Valeria Piccini: pasta every day!

Valeria Piccini: pasta every day!

Pasta is always good, in every way: word of Valeria Piccini, chef of the Da Caino restaurant in Montemerano. We talked to her about her memories.

Valeria Piccini is one of the few great Italian cooks to have managed to conquer a prominent place in the national gastronomic panorama, in addition to the two Michelin stars well established for the Da Caino restaurant in Montemerano, of which she is patron together with her husband Maurizio Menichetti. Cain was the nickname of Carisio, Maurice’s father;substance prevails over appearance, as demonstrated by the generous use of simple, daily ingredientsfrom her mother-in-law Angela, in the 70s, Valeria learned the basics of her cuisine, deeply linked to the Maremma area and its peasant traditions even now that the place is among the most refined in the region, a destination for gourmets and lovers of good wine. Praised by critics and colleagues from all over the world (many recognize themselves as her students) and always open to new challenges – since 2013 she has also curated the menu of the Winter Garden by Caino of the Hotel St. Regis in Florence – Valeria nevertheless keeps her spontaneous ways and warm of a home cook, not inclined to astonish as much as lavish attention and substance. Not that his dishes are not very elegant and lack of technique, on the contrary. But the substance, in fact, prevails over the appearance and also the generous use and without false modesty of simple, everyday ingredients: good oil, pecorino cheese,pasta , which on his table – the private one, like that of the restaurant – never fails.

valeria piccini

What does pasta represent for you?
It is one of the bases of our diet. Let’s be clear, pasta is Italian even if it is also present in other gastronomic cultures in different forms. But for me, that’s what we do.

In your memories, what place does it have?
When I was little I, in my house the pasta – the fresh, egg-based one – was made almost every day. With us, in the house, there were chickens, flour, eggs … We cooked with what was there. The dry pasta, on the other hand, was the pasta of Sunday, of the holiday, when the mother and grandmother were resting. Today the thing has turned upside down, women are always running around for work and it has become impossible to make fresh pasta every day. Thus, dry pasta has become one of our daily foods, we eat a lot of it… Or at least, I eat a lot of it!

And on Cain’s menu?
At the restaurant we almost only make fresh pasta, often filled. Dry pasta is within everyone’s reach, and can be seasoned with practically anything, while those who come to us look for something else. But above all, the truth is that recipes with fresh pasta come spontaneously, almost always with egg.

Small tortelli

Why this predilection?
It will be a matter of habit: here in Maremma tradition especially wants tagliatelle dressed with meat sauce, pici water and flour, Maremma tortelli with ricotta and spinach. Here, a nice plate of ricotta and spinach tortelli seasoned with good oil, pecorino cheese and pepper that enhance the filling… that’s a lot of stuff ! My cuisine has its roots in tradition, from products to flavors. It comes naturally to me to start from there, but then I enjoy playing with local products, using them in original ways.

What are the pasta dishes on the menu at Caino right now?
We combine long pasta with stuffed pasta, but we always talk about fresh pasta: we have homemade egg tagliolini with rapetti (turnip greens, ed), dried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts and the delicious fresh anchovies from Argentario and pappardelle on the Hare, as we call them, that is to say with a traditional hare sauce. Then there are the cheese and pear tortelli with beetroot sauce, the cinta senese ravioli in chestnut and chicken broth and the porcini buttons with elderberry sauce and sweetbreads. But every now and then I also put dry pasta on the menu, and soon a dish that I had already proposed with great success will be back on the menu: spaghetti with almond milk, broccoli cream, capers, herring powder and raspberry.

In a recipe, how important is the shape or the pastry and how much the seasoning?
Well, the shape of the pasta must help to enhance the sauce, in general, according to the various preparations. For a spaghetti, for example, the sauce should be as fluid as possible in order to adhere well to the pasta and enhance it. For stuffed pasta, it depends; usually with more consistent fillings it is good not to overdo it with a too intense sauce. But today we also tend to make very liquid fillings, for example I make a ravioli with oil, so things can change. In that case, the thickness of the pastry also counts: it must be directly proportional to the intensity of the filling. Therefore, in the ravioli with oil the thickness must be very thin to cook quickly, so that the oil is not altered by the temperature. In the ravioli di cinta, on the other hand, the pastry is no longer just a container but an integral part of the dish, you have to feel more.

pastry artichokes 9

Any cooking tricks?
For a good cooking of a dry pasta you must put an adequate amount of water, salted at the right point. Nothing else is needed, if not the attention to keep the cooking al dente. Then of course it depends on whether the pasta is served as it is or creamed, then subjected to a further cooking time, also based on the sauce and the amount of starch that the pasta itself develops.

A delicate topic: pasta abroad. Is it possible to make a good plate of pasta far from Italy?
It is difficult, above all because there is a lack of raw materials, the products that we have. For example, a well done tomato spaghetti with our tomatoes growing in the South will never be the same as a tomato pasta made in Colorado, just to mention the place where my son is now.

As an eater and not as a chef, what is your favorite first course?
I love the well done tomato pasta. But also the one with ricotta, garlic, oil and chilli, or the one seasoned with oil, cheese and pepper, now that there is new oil. If you have good ingredients available, simplicity is the best. The truth is that pasta, how you make it, is always good, always a great pleasure. Just talking about it makes my mouth water!

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