My Love Affair with Pici

Photo: fugzu/Flickr

Alexandra Dimodica

It was love at first sight.

The story may seem somewhat stereotypical: girl (or boy) goes to Italy and falls in love.  This was me last year when I arrived in Siena for my sixth-month sojourn, which is otherwise known as study abroad.  The catch? My love affair did not occur with a handsome Italian student in my letteratura contemporanea (contemporary literature) course. It happened with a pasta.“Pasta??” you might ask, skeptically. I understand. But you clearly have never tried pici, the most wonderful pasta in the world. It’s thick and circular, resembling a robust spaghetti. When cooked al dente, pici befriends a myriad of sauces.  My favorite combination is called “pici all’aglione,” a simple recipe which accentuates Italy’s slow food prowess by combining fresh ingredients such as garlic, tomatoes, red pepper, olive oil and other spices. I also like to top it all off with delightful pecorino cheese. A quick and easy pici all’aglione recipe can be found on’s Italian Food section or in the Italian cookbook, Cucina Contadina. It is commonly found in Siena but, as I eventually learned, Italians from other regions in the country do not even know this pasta exists!

My first encounter with my new love was unforgettable. When I arrived in Siena’s weaving cobblestone streets–my new temporary home–I asked our friendly advisor ‘where the locals flock to eat?’ Without pausing even a moment she replied, “Osteria degli Sviati.” The quest began. Friends and I journeyed through calm streets, in and out of the different contrade (neighborhoods), past brightly lit internet cafes, closed art studios and countless windows dressed with colorful laundry hanging out to dry. We finally approached the osteria. It was quiet, empty, and still only six o’clock, far earlier that most Italians eat.

Osteria degli Sviati, Siena (Photo: Alexandra Dimodica)

Walking inside, we entered a simple, traditional Italian restaurant, a place only locals would know about. As the bar-tender/waiter/chef led us downstairs, we descended into a cozy stone room with long wooden benches and tables. I glanced at the handwritten menu and decided on pici all’aglione. I had never had it before, but this felt right. Besides, at an economical six euros, I couldn’t resist!

As plate after plate emerged from the nearby kitchen, the father-and-son restaurant duo wowed us all with their delicious, pure food. My pici were home-made and steaming hot. The garlic aroma wafted upwards and was so strong that I could almost see it. One bite in, I was hooked. Entranced. My dream pasta. I knew that the rest of my stay in Siena would include a lot of pici and many laps around the Campo to compensate afterwards.
 Before leaving Italy, I made sure to stalk up on some essentials. Leather gladiator sandals, pretty scarves and eight bags of precious pici made the cut. Even at the airport, unloading extra weight from my suitcases, I couldn’t part with my pici. Wednesday market purchases flew into the trash as onlookers watched and the pici remained safely in my carry-on, exactly where it belonged.

Today, a year after returning from Siena, only one bag of this delicious pasta remains. Before investigating further, I was scared to eat it, frightened to say farewell to this piece of Italy. I had always heard that pici were hard to find in the U.S., and come to find out they are. Fortunately for Boston residents and visitors, this Sienese treat can be found closer to home at Salumeria Italiana in the North End. This culinary hub provides patrons with the classic and the at-times hard to find Italian ingredients that bring this slow food way of life into urban and suburban kitchens. For those of you who are feeling industrious, Chef Mario Batali of The Food Network provides some simple steps to creating homemade pici.

My love affair with pici is one year old and still going strong.  This pasta was a first date whose garlic breath I didn’t mind. Buon appetito!

4 thoughts on “My Love Affair with Pici

  1. Terra

    I had the same affair! I came across your site trying to find the name of the pasta I fell in love with. I came across a restaurant near the main piazza when I was studying there and I had this “pica” pasta as you call it in a cheese and black pepper sauce and I swear it was the best pasta I had ever eaten in all my life! Thanks for helping me figure out the name! = )