I have recently been visiting Italy quite a lot, first running Japanese cooking courses in Tuscany, and I will soon be launching a very exciting collaboration with an Italian travel company!
During my recent trip, I discovered pici pasta which reminded me once again of how similar Italian and Japanese cuisines really are: both designed to emphasise the wonderful flavours of high quality, fresh ingredients through simple dishes and al dente cooking. Pici is unusual as, unlike most of Italy’s yolk-yellow pastas, it doesn’t contain eggs. Made from just semolina and white flours, salt, water and olive oil, pici is a rustic, hand-rolled type of spaghetti so it is perfect to make if you are a beginner!
Above: Fresh and dried pici.
Gluten-free, thick and hand-shaped, pici are just like Japanese udon noodles – though udon are made with just plain flour and water – and both make great bases for a delicious sauce or broth. (In fact, if you take a look at the image at the top of this page, you’ll see pici with my homemade ragu!) To make both of these starchy dishes, simply mix the ingredients, knead for 5-10 minutes, leave to rise for at least an hour, roll flat, and slice into 1/8 inch flat ribbons – for udon, leave it like this and boil, for pici, roll into rough strings. Shinpuru or, semplice!
Whether you’re making pici or udon, try it in my White Miso Carbonara – a beautifully simple Japanese fusion take on the traditional Italian dish. The sweetness and creaminess of white miso works perfectly for this rich sauce, and balances the salt of the pancetta with a smooth umami. Utterly delicious! Read on for the recipe…
A note on ingredients before you start: make sure you have authentic sweet white miso for this dish, sometimes a cheap white version of normal miso can be found but it is far too salty! Clearspring’s sweet white miso is available in large supermarkets and online.
400g pici (or udon)
1 tsp salt
120g sweet white miso
2 egg yolks
2 whole egg
2 tbsp mirin
pinch of salt & pepper
240g shiimeji mushroom
100g parmesan cheese, grated
Handful of chives
1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil (you will need at least 4 litres for this amount of pasta) Add about 1 tsp of salt into boiling water and then throw in the pasta.
2. While boiling pasta, cut pancetta and shimeji mushrooms. For the shimeji, cut off the hard roots and break up into small bite sized pieces. When the pasta is cooked half way through, shallow fry pancetta and shimeji for only a couple minutes without any oil (as pancetta releases fat immediately).
3. While cooking pasta mix 2 whole eggs and 2 yolks with a pinch of salt & pepper, white miso and grated parmesan cheese in a bowl, until well combined. White miso may still have lumps at this point, but it will soften and melt once tossed into the hot pasta.
4. Turn off the heat and drain the pasta, then throw it back to the saucepan together with the pancetta and mushrooms, and mix. Make sure pasta is cooked “al dente” as it will continue cooking in the pan.
5. Ensuring that the saucepan is now cool enough that your eggs will not scramble, add the egg and miso mixture to the pasta, pancetta and mushrooms, and toss well – making sure that the pasta is not stuck together and completely coated in the sauce.
6. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper, if necessary. Divide into individual pasta bowls and serve immediately with sprinkle of chopped chives.