Monday, February 25, 2013

Maccheroni alla Chitara e Sugo di Agnello Abruzzese

     Abruzzo cuisine is something to get excited about!  Many food writers say that the finest chefs in Italy come from Abruzzo, but that is not really true.  Every region and every city in Italy is loaded with great chefs!  
     What sets the cuisine of the Abruzzo region apart from the rest, is that Abruzzese cuisine makes use of many ingredients and spices that are not commonly used in Italian recipes elsewhere in the country.  Lamb is a common meat in Abruzzo and lamb is usually reserved for special occasions in other regions.  Goose is another common meat in this region.  Spice and herb influences have some origins in trade activity via major port cities in Abruzzo.  Rome is within 50 miles of Abruzzo and everybody knows that all roads lead to Rome!  That includes overland merchant routes from Abruzzo ports.  
     Abruzzo was once part of the Kingdom Of Two Sicily's.  Anybody that has done some Sicilian cooking, knows that flavor is the name of the game in Sicilian cuisine.  The same goes for Abruzzese cuisine.  The list of cuisine influences goes on and on, because mankind has occupied the Abruzzo region since before recorded history.
     Maccheroni alla chitara is a specialty pasta in the Abruzzo region.  Maccheroni alla chitara is literally translates to guitar pasta.  This does not mean that the pasta has a guitar shape.  The guitar part of the translation refers to pasta that is cut with guitar strings.  If you have a guitar that has thin wire strings, then making this pasta is easy!  Usually a wooden box or a board that has pegs, screws or nails with thin wire stretched tight in parallel rows is the device that is used to make this pasta.  Sheets of pasta are pressed on the wires and cut into long thin strips.  Maccheroni alla chitara can be as thin as spaghetti, or as wide as fettuccine.  Maccheroni alla chitara is a fresh made hand crafted pasta.
      A simple tomato sauce with cheese is the standard sauce for maccheroni alla chitara.  Various sugo di carne and ragu style sauces are also served with this pasta.  Sugo di Agnello (minced lamb sauce) is one of the most popular Abruzzese sauces for maccheroni alla chitara.  
     Today's Maccheroni alla Chitara e Sugo di Agnello Abruzzese recipe certainly is authentic and it has the tasty flavors that Abruzzo region cooking is known for.

     Pasta Making Information:
     This recipe is not a simple semolina and water pasta dough recipe for pasta extruding machines.  This is a standard pasta recipe for hand turned pasta sheet rolling machines.  A rolling pin can be used to roll sheets of pasta, but a hand cranked pasta rolling machine is much easier to use and it makes sheets of pasta that are very uniform in thickness.  An economical Italian hand cranked pasta rolling machine costs about $18 to $40 dollars and it is a good investment for home usage.  A heavy duty restaurant grade pasta sheet roller costs about $350 to $650 dollars and it will last a lifetime, because it is rebuildable. 
     Pasta Dough Making Tips:
     Pasta dough can be started in a metal gear driven electric cake mixer with a dough hook, but it still must be folded and pressed by hand to finish blending the ingredients.  The dough does not need to be extensively kneaded, because it will be run through the pasta rolling machine several times at the widest setting and folded each in half each time.  Using the pasta rolling machine to finish the kneading of the dough is one of the tricks of the trade.
     Before the dough is rolled out as pasta sheets, the dough must rest in a refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours, so the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
     Pasta dough is usually made in batches and the extra dough can be refrigerated.  It is best to drape a cloth that is lightly soaked with olive oil over the block of pasta dough inside of a sealed container, when refrigerating pasta dough.
     The outside of the pasta dough block nearly always turns a grayish color after a couple of days, because of oxidization.  This is nothing to worry about and the gray surface does not need to be trimmed off.  The gray color will disappear after the dough is worked and after the pasta is boiled.
     Like all fresh products, fresh pasta has a Servesafe 7 day refrigerated shelf life.  Pasta dough can be frozen, but it is better when it is fresh.
     Good pasta dough should not be too stiff and it should not be too soft.  The dough should dent when heavy pressure is applied by one finger and the dough should only slightly or partially spring back.  A pasta dough with this texture will produce some fine pasta.
     I usually use a mixture of semolina and all purpose flour to make pasta.  This is how we made pasta when I apprenticed.  Only a tiny fraction of salt is added to the dough recipe.  A tiny fraction of olive oil is also added to the dough.  The eggs are the key to the texture of the pasta and no water should be added during the initial mix.  When the dough tightens, becomes stiff and starts to crumble, that is the time to start sprinkling very small amounts of water on the pasta dough, while kneading, till the dough becomes smooth and workable again.  Too much water in a pasta dough will result in a sticky stretchy dough that is hard to manage when shaping fine pasta.

