Freshly made pasta with a winning triumverate of cheese, butter, and an inordinate amount of black pepper from Padella
There are certain foods which, when done well, absolutely demand simplicity—freshly baked sourdough needs nothing more than good butter; well-bred, expertly cooked steak nothing but, well, a knife and fork. One such example is pici, its marriage with butter, cheese and pepper being nothing short of perfection.
“When you’re making a really good daquiri, you want the perfect amount of sugar to lime; when you’re making pici cacio e pepe, you want to get that balance between the butter and cheese emulsion and the pepper,” says Jordan Freida, co-owner of Padella where this lunchtime dish has won not only awards, but hearts. “If you saw how much freshly cracked black pepper we put in each dish, you’d think, no way. But the three ingredients work in perfect harmony. It’s delicious.”
The pici (fat, flat, spaghetti-shaped pasta comprising nothing but strong plain white flour, water and good olive oil) is made the old-fashioned way, rolled by hand (“it’s labour-intensive, our chefs have really big biceps!”) on site each day—and all day, now that this delicious dish has taken London by storm. “It’s a dish that everyone loves. It’s just an absolute classic.”
Many an eyebrow
What’s not classic, however, is their recipe, which raised many an eyebrow when the dish first landed on Padella’s menu, with its replacement of the traditional pecorino with parmesan.
Is it fair to say it’s not authentically Italian, then? “It’s important not to bluff and say we know more than we know—my Italian is pretty bad; Tim’s is non-existent!” Jordan laughs. “But the thing about Italy is every region—every village—will tell you to make it a different way. There’s no such thing as ‘Italian’.”
Two things they do share with the Italians, though, if you’ll forgive us the sweeping generalisation, is a passion for quality ingredients—“we have done an extraordinary amount of research and travelling. We import the very highest quality olive oil from a trattoria in Tuscany, and use carefully sourced 24-month aged parmiggiano regiano. We have relationships with some super suppliers”—and fiercely held beliefs.
Sticking to our guns
“When we first did our pici with parmesan, people said ‘you’re making it with parmesan? You’re not allowed!’ and we actually changed it for a time because of it,” he continues. “But you know what? We didn’t think it was as good, so we’re sticking to our guns.” With a barrage of awards, rave reviews and a line of hungry customers snaking up the high street, they can be glad they did.