certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition coach. The shutdown of business due to Covid-19 and the implication of an animal wet market connection caused her to rethink her high animal protein food lifestyle. She has spent the last year exploring the world of plant based eating for her own health as well as the health of the planet and all of its sentient beings. Her recipes can be found on Instagram. She would love you to follow along on her journey.
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