     Pasta Dough Recipe:
     1 cup of flour per egg is the approximate proportion for Italian pasta!
     Place 1 1/2 cups of semolina in a large mixing bowl.
     Add 1/2 cup of all purpose flour.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Mix the dry ingredients together.
     Pile the dry ingredients on the center of the mixing bowl.
     Form a shallow well on the center of the mound of the flour mixture.
     Place two whole eggs in the well.  
     Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
     Use a fork to gentle stir the eggs in the flour well, just like you are mixing eggs for scrambled eggs.
     As you stir the eggs in the well, allow the eggs to slowly and gradually gather the surrounding flour.
     Stir like this, till a dough starts to form.
     Scrape the ingredients from the fork back into the mixing bowl.
     Start using your fingers to gradually incorporate the remaining dry flour mixture into the dough mixture.
     At this stage, at some point, the dough will become dry and crumbly.  Now it the time to add a small sprinkle of water.  Do not add to much water!  Add a small amount, then work the dough.  Add small amounts of water till the dough becomes workable again.  The dough should be stiff in texture.
     Fold the dough and press with the heels of your palms after each fold.  Fold and knead the dough this way, till it becomes blended.
     Press the dough with 1 finger under pressure to make a dent in the dough.  The dough should only partially spring back when it has the correct texture.  The texture of the dough can be corrected by adding a sprinkle of water and more kneading if it is too dry.  If to wet, then work the dough on a flour dusted surface, till it becomes the correct texture.
     Form the dough into a thick rectangular block shape and place it in a sealed container.
     Refrigerate the dough for 3 to 4 hours, till the semolina in the dough becomes smooth.  
     Pasta Rolling Machine Techniques:
     Follow these instructions and tips for rolling out sheets of pasta!
     A very light dusting of flour on the work surface is best, when rolling sheet pasta.  Sometimes I do not dust with any flour at all, if the room temperature is chilly.
     When running sheets of pasta through a pasta sheet rolling machine, the pasta will pile up like an accordion and stick together, so pause while running a pasta sheet through the roller and gently use the backs of your fingers to carry the pasta sheet from under the machine out over the work surface, so the pasta sheet does not wrinkle.
     For the widest setting on a pasta roller, the pasta is run through several times, till it becomes smooth and till it starts to become wide.  If the pasta sheet has rough edges, then fold the sheet in half and keep running it through till the pasta sheet has smooth edges.  This is only done at the widest setting on the pasta rolling machine.
     Cut a 1/2" thick, 10" long slab of pasta dough for making the first pasta sheet.  Gently feed the thick slab of dough through the rolling machine at the widest setting to start the process.  The first past through will usually result in a rough broken pasta sheet.  Fold and press the sheet and pieces together, before running the dough through a second time.  On the second pass through the pasta roller, the dough will hold together and start to look like a rough sheet.  
     After the pasta sheet is uniform looking after being rum through the pasta rolling machine at the widest setting several times, then it is ready for the next step.  
     The pasta dough sheet can be run one time through each successive smaller thickness setting on the rolling machine, till the pasta sheet becomes the desired thickness.  
    The pasta sheet can now be turned into desired shapes!

     Maccheroni alla chitara pasta:  
     A chitara pasta cutter can be purchased in Italian markets, specialty chops or on the internet.  A chitara pasta cutter can be made at home and detailed instructions are easy to find on the internet.  In a pinch, a fettuccine cutter can be used, but that is cheating!  A single guitar wire or even a guitar can be used to cut this pasta.  
     Press a 16" to 24" thin sheet of fresh pasta on the chitara wires with a small rolling pin, till the pasta is cut into long thin ribbons.
     The long thin ribbons can be as thin as spaghetti or as wide as fettuccine.
     Make single portion twists or piles of pasta on a parchment paper lined sheet pan.
     Dust the piles of fresh pasta with semolina to keep them from sticking together.  
     Keep the fresh pasta chilled, till it is cooked.    

