A handsome pair from Siena

Toscana IGT Rosso and ‘pinci’ alle briciole di pane

Rachel Priestley
October 13, 2011

At harvest time, Elia Palazzesi gets up around four in the morning and works outdoors until dusk. This doesn't give him much time for anything else during the vendemmia, the wine harvest. Elia and his family have long been making one of the most well-known wines in Tuscany-indeed the whole of Italy: Brunello di Montalcino.


Elia's directions to the winery, Azienda Agricola Collelceto Podere La Pisana Montalcino, located in the province of Siena, some 120 kilometres from Florence, are as classic as his family's wine: ‘Carry on going straight after the lake; once you get to the top of the hill turn, cross the old railway line; then we are up the hill at the end.' Numerous phone calls later, I arrive in the searing heat of the early afternoon, when the only thing moving is Elia's horse's tail. Elia would have been having his afternoon penichella (nap) if I hadn't turned up so late.


With food on my mind after the long, hot journey from Florence, I ask him what his wife had prepared for their lunch. From the look on his face, I knew I blundered. Then it hits me: after 10 years in Italy how could I be so mistaken? ‘What is your mamma cooking these days?' I ask. His face instantly softens and he starts talking food: ‘Oggi, la mamma ha preparato, come primo, penne al pomodoro (pomodoro del nostro orto); come secondo, uova cotte nella padella con l'olio, un poco di sale e sempre il pomodoro fatto in salsa...si mangi un monte di pane perche' si zuppa dentro il pomodoro...'(‘Today, my mamma made, for the first course, penne with tomatoes from our garden; for the second course, eggs with oil, a little salt and tomato sauce . . . you have to eat a mountain of bread to scoop up the sauce') The recipe I offer here is one of Elia's mother's most special.


We have a look around and then taste the three wines he produces: the famous Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, classified as such in the early 1980s (see box); Toscana IGT Rosso; and Rosso di Montalcino DOC. When, recently, the local consortium asked growers do a blind vote on allowing other grape varieties into the Rosso di Montalcino, about 70 percent voted no change, keeping the pure classification of the one grape variety, the local Sangiovese Grosso grape. 


Twenty days before the vendemmia for Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino, Elia goes around cutting some of the bunches that look ready and some shoulders off other bunches to make the best IGT Toscana Rosso I have ever tasted. He leaves the best of the best to ripen and makes the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG.




Pinci alle briciole di pane


Siena is also famous for its pici, and in most areas of the province, the classic impasto is simply prepared with durum wheat flour and water. Depending on family tradition, however, some recipes call for egg white, others even whole egg. Elia's mother uses a small amount of whole egg in her ‘pinci,' as they say in Montalcino. 


This rustic dish, simple and unassuming, should be made with the best local extra-virgin olive oil, the best local Tuscan bread, salt, and a fresh farm egg. My perfect wine match? A local IGT Toscana Rosso from Montalcino (I'd save the Brunello for another occasion). Buon appetito!



For the pinci

500g semolina (durum wheat flour)

1 egg



For the sauce: 

Pane raffermo (day-old bread)

Aglio in camicia (whole garlic cloves with skin on)

Olio extra vergine (extra-virgin olive oil)

Peperoncino (chilli)

Formaggio grattugiato (cheese, grated); mix equal parts of grana padano and pecorino 


PASTA: Sieve the flour onto a clean surface, make a well in the centre like a volcano, break the egg into the crater, and start mixing inward, adding small amounts of water to incorporate the semolina flour to make dough that is soft yet firm. Once all the flour is incorporated set the excess water aside and knead the dough softly to bring it together to a smooth paste. Let it rest for five minutes, then, on a floured surface, roll it out to 5mm thickness and cut into 5mm strips. Strip by strip, roll by hand, tailing out at the ends, to make the fresh, fat, uneven snakelike spaghetti pasta. Leave all to rest dusted with extra semolina flour.

Heat a big pot of water and salt well. Prepare the breadcrumbs (below), then cook the pasta until just before al dente; the timing will vary from 2-3 minutes to 6-8 minutes depending on how thick your pinci are and how dry the dough is. Generally when they float to the surface of the water, they are cooked. Drain, reserving a cup of the hot liquid.


SAUCE: With your hands, crumble the pane raffermo into rough breadcrumbs. Heat some extra virgin olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan. Toast some aglio in camicia in the oil, remove and discard, add in a few chilli flakes, turn down the heat, and add the briciole di pane, the breadcrumbs, toasting them until crunchy on the outside and light golden brown. Season with salt, toss with the pasta fresh from the pasta pot, and finish with half a cup of the cooking liquor from the pasta. Finish with a light sprinkling of grated cheese.

Brunello di Montalcino was first recorded as a wine in the early fourteenth century. And if you are seeking a Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1945, expect to pay about 5,000 euro. Denominazione di Origine Controllato e Garantito (DOCG) guarantees the specific origin of the wine, the type of grape it is made from, and the way it is made.





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