My boyfriend and I went on a mini road trip to Tuscany back in August, during that brief lull in the pandemic’s force before it came back with a vengeance in the fall. Looking back now, it was clearly the eye of the storm. Tuscany is now a red zone for COVID-19 and the region has returned to lockdown.
But back in August, when the sun was still fierce and Tuscany was so hot and dry that it looked like another planet, we packed up the little red Panda car and drove north to the city of Pienza near Siena.
Pienza sits like a beacon atop a hill in the midst of those smooth undulating Tuscan fields. It was hot, real hot. There was even a drought but it was still well worth it. I miss travel so much in 2020 that any chance to get out and about and explore seems like a tiny miracle.
The area near Pienza is famous for producing a gigantic garlic or aglione in Italian. Aglio means garlic in Italian and aglione means big garlic. Aglione can be huge and has a mild flavor and a texture somewhat similar to water chestnuts.
While aglione is traditionally served in the region with tomatoes and pici, a thick hand-rolled pasta, in a dish known as pici all’aglione, we also frequently found it on menus with gnocchi.
I made it with gnocchi for lunch this past weekend with regular garlic. It is so easy and satisfying and while it can be made without a bay leaf, I find it to be a key ingredient that adds a small but important dimension of flavor. It also helps that we have a huge bay leaf tree in our yard.
Canned tomatoes and garlic
Although the thick hand-rolled pasta pici is traditional, the sauce is basic enough to be made with almost any pasta shape. Penne would work well and I usually serve it with gnocchi.
- 1 small can of tomatoes, whole, diced, or puréed
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- Olive oil
- Cook the minced garlic in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until golden.
- Add the canned tomatoes, season with salt (or colatura di alici, an Italian anchovy sauce), and simmer over medium-low heat until the sauce is thick.
- Tear the bay leaf in half and stir into the tomatoes.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta.
- Drain the pasta and add to the skillet with the tomatoes and toss.
- Cook over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds while tossing.
- Plate and serve.