Author Notes: Symbol of the cuisine of Abruzzo, spaghetti alla chitarra (“guitar spaghetti”), are also known in Abruzzo's dialect as maccarun?, or maccheroni alla chitarra. Although maccheroni are usually thought of as a short pasta to English speakers, in this case we are talking long noodles, similar to spaghetti or linguine, but square-sided. And the reference to the guitar? It comes from the traditional implement used to make these noodles -- a large, rectangular wooden frame, with numerous thin wires stretched across the long side, it looks, well, rather like a stringed instrument.
The pasta dough made of flour (or semolina) and eggs is rolled into a not too thin, long, rectangular sheet and then placed on top of the “guitar” frame. A rolling pin is then pushed over the top, forcing the pasta sheet through the wires, which cut the pasta into perfectly shaped noodles with a square section. If any of the pasta is left hanging on to the guitar, a simple strum across the wires with a finger helps to loosen them.
Age-old versions of this pasta included highly prized saffron in the pasta dough, infused in the egg before mixing with flour. In fact, the local saffron from Aquila is famous in Italy and features in many of the region's dishes, particularly with pasta or potatoes.
Spaghetti alla chitarra is a pasta that calls for a bit of bite to it as it needs some strength to carry the hearty, rich sauces it usually accompanies -- chunky ragu, particularly made from young lamb, a staple in Abruzzo's cuisine, or, like this one below, a trilogy of pork, veal and lamb. Or perhaps a red pepper sugo. While simple, traditional and tied to the land, the food of this mountainous region is incredibly hearty and tasty and this pasta dish is just one excellent example.
Abundant pecorino cheese is welcomed, as is a glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
Note: To make this pasta you will need a special wooden implement made especially for producing spaghetti alla chitarra. If you don't have one of these, the spaghetti attachment on a pasta rolling machine or some very precise cutting with a sharp knife is better than nothing. —Emiko
For the pasta:
cups flour (or semolina), plus more for dusting
For a classic Abruzzese ragu:
tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
onion, finely chopped
ounces (50 grams) guanciale, chopped (or pancetta if you don't have this)
ounces (400 grams) meat (pork, veal and lamb), chopped into 1 inch cubes
cup (125 ml) red wine
ounces (400 grams) diced canned tomato or tomato passata (puree)
cup (250 ml) water or as necessary
For the pasta:
- Place the flour on a clean surface, create a ‘well’ in the middle of the flour and add the salt and cracked eggs. Using a fork, whisk the eggs together and, still whisking, slowly begin to incorporate the surrounding flour until the mixture becomes creamy and eventually becomes too thick to continue whisking.
- With floured hands, finish combining the flour until the dough no longer sticks to your hands. Depending on the size of the eggs, you may not need all the flour or you may find the mixture too dry – in this case, you can add a bit of water until you have a dough you can work with. Knead on a floured surface for about 5 minutes or until it becomes smooth, elastic and a finger poked into the surface of the dough bounces back. Let the dough rest, covered with a damp cloth, under a bowl, or in cling film, for at least 30 minutes, better even a couple of hours.
- Divide the rested pasta dough into four pieces, and, keeping the pieces that are not in use covered, roll out the pasta into thin sheets with a rolling pin or pasta rolling machine to about 1/8 inch thick. Let the pasta sheet “dry” for a few minutes before laying it along the top of the “guitar” and rolling with a rolling pin to cut the noodles. Dust the spaghetti with plenty of flour and remove from the “guitar”, shaking off any excess flour, and transfer to a floured plate or board. Continue with the rest of the dough.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water for a few minutes or until al dente. Drain and toss with a classic Abruzzese ragu (recipe below), served with grated Pecorino cheese.
- Note: If you don't have the wooden “guitar” frame for making this pasta, you can make regular spaghetti using the attachment on your pasta rolling machine or you can roll or fold (the long end) well-floured sheets of hand-rolled pasta and carefully slice 1/8 thick lengths with a sharp kitchen knife.
For a classic Abruzzese ragu:
- In a wide skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Gently saute the onion with the guanciale until the onion is translucent and the guanciale melts (don't let it burn or crisp). Season with a pinch of salt.
- Add the meat and let it brown evenly. Add the wine and bring to a simmer; let it reduce slightly. Add the tomato and half of the water. Cover and simmer on low heat for at least an hour or until the meat is tender. Check the ragu occasionally and if it is reducing too quickly, add more water as necessary. Taste for seasoning (some like to add chile pepper flakes instead of pepper).
- This recipe is a Community Pick!