On a plane ride to Rome a few years back, I took Julia Child’s “My Life in France” with me to read. It was one of those books that was so good that it made the trip go by much faster, and for this I was grateful. I was however shocked when I arrived at Julia’s assessment of Italian food, contained in a few sentences a little over halfway through the book. Julia, the queen of French cuisine, had traveled to Italy, where she deemed the sauces “boring” and the food too “simple,” declaring that “the food didn’t strike me as anything special…it didn’t have much finesse.” I remember feeling slightly betrayed – after all, I had spent the past two days reading about Julia’s adventures with French food, how she had fallen in love with cooking and built her repertoire of recipes. I had in some way identified with her – I felt the same way, but about Italian food! I had imagined Julia would embrace and celebrate Italian food the way I had. After all, in my mind Italian food was even better than French food – how could she not love it?! To hear her insult my polenta, my pasta e fagioli, and my amatriciana was unthinkable. Julia had disappointed me.
Though Italian and French cuisines are arguably the best two cuisines in the world, they couldn’t be more different.
French food is complicated, defined by the large quantities of cream and butter it calls for, not to mention fancy sauces and recipes like anglaise, bearnaise, béchamel, veloutés, choux, and soufflés, to name just a few. Italian food on the other hand is simple and straightforward, relying on the idea that if you’re already using the best ingredients, there is no need to complicate them with any complex sauces or preparations. In short, you are very rarely left guessing about what is on your plate.
What Julia seemed to dislike so much about Italian food is what I happen to love about it: so many recipes in Italian cuisine have minimal ingredients and simple preparations, making this cuisine not only delicious but also approachable. At the end of the day, of course, it just comes down to preference – complex and elegant or simple and fresh?
Now to today’s post, for a recipe that exemplifies the sort of simplicity of Italian cuisine that I have come to love. This delicious ragù comes together to make an amazing dish with minimal effort, with a certain depth and richness of flavor that makes it seem like it has been simmering for hours.
A note on the type of pasta I used here — pici (pronounced pee-chee) is a cut of pasta typically found in Siena, Tuscany, which I visited for the first time in November. Pici are sort of a cross between spaghetti and bucatini, thick like bucatini, but without the hole in the middle. The senesi (people of Siena) prepare pici a few different ways. They can be served all’aglione, which is with tomatoes and garlic, with mushrooms, with bread crumbs, or with sausage (again, all extremely simple but delicious preparations!)
I’m not sure Julia Child would have approved of this – there are only 7 ingredients counting the cheese, and it’s not nearly as complex as the French beef bourguignon, or crème brulee — but I think that’s just fine with me.
Pici con ragù di salsiccia
- 1 lb pici pasta
- Olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 14 ounces of sausage (sweet or spicy or a combination of both)
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- Parmesan cheese
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Sauté the sausage in the pan, breaking it up well with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked throughout. Transfer the sausage to a plate lined with paper towels using a slotted spoon. Drain the extra fat off the pan, then add the chopped onion and sauté until it is soft and translucent. Add the sausage back to the pan and combine with the onion. Add the white wine and let it cook down, about 3-4 minutes. Finally, add the crushed tomatoes and stir everything around. Let the sauce come to a boil and then reduce to a bubble. Let it cook over low heat for about 30-40 minutes, or until it has thickened slightly.
When the sauce is almost done cooking, cook your pici according to package instructions. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, and serve over the pasta with lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6.