Maccheroni alla chitarra is a typical Abruzzese pasta made with an egg dough and an implement called a “chitarra,” the same word used for the musical instrument, the guitar. It’s a multi-stringed rectangular wooden implement with metal wires across the top.
Before the invention of the chitarra in the mid-19th century, the same shape was achieved by cutting the pasta with a shoemaker’s hammer called a rintrocilo. In some places in Abruzzo, the rintrocilo is still used, although now it’s made expressly for pasta, not for shoes, and it looks like a grooved rolling pin. Centuries ago, the rintrocilo was made of iron, but today it’s made out of soft wood like beech.
Liliana made the dough with flour and eggs and rolled it out in rectangles, using a short rolling pin, in preparation for running it across the top of the chitarra. The pasta emerges at the bottom in long strands that are square shaped. She also demonstrated how she uses a large rolling pin for cutting tagliatelle or making ravioli. When she finishes rolling it out, the sheet of pasta covers nearly the whole table.
For the tagliatelle, after making the dough, she holds the opposite edges of finished sheet with her hands and rolls each side toward the center. It looks something like a jelly roll with a slit in the middle. She then slices it, lifts it from the center using a long knife as a guide and it unfurls into separate strands.
Liliana favors orange clogs, just like the well-known American chef Mario Batali.
Here are Liliana and her husband Carmelio, each with a different size rolling pin, or mattarello. Their son Silvan, whom I introduced you to on my last blog post featuring lentil salad, is a lentil grower and owner of a new bar in town called “Il Ristoro degli Elfi.”
That night at dinner, we ate Liliana’s maccheroni alla chitarra, plus a few other dishes she made, including ravioli with mushroom sauce.
And gnocchi too.
The meal started with a platter of homemade affettati (sliced cold meats) and a spicy eggplant and hot pepper spread.
The grilled smoked scamorza was excellent, better than anywhere else I’ve tried it.
Here’s a video of Liliana making pasta for our group. Take a look at a real expert making the dough.
And check out her technique in rolling out the dough:
Now for the giveaway. Wouldn’t you love to own one of those wooden implements to make your own maccheroni alla chitarra at home? I’m giving one away so you can try it yourself.
All you have to do is leave a comment stating your favorite pasta dish and sauce. Please don’t leave your comment in my email – you need to leave it on the blog to be eligible. You don’t need to have a blog, but I need some way to contact you if your name is chosen (by random number generator), so leave an email or home address please.
For the pasta, follow the step-by-step instructions and recipe here:
For the sauce – use your favorite or this one – a tradition sauce made with lamb and peppers from Italy Dish by Dish:
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb lamb, cut into small pieces
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 lbs. peeled tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. fresh marjoram leaves (substitute basil if you don’t have it)
a pinch of hot pepper flakes
1/2 red pepper, cut into strips
1/2 yellow pepper, cut into strips
1/2 green pepper, cut into strips
grated pecorino cheese
Saute the onions and garlic in 1 1/2 T. olive oil, then add the lamb and brown. Add the wine, tomatoes, bay leaf, marjoram and hot pepper flakes and lower the heat. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Let the sauce cook while you make the pasta. After the sauce cooks about an hour, saute the peppers in the remaining olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the pasta in salted water, drain and toss with the peppers, then with the lamb ragu. Serve garnished with grated pecorino cheese.
Maybe you’ve had enough plain old lettuce and tomato salad by this time of year and you’re ready for something a little different. This salad of lentils from Santo Stefano di Sessanio, tossed with artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and other ingredients will awaken your taste buds and keep you healthy too since lentils are high in fiber and a good source of protein and minerals.
Lentils from Santo Stefano are just about the finest you’ll find anywhere. They’re known for their small size, earthy flavor and tender outer husk. Because of their tiny size and extremely thin outer coating, they don’t need any special soaking and have a shorter cooking time.
They grow on land that’s within Abruzzo’s Gran Sasso National Park, at altitudes that can reach as high as 1600 meters (higher than 5,000 feet.) The cultivation of lentils in this area has been documented by monks as far back as the year 998 A.D.
Santo Stefano provides the ideal climate for growing lentils – cold, long winters and a short, brisk springtime. Lentils love the predominantly limestone soil of the area and don’t need any fertilization so they’re ideally suited for the poor terrain of the mountains. They’re harvested between the end of July and the end of August and the town holds a festival the first weekend of September to celebrate the legume. It can take as long as 15 days to bring in the harvest, which is almost always done manually. That’s mainly because the lentils, which must be separated from their pods, are so tiny, and there’s a loss of 30 percent to 40 percent with mechanical harvesting. But it’s also difficult to get equipment into some of the growing areas. The photo below shows the lentils just released from their dried pod.
Most of the lentil growers in Santo Stefano are older retired people who cultivate them strictly for family use. That means each year fewer and fewer are available commercially, and they’re impossible to find in the U.S. Even in Italy, they’re not readily available outside of Abruzzo. To help stem the sale of lentils falsely claiming to be from Santo Stefano, the local Slow Food organization, or presidium, requires identification of the grower to be on the label. Below is a photo of Silvan Fulgensi, among the younger growers, and a member of the presidium, shown holding a sifter used to shake the lentils from their outer pods. Silvan and his wife Anna were just putting the finishing touches on a new bar in town called Il Ristoro Degli Elfi, so if you do visit Santo Stefano, stop in, have a drink and a bite to eat.
Since you’ll be hard pressed to find lentils from Santo Stefano di Sessanio (unless you’re going to be in Abruzzo), try using Puy lentils from France, found at most gourmet food stores, as a substitute in the recipe below.
1 cup lentils – preferably from Santo Stefano di Sessanio
water to cover
1 bay leaf
Place the lentils and the bay leaf in a pot and cover with water to an inch above the lentils. Bring the water to a boil and simmer in a covered pot, for 20 minutes. Drain, remove the bay leaf and let cool to room temperature, then add the other ingredients.
1/2 cup canned artichoke hearts, cut up into small pieces
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup jarred green pepperoncini, minced
1/4 cup minced parsley
salt, pepper to taste
Add the above ingredients to the lentils and mix with the dressing. Serve over a bed of lettuce and garnish with tomatoes.