by Wille Harner writing from Tuscany, special to EdibleDC I’m studying Italian cuisine for several months this fall, in Italy, where the slow food movement was born. My experience is focused at the Villa Borgo Pignano, located in the foothills of Tuscany outside of the town Volterra, where it seems that both cuisine and culture thrive from the gardens. The 750-acre property sources its food from its own fields and its biodynamic garden. Here ancient wheat is ground into flour, farro is grown and harvested on site, and honey is produced from the property’s swarming hives. From the gardens, tomatoes have been in full swing for the summer weeks and have finally started dwindling, as well as copious amounts of salad greens, green beans, potatoes, squash, cucumber, and recently a fresh crop of just-dug Jerusalem artichokes.
Although the food has a natural rusticity, it’s the simplicity of the dishes that plays such a crucial role as the heart of the cuisine, and fresh fare is of utmost importance. The Tuscan approach to farm-to-table sharply focuses on the essence of fresh ingredients. Many dishes contain only a few ingredients, but the creativity comes in combining new flavors, ingredients, and vegetables of the highest quality and freshness. Pasta is always served as an option for lunch and dinner, along with a salad and a preparation of vegetables; the contorni.
In Tuscany, a classic pasta preparation is done with Pici, (pronounced “Peachy”), a slightly thicker version of spaghetti. Pici can be found at your local Italian specialty shop, or is typically made fresh by hand from just made pasta dough. If not feeling courageous enough to try fresh made dough, or if you can’t find dried Pici at the market, spaghetti will stand in just as well.
Pici a Villa Borgo Pignano
An Early Fall Pasta Recipe Straight from the Tuscan Countryside
Serves as a great appetizer for 4-6 or as a main course for 4.
1 lb. of fresh Pici pasta or spaghetti, or good quality dried
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove sliced thin
2 cups cherry tomatoes halved
1 cup long runner beans chopped and steamed (can substitute green beans or fava beans—make sure to steam or blanch them first so they are softened)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary minced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano minced
6-7 leaves of fresh basil loosely torn
1 zest of lemon
½ cup fresh grated pecorino or Parmesan
- Heat olive oil in a medium sized saucepot at medium heat, and toss in the sliced garlic cloves for a quick sauté until fragrant.
- Add the halved tomatoes and quickly sauté until the juices purge and the tomatoes slightly break down.
- Add the beans and toss several times to warm through.
- Add the rosemary and oregano and toss several times until fragrant.
- Meanwhile, boil your pasta in salted water and cook until just tender. Drain the pasta, and add to your sauce and toss with the lemon zest.
- Place into a bowl and top with the torn basil leaves, the shredded cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Note: For a little heat, add a sprinkle or ½ tsp. of red chili flakes with the garlic when sautéing.
Wille Harner is a 2011 graduate of Johnson & Wales. He has worked at Ubuntu in Napa Valley, Route Tomate in New York City, and most recently as sous-chef at Boundary Road in Washington D.C. A culinary nutritionist by training, Willie’s study trip to Italy this fall was designed to both put him in touch with his family roots (Treviso) and learn about daily country Italian life and how to make pasta from the pros.