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First courses

Pici with tarragon pesto, bread crumbs and anchovies

Flavia Cori by Flavia Cori

If you think that the only possible Italian pesto is made with basil, you’re wrong. Sienese cuisine is enjoyed for the intense flavors gifted by herbs, such as tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus). In fact, in Siena you can find "pesto senese" made from "dragoncello", the Italian name for tarragon, which is usually picked and combined with pine nuts, olive oil and some butter. Tarragon pesto is usually used to dress pasta, especially pici, the local handmade spaghetti.

Vineyards in Castellina in Chianti at Villa Cerna, near Monteriggioni
Vineyards in Castellina in Chianti at Villa Cerna, near Monteriggioni

The tarragon was used by the Arabs and it spread with the Crusades. It is said that this herb was imported into Italy by Charlemagne in 774 and then grown in the garden of the Abbey of St. Antimo, near Montalcino.

The fresh leaves have a pungent flavor, halfway between salt and pepper, a sort of flavor enhancer, so it’s useful for those who cannot eat salt for health reasons.

For this photo shoot we decided to visit Filippo Saporito and Ombretta Giovannini at La Leggenda dei Frati restaurant where you can find great regional dishes like this.


For the anchovies 

  • anchovies in salt
  • vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • parsley

For the pici 

  • 600 g of wheat flour 00
  • 400 g of durum wheat
  • 3 eggs
  • 100 g of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 280 ml of water

For the bread crumbs

  • stale bread
  • garlic
  • thyme
  • extra-virgin olive oil

For the pesto 

  • 75 g of tarragon
  • 225 g extra-virgin olive oil
  • 40 g pine nuts
  • 50 g butter
  • 2 ice cubes
  • Shape into small cylinders and roll the dough with the palm of your hand and stretch it outward at the same time
  • Once you have finished your pici, cover with some semolina, so that it does not stick to the others
  • Pici are ready for cooking
    Now saute the garlic in a cast iron pan with olive oil and thyme, add the bread crumbs and toast lightly
  • Prepare your pesto by blending all the ingredients on the list and add two ice cubes to preserve the tarragon green color
  • Now boil some salted water, add your pici and cook them for about 5 minutes (when they rise to the surface, they are ready).
  • Put some pesto in a dish, then add the pici and a couple of anchovy fillets. Finish by sprinkling with bread crumbs.



Thank you Filippo and Ombretta! [Photo credits: Lido Vannucchi]
Thank you Filippo and Ombretta! [Photo credits: Lido Vannucchi]

Ombretta Giovannini and Filippo Saporito are husband and wife but also the main chefs at La Leggenda dei Frati restaurant since 2002. Their cuisine is refined and simple at the same time and their dishes contain only seasonal and local ingredients.