Sunday, August 21, 2011

Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Aragosta ed i Funghi (Chitarra Pasta with Lobster and Portabello Mushrooms)

I love to make pasta by hand, and, as a general rule, I will not purchase any boxed, dry pasta that I can make at home. As of right now, I can make most of the basic types of  ribbon cut noodles, such as cappellini, fettucine, linguine, pappardelle and tagliatelle.  There is also one other type of ribbon-cut noodle that I like to make.  That noodle is known Maccheroni alla Chitarra.

This type of pasta is a specialty of the Italian region of Abruzzo.  The name -- Chitarra -- is a reference to the appearance of the pasta maker.  A rectangular box with thirty-six strings on one side and seventy-two strings on the other.  Hence, the name "chitarra," which means "guitar" in Italian.  To make the pasta, one takes a thin sheet of pasta, presses the pasta down on the strings, and then "strums" the wires until the pasta falls through.  At least for me, making Maccheroni alla Chitarra can be a time-intensive endeavor, but the results are always incredible. 

A Chitarra
Maccheroni alla Chitarra is also special to me for another reason.  One of the first gifts that my beautiful Angel ever bought me is a Chitarra.  I have used it on occasion to make pasta for Clare and me.  Recently, I decided to make a very special Maccheroni alla Chitarra for my Angel.  I not only wanted to use the first gift that she ever bought me, but I wanted to make a truly amazing sauce. 

I decided to begin the sauce with San Marzano tomatoes.  San Marzano tomatoes are a plum tomato, whose origins date back to the late 18th century.  According to legend, the the King of Peru gifted these wonderful tomatoes to the King of Naples.  Those tomatoes are planted around Calabria; however, only those tomatoes that are grown in the Valle de Sarno (or Sarno Valley) can be labeled as Pomodoro S. Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino, which is the protected San Marzano tomatoes.  Chefs love San Marzano tomatoes because their meat is generally sweeter than other tomatoes, and the San Marzanos have less acidity that other tomatoes.  These characteristics make the tomato perfect for pasta sauce.

Not only did I have the perfect tomatoes, but I also had the perfect ingredients for the sauce... lobsters and portabello mushrooms.  It took a little time to pick the meat out of the lobsters.  While most people go straight for the claws and the tails, there are also little slivers of meat in the legs.  I worked to get all of the meat out of the two lobsters.  As for the portabello mushrooms, the key is to slice them as thin as possible.  Together, the lobsters, mushrooms and tomatoes made a great sauce, which went perfectly with the handmade pasta. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

2 fresh lobsters, about 1 pound each, steamed and meat picked
     and tail sliced
1 pound of fresh chitarra pasta
1 can of San Marzano tomatoes
1 healthy pinch of crushed red pepper or peperoncino
1 scallion diced finely
2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1 dozen small portabello mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

1.  Make the pasta.  Create a volcano with the cups of flour and break the eggs into the the center of the volcano. Make sure that the "walls" of the volcano are thick enough to hold the eggs in the center. Take a fork and begin to beat the eggs gently. As you are beating the eggs, begin to incorporate the flour from the sides of the mountain, starting at the top. Continue to add flour until you have a consistent paste. As the mixture comes together, form it into a ball.

2.  Continue to make the pasta.  Clean the workspace and then sprinkle flour over the working surface. Gently knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. Make sure that there are no sticky spots in the dough (as a sticky dough will simply clog the pasta machine). Once the dough has been kneaded, begin to run it through a handcrank pasta machine at the widest setting. Repeat this five or six times. Then run the pasta through each of the other settings on the pasta machine, except for the last setting. Once you have finished with the second-to-last setting, lightly sprinkle it with flour and set aside for a couple of minutes. Then cut the pasta into segments.

3.  Cut the pasta.  If you have a Chitarra, place the pasta on top of the strings. Using a small rolling pin, gently run the pin up and down the pasta until it falls through the strings. Repeat for each segment.  (As an alternative, you can make fettuccine using the appropriate extensions on your hand crank pasta maker.)

4.  Make the sauce.  Heat the olive oil on medium heat.  Add the scallions and saute for about two minutes.  Add the mushrooms.  Add additional olive oil if necessary and saute for about seven to eight minutes, until the mushrooms have released all of their moisture.  While the mushrooms are sauteing, add the rosemary and the crushed red pepper.

5.  Cook the pasta.  Place it in a pot of boiling water (with salt added, but that is not necessary). Cook the pasta for a couple of minutes. When the pasta is done, drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.


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