My mom and dad loved a good party and New Year's Eve was, needless to say, the perfect occasion. The crowds were large and while the adults played baccarat and roulette in the upstairs salon (yes, Italians like a friendly gamble during the holiday season), we children ran around unchecked across the garden, in a storage room that had cleaned and heated for the night. Somewhere in the early 70's, I remember standing by a ping pong table outfitted to buffet, my senses glued by an enormous bowl of pici-a rustic, handmade spaghetti-graced by month old olive oil and little brown specks of what I knew to be black truffle.
That first encounter with a seminal holiday food remains a brick in the foundation of my house of food. I have since recreated and taught this dish in my classes and last night, after having ascertained of it kosherness, I made it for a 7th day of Hanukkah celebration at the home of dear friends.
Pici al tartufo nero
Handmade spaghetti with black truffle
for the pici
1/3 pound semolina flour
3/4 pound all purpose
pinch of salt
for the sauce
2 garlic cloves
olive oil-preferably olio nuovo, the kind that has been pressed the previous November
salt and pepper to taste
1 handful parsley
1 black winter truffle
grated pecorino (optional)
In a bowl, mix the flours and salt. Add the egg, olive oil and start working the ingredients while adding a thin stream of water.
Work in just enough water to bring everything together into a shaggy looking, somewhat crumbly ball. At this stage the mixture should be moist and a little soft but not wet or tacky.
Once you have a satisfactory shaggy ball, that has gathered as close to all of the ingredients as possible, is soft enough to knead but with some resistance, is not too wet and giving, but not so hard that it can barely be pressed together, start kneading.
Grabbing the top third of the ball with your fingertips and pull it up and away from the center. Now use the heel of your hand to press the top third into the middle third. Lastly, still using the heel of your hand, vigorously fold everything into the bottom third.
Turn the dough a quarter hour and repeat the pulling/pressing/folding motion until the dough is smooth and elastic and springs back quickly when poked with a finger.
The pulling/folding/pressing motion will slowly turn the dough inside out and outward in, ensuring that all of it is kneaded, rather than just some parts.
The process will take 10 to 15 minutes at the end of which the dough should be cool and slightly moist to the touch but not tacky. It should also spring back into place quickly when poked.
You can also use a mixer with a hook attachment, just place the ingredients and mix on medium until everything comes together nicely and the dough looks homogeneous and elastic.
Wrap tightly and let the dough relax for at least 30 minutes before rolling.
In the meantime, prepare the sauce.
Clean the truffle: loosen dirt by brushing vigorously with a clean nail brush, then rinse under running cold water while still brushing until you've removed all the dirt. Dry well with a clean paper towel.
Roll the dough to sheets about 12” long and 1/4” thick. Cut each sheet into long strips about 1/2” wide.
Take the first strip and separate it from the rest. Grab one end, fold it and pinch it shut between your thumb and index finger.
Hold up the pinched end and roll the strip of dough back and forth between the palm of your free hand and a wooden surface. Exert light pressure otherwise you will not be able to roll.
Keep rolling toward the opposite end of the strip while gently tugging the pinched side to stretch the spaghetto.
You will yield a long, thick, uneven noodle that can be dipped in semolina then placed on a sheet pan to slightly dry.
Repeat the operation until you have finished all the dough.
Drop the pici in boiling salted water.
While the pasta is cooking, pour about half a cup of the olive oil into a warm serving bowl, add 4 to 5 spoonfuls of the water in which the pasta is cooking and whisk into an emulsion. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper.
The pic will take about 10 to 15 minutes. When done, strain from the water using a handheld strainer or tongs and transfer it into the bowl. Toss to coat evenly.
Using a microplane zester, grate the truffle over the pici. Toss well, adding some more olive oil and pasta cooking water if it appears too dry.
Serve immediately with the grated pecorino on the side.