Sunday, May 11, 2008

Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Polpettini d'Agnello

Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Polpettini d'Agnello is a classic dish from the region of Abruzzo. The dish has three components: (1) the pasta, (2) the sauce and (3) the lamb meatballs. This recipe takes several hours to make, principally because of the time needed to cook the sauce and really intensify the flavors within that sauce. This recipe also calls for handmade pasta, using the rather unique "chitarra," which is a traditional pasta maker from Abruzzo. I have made this dish several times and, each time, I tweak the sauce and the meatballs to bring out new tastes and give each meal its own personality.

The Tomato Sauce
The recipe begins wtih the tomato sauce, which is slow cooked for at least three to four hours, but I prefer to cook it five or more hours. The sauce cooks down over the long period of time, concentrating the flavors of basil, oregano, crushed red peppers and tomatoes. It is a simple sauce, based on the recipe handed down in my family. To make the sauce, you need:

1 can of tomato paste
1 can of tomato puree

3 cans of water (use one the paste can for one and the puree can for two)

Dried basil, to taste

Dried oregano, to taste

Crushed red pepper, to taste

Salt, to taste

Crushed black pepper, to taste

2 cloves of garlic, diced

Olive oil

In a large pot, heat the garlic in the olive oil. Saute the garlic and, after a couple of minutes, add the paste, puree and water. Mix the ingredients well. Then add the basil, oregano, onion powder, salt and pepper gradually, tasting it as you go along. Let the sauce simmer for about 3 to 4 hours, checking it occasionally for taste and to ensure that it does not cook down too much.
Lamb Meatballs

The meatballs can be made of beef, pork, or veal; however, I really like ground lamb. When the herbs and spices are added to the meat, it really adds several layers of flavors that complement the lamb. These meatballs can convert anyone who is wary of eating lamb because of any preconceived notions about that "lamb" taste. To make the meatballs you need the following:

Approx. 2 lbs of ground lamb

1 cup of bread crumbs

1 egg

Dried basil, to taste

Dried oregano, to taste

Onion powder, to taste

Garlic powder, to taste

Crushed red pepper, to taste

Crushed black pepper, to taste

Salt to taste

Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly. Take the mixture and form a medium-size ball with your hands. After forming the meatballs, brown the meatballs in a frying pan with a couple of teaspoons of oil. After the meatballs are browned, pat them down to remove the excess oil. Then add the meatballs to the tomato sauce.

Chitarra Pasta

This recipe calls for handmade pasta, no boxed pasta, no electric pasta makers. Although the recipe is simple, it can be difficult in execution.

4 cups of flour
3 eggs

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.

Clean the workspace and then sprinkle flour over the working surface. Gently knead thedough 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.

To cook the pasta, place it in a pot of boiling water (with salt added). Cook the pasta for a couple of minutes. When the pasta is done, drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.