Aglione: the return of a giant

Pici all’aglione and local initiatives

Oonagh Stransky
May 5, 2016 - 10:42

The entire Valdichiana, which extends from Arezzo to Lago Trasimeno and Lago di Chiusi to the southeast of Florence, is rich in history. Home to Etruscan settlements 2,500 years ago, the valley is believed to be that depicted in the background of the Mona Lisa.

 

The aglione, which resembles a giant garlic, has all the benefits of garlic without any of the drawbacks. The aglione, which resembles a giant garlic, has all the benefits of garlic without any of the drawbacks.

 

Cosimo de’ Medici funded the project to drain the valley’s vast swamp, which was the remains of the river Clanis; mapped out by Leonardo da Vinci, the project was completed in the late 1700s by engineer Vittorio Fossombroni. The valley is also luxuriant in biodiversity. Along with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the ancient grains that grow in Monte San Savino and Chianina cattle that graze in Bettolle, it is home to an ancient plant known as aglione, which has been in danger of extinction. Over the past four years, however, a collective movement in the Valdichiana has been working hard to bring attention to the endangered heirloom plant, best known today as the star of pici all’aglione.

 

The aglione, which resembles a giant garlic, has all the benefits of garlic without any of the drawbacks. Its flavor is milder than that of the slightly sweet and nutty onion genus. It lowers blood pressure and it is easily digestible as it is low in sulfur compounds. With four to eight cloves, it usually weighs about 900 grams.

 

The endangered aglione caught the attention of local groups, including the Gens Valia cultural history society and Slow Food Montepulciano-Chiusi. But progress is slow: only about 20 farmers in the area are growing the plant. It will take the continued collaboration of local farmers, schools such as Vegni agricultural institute and Chiusi hotel school, merchants, researchers, historiographers and town administrations to win the Aglione di Valdichiana the status of Slow Food Presidia, a food that deserves recognition for its place in the biodiversity of the region.

 

In the meantime, professional chefs constitute the main source of demand for this unusual and beautiful food. Pici all’aglione, the recipe offered here, is one of the great classics. Pici, a cucina povera, no-egg pasta rolled out by hand, is served with a puree made from the gently cooked aglione mixed with ripe tomatoes. Unfortunately, because of the scarcity of aglione, this dish is often prepared with just a lot of normal garlic, making it harsh and heavy on the stomach.

 

RECIPE

Pici all’aglione (serves 4)

by Marialuisa Sbernadori

La Dogana di Palazzo Vecchio, Montepulciano (SI)

 

Pici all'aglione, a local favourite Pici all'aglione, a local favourite. Ph. Marialuisa Sbernadori

 

INGREDIENTS

400 grams pici (best if made by hand with only flour and water, or purchased fresh)

200 ml vegetable broth

4 cloves aglione

1 kg piccadilly tomatoes or other small, sweet fresh tomato

Pinch of sugar

Chili pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese, for serving

 

METHOD

Peel the four cloves of aglione. Cut the tomatoes down the middle lengthwise. Remove the seeds and chop into cubes.

In a skillet, heat the broth, the 4 cloves of garlic, and the fresh, chopped, seeded tomatoes. Let the mixture simmer for 30–45 minutes, adding more broth if necessary for consistency.

At the end of cooking, mash the garlic and tomatoes together with a fork until they form a smooth sauce. Add a pinch of sugar and season with chili pepper to taste.

Cook the pici in boiling, salted water. Drain well. Pour the pici into the sauce and heat through over the fire before serving with Parmesan on the side.

 

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