Thursday, December 16, 2010

Some Thoughts About Pasta for the Christmas Eve Dinner

Pasta at La Greppia in Emilia-Romagna
There is something about handmade pasta that is important to me.  When I started to cook as a hobby, I initially focused on trying to learn about the different regions of Italy.  I got to see how to make pasta by hand and I told myself that I would never buy pasta from a box or a store that I could make myself.

For the Christmas Eve dinner, the traditional pasta is fettuccine.  It is a relatively wide noodle that is commonly used in Italian restaurants throughout the United States.  In my family, however, my grandparents used to make the fettuccine by hand, using a traditional hand crank pasta machine in the basement.  I can still remember my sister and myself working with my grandparents making the pasta for the Christmas Eve meal. 

To fulfill my personal commitment to make my own pasta, I have three pasta makers ... an electric pasta maker, a hand crank pasta maker and a chitarra.  Initially, I used the electric pasta maker to make all of my pasta.  It was a great way to start learning how to make pasta.  You put all of the ingredients into the bin, which mixes everything for you and then the pasta comes out through a die.  My pasta-making skills evolved, where I would make the pasta by hand, using the old volcano technique and then using a hand crank pasta machine to make the pasta.

A Chitarra
And then there is the chitarra.  This is a piece of pasta making equipment that is special to Abruzzo.  It is used to make Maccheroni alla Chitarra, one of the traditional dishes of the Abruzzese.  To make this pasta, you would use the old volcano technique and a hand crank pasta maker to make the sheets of pasta.  You would then cut the pasta into sheet to fit the chitarra and, with a small rolling pin, roll the pasta gently so that it is cut by the strings.  The end result is a bit rustic (especially when done by a novice like myself).

Last Christmas, I tried to make the pasta for the Christmas Eve meal using the chitarra; but trying to make a lot of pasta in a short period of time is very difficult with that pasta maker.  I ended up switching to using the hand crank machine and still made some really great pasta, with the valuable assistance of Clare's father, Frank.

This year, in keeping with the theme of trying to make a special Christmas Eve dinner, I might try using the Chitarra again.  Then again, I might just stick with the hand crank machine and make fettuccine (I would not make any other pasta for this special occasion) and  use the time that I save to focus on other aspects of the meal.  Like the meatballs.  But that is for another blog post....


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