The calendar may say spring but the weather is giving me undecided. I will admit that early spring is a step up from winter but, I mean, is it really all that hard to be better than winter? My point is this, with the weather still flip-flopping, patio season is still on hiatus. So I will not be posting sun-soaked patio snacks until you can actually make them and enjoy them with your friend without digging out your thermals. Instead, I have today’s Four Mushroom Saffron Pici. Thick rustic strands of hand-rolled pasta dressed with a simple four-mushroom sauce spiked with dry vermouth and finished with a sprinkling of shredded Parmigiano Reggiano. And yes, I did say “hand-rolled”. You’re looking at a cozy kitchen project designed for those chilly mixed precipitation spring days. So let’s get into it!
Let’s kick things off with the pici. If you’re unfamiliar with pici, allow me to introduce it to you. Pici is a rustic hand-rolled pasta that hails from Siena in Tuscany. Pici typically is made with only two ingredients – flour and water. But some recipes call for olive oil and/or egg white. I added a little olive oil to my dough for some added richness but it is optional. I like to make pasta of all varieties in a large, shallow vessel. The bowl you see in the photos is actually the base for my tagine but I love it for making pasta because it contains the mess but also provides enough room to knead the dough. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
We’re going to kick things off by adding a pinch of saffron to a mortar and pestle. Grind the saffron into a fine powder and pour it into a bowl. Now, if you don’t have saffron or you’re not a fan, you can just give this a miss. I like the subtle floral quality saffron brings to dishes and the color ain’t bad either. Add lukewarm water to the bowl and set it aside while you prep the dry ingredients.
Place the salt and flour in a large bowl and whisk the two together. Most pici recipes recommend using 00 flour and I agree, it is the best flour for this specific task. But I have also made this dough with all-purpose flour and it was delicious. So if you can’t find 00 flour, don’t sweat it. Once the dry ingredients are well acquainted, form a well in the center and pour in the saffron water mixture you made earlier. Add the olive oil, and using a spoon, gradually integrate the dry ingredients into the wet until a shaggy dough forms. Once the dough is too thick to stir, use your hands and knead the dough together until you have a silky, smooth ball. Wrap the dough tightly, and let rest for 30 minutes.
Once the dough is finished resting, it is time to roll out the dough. Now, this isn’t your usual paper-thin pasta sheets. We’re only going to roll our dough out to a 1/4 of an inch thickness. Then, using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into a series of strips about 1/2 an inch thick. Take one strip and cover the others so they don’t dry out. Roll the strip out into a long noodle. Make sure you don’t flour the surface you’re rolling your pasta on too heavily. You want the dough to retain its moisture so it submits to the shaping. I didn’t use any flour at all.
When your first strand of pici is formed, transfer it to a baking sheet dusted with semolina flour. This will keep the dough from clumping together. Once you fill the baking sheet with noodles, bundle them together. Dust the bundles liberally with semolina flour. You should have 4-5 bundles of pici. Cover the pici with a clean tea towel and set them aside until you’re ready for them. And yes, you can freeze them at this point.
So that’s the pici in this Four Mushroom Saffron Pici, let’s move on to the mushrooms. Now, you can use any variety of mushrooms you prefer. And no, you don’t need to use four different kinds. Just make sure if you’re going all in with one or two varieties you’re still hitting the total grams of the mushrooms listed below. We don’t want a light touch here. We want full-volume mushroom flavor, so don’t hold back.
Start by sautéing a few shallots until translucent. Next, add the mushrooms. You don’t really have to worry about crowding the pan here. We want the mushrooms to generate juice to help dress the pasta, so if they steam rather than sear so much the better. Add a generous piece of butter and a borderline inappropriate amount of dry vermouth. I love using dry vermouth here, it brings the perfect herbal quality to the mushrooms. Keep the mushrooms warm, while you cook the pici.
Pici, like most fresh pasta, cooks exceptionally quickly. It really only needs three or so minutes in rapidly boiling generously salted water to achieve that perfect al dente. Once the pici is done, retain a little of the pasta cooking water and add the pici to the mushrooms. Now, it’s time to go all in with some cheese. I used Parmigiano Reggiano but I think pecorino would be stellar here. Bonus if you use truffle-infused pecorino for that extra mushroomy note. Shred your chosen cheese over the pici, add a splash of pasta water, and toss to coat. Only add as much pasta water as you need to form a glossy sauce.
Finish your Four Mushroom Saffron Pici with finely chopped parsley and a little extra cheese and you’re done. Dig in and enjoy the fruits of your labor. I realize there is nothing remotely quick about this recipe but that really isn’t the point of pici. Pici and kitchen projects like it are a delicious opportunity to mono-task and in a multitask-obsessed world, I find that refreshing and very relaxing.
Four Mushroom Saffron Pici
- 1 Large baking sheet
- 1 Large Cast Iron Skillet
- 1 mortar and pestle
- ½ tsp saffron threads **
- 1½ cups lukewarm water
- 2⅓ cups 00 flour ***
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- semolina flour for dusting
Four Mushroom Sauce
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 shallots peeled and thinly sliced
- 227g (8oz) button mushrooms sliced
- 227g (8oz) cremini mushrooms sliced
- 100g (3.5oz) shiitake mushrooms stems removed
- 1 maitake (hen of the woods) torn into bite-sized pieces
- 2 tbsp butter
- ½ cup dry vermouth ****
- ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano shredded
- ¼ cup curly parsley finely chopped
For the Pici
- Place the saffron in a mortar and pestle and grind it into a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl and pour the water over top. Set aside.½ tsp saffron threads **, 1½ cups lukewarm water
- In a large bowl, whisk to combine the flour and salt. Form a well in the center and add the saffron water and the olive oil.2⅓ cups 00 flour ***, 1 tsp salt, ¼ cup olive oil
- Start mixing the dry ingredients into the wet. When the dough becomes too thick to stir, switch to your hands and knead the dough until it becomes smooth and silky. Wrap the dough tightly with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Roll the rested dough out to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife. Cut the dough into 1/2-inch ribbons. Working with one ribbon at a time, roll the ribbons into long strands of circular noodles. Cover the remaining ribbons as you work, so they don’t dry out. *****
- Transfer the finished Pici to a baking sheet dusted with semolina flour. Gather the Pici up into a series of bundles. You should have 4-5 bundles. Dust the bundles with semolina and cover them with a tea towel. Set aside until ready to cook.semolina flour
For the Sauce
- Pour the olive oil into a large cast iron skillet and place it over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the shallots and a generous sprinkling of salt. Sauté until the shallots are just translucent.2 tbsp olive oil, 4 shallots
- Add half of the mushrooms to the skillet and sauté until the decrease in volume. Stir in the remaining half and saute until golden. ******227g (8oz) button mushrooms, 227g (8oz) cremini mushrooms, 100g (3.5oz) shiitake mushrooms, 1 maitake (hen of the woods)
- Add the butter and the vermouth and cook until most of the vermouth has cooked off, about 5-7 minutes.2 tbsp butter, ½ cup dry vermouth ****
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and liberally salt the water. Add the Pici and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the pasta is al dente.
- Transfer the Pici to the skillet and reduce the heat to low. Retain about a cup of the cooking liquid. Add the cheese and a splash of pasta water and quickly toss to coat. Only add enough pasta water to form a glossy sauce.½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano
- Stir in the parsley and divide the Pici across four plates. Garnish each with additional shredded Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh parsley. Serve immediately.¼ cup curly parsley