Saturday, January 14, 2012

Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Frattaglie di Maiale Polpette (Chitarra Pasta with Pork Offal Meatballs)

One weekend morning, I work up with one idea in my mind ... I wanted to cook with pig's feet.  I had already planned to make handmade chitarra pasta and a homemade sauce, so it only seemed natural to make pig feet meatballs.  Generally, meatballs are made with a combination of beef, veal and pork; or, in some cases, with one type of meat, such as lamb.  I have made classic meatballs.  For this recipe, I wanted to try something completely different.  I decided that I would buy some pig feet, boil them to separate the meat and collagen from the bones and then make meatballs.

However, the recipe took on a life of its own once I got to the supermarket.  As I perused the pig's feet, I noticed that the store also had pig necks and pig's tails.  I began to think to myself ... could I use pig necks?  I looked over the necks to see how much meat was on the bones and decided that I could.  Could I use pig tails? There was a lot more fat in tails, but I thought, "what the heck, I'm already using pig feet and pig necks.  Why not throw in a couple of tails as well."  I left the store with a pound of pig feet (basically one foot), a pound of pig necks (about six to eight neck pieces) and a pound of pig tails (about five or six tails).  

When I got back to my kitchen, I thoroughly washed all of the pig parts and placed them in a large stock pot.   I added the standard aromatics -- carrots, celery, and onion -- along with garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and a little salt.  After boiling the pig parts for about three hours, I cleaned the bones of their meat, along with some fat and some collagen.  I chopped the pig meat thoroughly with a meat cleaver.  I then had to consider what to use as binding.  I ultimately decided to make bread crumbs out of some leftover crostini.  I had about 3/4 cup of bread crumbs and I used one egg for the binding.  The binding worked fairly well, but I decided to brown the meatballs to help keep them together while they cooked in the homemade sauce.

The sauce is a basic tomato sauce.  I did not include measurements with respect to the spices, although I do give some guidance in the directions.  The reason is that, for me, this sauce is like a canvas, and the spices are the paints.  There is only one hard and fast rule that I use: two parts basil to one part oregano (for example, 1 tablespoon of basil to 1/2 tablespoon of oregano).  However, the best way to make sauce is to add spices, a little at a time, until the desired taste is achieved. It is also important to keep in mind that the meatballs will be cooking for about fifteen to thirty minutes in the sauce.  This will add flavor, both pork and spice, to the sauce.

Overall, for my first time making this recipe, it worked out surprisingly well.  I definitely intend to make this dish again; and, with each subsequent attempt, I will revise this recipe based upon what I learn. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 6-8

Ingredients (for the meatballs):
1 pound of pig's feet (1 foot), broken down into six pieces
1 pound of pig's necks
1 pound of pig's tails
2 onions, quartered
4 carrots, quartered
6 celery stalks, quartered
3 cloves of garlic smashed and roughly chopped
1 handful of flat leaf parsley
3-4 bay leaves
1 bottle of white wine
14 cups of water
 1 cup of bread crumbs
1 tablespoon of dried basil
1/2 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of dried garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
1 egg
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients (for the pasta and sauce): 
1 can of tomato paste
2 cans of tomato puree  
3 cans of water
Dried basil 
Dried oregano
Garlic powder
Crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
4 eggs
8 cups of flour

1.  Prepare a pork stock.  Rinse the feet, necks and tails thoroughly. Place all of them in a large stock pot.  Add the carrots, onions, celery, garlic, bay leaves, parsley and the bottle of wine.  Add water to cover all of the pig parts and vegetables.  Bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Cook the stock for about three hours or until the meat begins to separate from the bones easily.

2.  Make the sauce.  Add the puree and water to a deep pot.  Stir to make sure it is incorporated.  Add the paste a little at a time to incorporate it into the puree and water.  Add the basil, oregano, garlic powder, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper, generally as follows: 2 parts of basil, one part of oregano, one part garlic powder, 1/2 part crushed red pepper, 1 part salt and one part pepper.  Also add 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar (this will help cut the acidity of the tomatoes).  Stir to incorporate the spices into the sauce.  Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce to a simmer. 

3.  Make the pasta.  Create a volcano with half of the flour.  Break two eggs in the well and begin to beat the yolks 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.   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.  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.  Separate the meat, fat and collagen.  Remove the pig feet, pig necks and pig tails from the stock.  After they cool down, remove the meat, fat and collagen and make three separate piles.  Be very careful to catch all of the bones and inedible parts, you can discard those.  You can also set aside the stock and the skin for other uses. (The stock is great for soups.)  Once everything has been removed, add some of the fat and collagen to the the meat.  Chop everything until it is finely minced.  

5.  Create the meatballs.  Place the meat mixture into a bowl.  Add the bread crumbs, basil, oregano, garlic powder, crushed red pepper and egg.  Mix the ingredients thoroughly with your hands.  Make meatballs of the meat in the palms of your hands and work to compact the meatballs as much as possible.  Set aside. 

6.  Brown the meatballs.  Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a pan and bring to high heat.  Add the meatballs to the pan but make sure that there is enough space to move the meatballs around.  Brown the meatballs in batches.  

7.  Add the meatballs to the sauce.  Add the meatballs to the sauce and cover the meatballs with the sauce.  Cook the meatballs in the sauce for about one-half hour at most.

8.  Cook the pasta.  While the meatballs are in the sauce, heat a pot of water on high until it starts boiling.  Add the pasta to the water and cook for about one to two minutes.

9.  Plate the pasta.  Heat a pan on very low heat.  Add a spoonful of sauce.  Add a serving of pasta and more sauce.  Stir until the pasta is covered with the pasta and then plate in a bowl.  Add additional sauce and a couple of meatballs.


Generally, pasta recipes that include a red tomato sauce seem to call for a pairing with red wine.  This suggested pairing may be a product of association.  Most people associate pasta with tomato sauce with Italy and everyone knows something about Italian wine.  Nevertheless, this association does work well in this case to a certain degree.  The various regions of Italy produce a wide range of red wines -- from the Barolos of the Piedmont to the Aglianicos of Campania.  These wines have widely differing flavor profiles.  

Personally, I would pair this dish with a red wine from Tuscany or Abruzzo.  The Tuscan wines would include a Chianti (either a Chianti Classico or a Chianti Rufina), an IGT Toscano, or a Super Tuscan.  The Abruzzese wine is a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  These wines generally provide a nice, full fruit flavor of cherries or dark cherries, without a lot of tannins.  You definitely want a red wine with less tannins, because those wines will be less astringent, which is a good quality when the pairing involves ingredients, such as tomato sauce that can be very acidic. Here are a couple of examples:

100% Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Abruzzo, Italy
Flavors of blackberries, plums and dark cherries

La Mozza -- Aragone (2006).
40% Sangiovese, 25% Alicante, 25% Syrah and 10% Carignan
Tuscany, Italy
Flavors of cherries and raspberries


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