     Sugo di Agnello Abruzzese:  
     This recipe makes enough for 2 large portions!
     Heat a pot over medium low heat.
     Add 5 tablespoons of olive oil.
     Add 4 tablespoons of minced pancetta.
     Saute till the pancetta becomes a golden brown color.
     Add 4 cloves of finely chopped garlic.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced shallot.
     Add 1/3 cup of very finely minced onion.
     Stir and saute, till the fine vegetables become tender, but not browned at all.
     Add 12 to 14 ounces of ground lamb.
     Stir the meat with a wire whisk occasionally as it cooks, so any clumps of ground meat are broken up into tiny pieces.  
     Note:  Clumps of cooked ground meat are not desirable in this sauce!  Sugo di agnello is meant to coat the pasta with flavor and cling to the pasta.  If you want big chunks of ground meat, then that is what meatballs are all about!
     Saute the ground meat, till it is fully cooked and lightly browned.  (Do not allow the meat to overly brown.  That is how a sugo di carne becomes greasy and dark in color!)
     Add 1/3 cup of dry white wine
     Add just enough imported Italian canned crushed San Marzano plum tomatoes to almost cover the meat.  (2 1/2 to 3 cups is plenty.  The proportion of ground meat should be slightly higher than the proportion of tomato in the finished sauce!)
     Add 1/2 cup of imported Italian canned tomato puree or 3 pureed peeled and seeded fresh overripe plum tomatoes.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 4 medium size leaves of basil that are torn by hand.
     Add 2 pinches of thyme.
     Add 1 pinch of crushed dried red pepper.  
     Add 2 pinches of marjoram.
     Add 2 pinches of minced rosemary.
     Add 1 pinch of rubbed saffron.
     Add 3 pinches of finely chopped Italian parsley.
     Add 1 cup of light beef broth.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice.
     Raise the temperature to medium heat.
     When the sauce starts to gently boil, reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Stir the sauce once every 4 or 5 minutes.
     Simmer the sauce for 30 to 35 minutes.
     Note:  Do not simmer this sauce all day!  Meat sauces that are cooked for too much time will start to lose their crisp flavor and bright color.  A meat sauce that is simmered too long will become acidic and dark in color!
     After the sugo di carne finishes simmering, the sauce should be a medium thick consistency and the small pieces of ground meat should be easy to see.  If the sauce becomes too thick, add a splash of light beef broth or chicken broth.
     Keep the sauce warm over very low heat or reheat the sauce to order.
     Maccheroni alla Chitara e Sugo di Agnello Abruzzese:
     Heat a saute pan over medium low heat.
     Add just enough of the sugo di agnello to coat 1 portion of pasta.  (About 6 to 8 ounces.)
     Heat the sauce.
     Cook 1 portion of fresh maccheroni alla chitara pasta in boiling water, till the pasta floats and becomes tender, but not mushy
     Drain the water off of the cooked pasta.
     Add the pasta to the sauce in the pan.
     Toss the sauce and pasta together.
     Mound the pasta on a plate.
     Spoon any extra lamb meat sauce that remains in the pan over the pasta.
     Sprinkle some freshly grated pecorino romano cheese over the pasta.
     Garnish with an Italian parsley sprig.    

     Tasty, tasty, tasty!  Maccheroni alla Chitara e Sugo di Agnello Abruzzese has a rich inviting aroma.  The sugo di agnello is meaty and it has the flavors that dreams are made of! 
     An Italian wine pairing is a must!  A classic Italian dry red wine like Chianti or Lambrusco is best with this pasta.  Many people do not realize that Italy produces some nice Merlot.  Merlot is popular with the restaurant going crowd and the 2005 Terrazzo Merlot in the pictures would certainly be to their liking.  Yum!  Ciao Baby!  ...  Shawna 

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