Next time I’ll be visiting the Italian region of Abruzzo I’ll have to watch out, because I’m cheating in this post. Every region of Italy has its own pasta shapes, and for Abruzzo this is the Spaghetti alla Chitarra, also called Maccheroni alla Chitarra. In other regions this type of pasta is called tonnarelli or troccoli.
Spaghetti alla Chitarra are thick square fresh egg noodles, made from semolina flour and with a thickness and width of 2 to 3 mm (1/12 to 1/8 inch). They are called “alla chitarra” because they are traditionally made with a guitar-like device, which has a wooden frame strung with metal wires. The pasta dough is first rolled out with a rolling pin, then arranged on top of the metal wires, and then a rolling pin is used to press the pasta through the wires and thus cut it. You guessed it: chitarra is the Italian word for guitar. The device helps to give the pasta a rough surface, ideal for sauce to cling to.
I don’t own such a device, but since I do own a tagliolini attachment for my pasta roller with a width of 2-3 mm, I figured I can cheat and prepare something very close to spaghetti alla guitarra using the attachment for tagliolini. To get square pasta, the thickness of the dough should also be 2-3 mm. Spaghetti alla chitarra should be served very much al dente, with a lot of bite to them, so it is important not to overcook them.
One of the traditional ways to serve spaghetti alla chitarra in Abruzzo is with a ragù of lamb and bell peppers, flavored with garlic and bay leaf, and that is what I dressed the spaghetti alla chitarra with. It turned out wonderfully and I will definitely make this again. The ragù is made with fresh tomatoes and has a very elegant taste.
The recipe is traditionally prepared with lamb shoulder cut into small cubes. I used minced lamb instead since that is what I had, but next time I will try it with the cubed lamb for a slightly different mouthfeel (the minced lamb is kind of ‘grainy’). To enhance the lamb flavor, I added some concentrated lamb stock that I have in my freezer. When I make stock, I always make a lot, simmer it down to concentrate it, and then freeze it in ice cube trays.
200 grams (1 1/4 cups) semola di grano duro rimacinata
250 grams (.55 lbs) lamb shoulder, cut into small cubes (or minced lamb)
3 red and yellow bell peppers, cut into thin strips
500 grams (1.1 lbs) ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 bay leaf
80 ml (1/3 cup) dry white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
(optional) 4 Tbsp strongly concentrated lamb stock
(optional) freshly grated pecorino abruzzese, or other pecorino or parmigiano reggiano
Prepare fresh pasta dough from the eggs and the flour, allow it to rest for half an hour in the fridge, and then roll it out to a thickness of 2 to 3 mm (1/12 to 1/8 inch) and cut it into noodles with a width of 2 to 3 mm as well. By all means use a chitarra device if you own one 🙂
The ragù is done when the sauce has thickened and the lamb is tender (with minced lamb that’s not relevant), which takes about an hour to an hour and a half. Remove the garlic and the bay leaf at this point.
The traditional wine pairing is the red wine from Abruzzo: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. However make sure to select a medium bodied one, as a full-bodied Montepulciano would overpower the delicate sauce.