For those of you who read my Italian Food Adventure blog, you will know that I was fortunate enough to learn the recipe for Pisarei with Chef Thomas at La Rondanina. Pisarei is the most traditional dish of the Piacenza cuisine; small gnocchi style dumplings in a sauce of beans, stock and tomato. This dish can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the pancetta. This makes a fairly large quantity of pisarei but they will keep well in the freezer so you can get them out at any time to add to your sauce at a later date. You may want to rope in a few friends to help you with the shaping!
Serves 4 (though you will not need to use all the pisarei dumplings, you will have some left over)
For the pisarei:
500g fine breadcrumbs (use old bread to make)
500ml hot milk
drop of olive oil
Water (to combine)
For the sauce:
500g dried borlotti or cannellini beans, soaked overnight in cold water
8 fresh sage leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
180g pancetta, finely chopped
2 medium onions
1 bunch parsley
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 cans (800g) chopped tomatoes
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to serve
- Prepare the pisarei by placing the salt, oil and breadcrumbs in a bowl and mix well.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the hot milk and mix.
- Add in the flour and then some water, a drop at a time until a soft dough is obtained. If it is too sticky, add flour.
- Cover the bowl with cling film and let it rest for an hour.
- To shape the pisarei, take a portion of dough and roll it into a long ‘snake’ of dough about a cm thick using your hands. Take off a cm size piece of dough off the ‘snake’. Press it with the tip of the thumb, then pulling the thumb back and up in a quick motion. The dough thins and curls, forming a sort of C-shape. You can watch a youtube video on it here to observe the shaping motion. Have handy some large flat trays lined with greaseproof paper and sprinkle the pisarei with flour once they are shaped so that they don’t stick to each other.
- To cook the beans, drain the beans that have been soaking over night. Place them in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover by about 3 inches. Add sage leaves and rosemary. Cover and bring to a very slow bubble over medium heat. Adjust the heat so that the water bubbles slowly. Cook, covered, for 1 hour or until the beans are just tender enough to eat but not mushy.
- Drain the beans in a colander, and return them to the pot.
- While the beans are cooking, finely chop the onions, garlic, basil and parsley. Heat the olive oil and pancetta in a heavy based saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and parsley. Saute the onions to a rich golden brown, about 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic, basil and tomato paste, and cook about 30 seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes. Bring to a bubble and cook, uncovered, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Place the beans in with the tomato sauce and the 250ml water, and bring the bean/tomato mixture to a gentle simmer. Partially cover and cook for 1/2 hour, until the beans are very tender and it has the consistency of a thick soup. Stir frequently to check for sticking. Add more water if the mixture starts to stick to the bottom.
- Fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil. Drop in about 4 handfuls of the pisarei and boil 5 to 6 minutes, until they float and are light. Drain in a colander.
- Put the pisarei into the bean and tomato sauce and combine gently, taking care not to break up the pisarei. Serve sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano.