Sunday dinner: spaghetti alla chitarra con sugo d’agnello e costolette d’agnello alla griglia

Despite ourselves, the fast pace of American life has swept us into its whirlwind.  We have tried to shield ourselves from it, mainly by honoring mealtime and cooking the food we know and love.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult, though.  It’s not uncommon for one of us to work late or to have evening job-related commitments.    Sean usually eats something before and after his 6 p.m.-8 p.m. football practice, and to complicate matters, 8-year-old Luca has decided to become a vegetarian!  On a recent evening, the four of us sat around the kitchen counter, each of us with a slightly different meal on our plate.  At least we were eating together, though.

We recently made acquaintances with a Bolognese family who recently relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota.  Getting their kitchen set up and learning where to find the staple ingredients of Italian cooking has been a priority for them.  Annapaola, who cooked professionally in Italy, is already working on a pasta madre (a natural yeast used as a bread starter) in order to make homemade bread.  She said she’d share some when she finally gets it right!  Taking to Annapaola has renewed our commitment to not lose grasp of our culinary roots.  We are hopeful for and inspired by her passion, and grateful for a new friend to cook with.

We took a recent Sunday afternoon to cook the way it’s supposed to be done.  Our friend Riccardo and his daughter Veronica came over for a meal of spaghetti alla chitarra with a savory lamb sauce, and costolette d’agnello alla griglia, or grilled lamb chops.

Riccardo learned the art of making homemade pasta from his mom in a small town near Rome.  His specialty is spaghetti alla chitarra, square-shaped spaghetti originally from the Abruzzo region that obtained its name from the metal-stringed instrument traditionally used to make them.

We love lamb and have finally found a great place to buy it locally, so a logical accompaniment was a slow-cooked lamb sauce, and then thinly cut grilled lamb chops.    

In true Italian fashion, it was all done without a recipe.  Cara is usually charged with capturing the correct ingredient quantities and converting them from a metric system to U.S. customary units. However, on this Sunday the Italian men took over the kitchen, and no measurements were made.  Therefore, we’re sharing this recipe Italian style.  Quantities really don’t matter.  Do your best and follow your heart, and if you have any questions, post them up!

Spaghetti alla chitarra
Spaghetti alla chitarra is simply the shape of pasta we used.  It is a standard shape on any pasta maker, such as the Imperia pasta maker we use.  If you decide to try your hand at homemade pasta, here’s our recipe.  You can choose any shape you want if you use a pasta maker, or you can roll and cut them by hand, as we did in our homemade pasta recipe.  You can also just skip it all together and use any store-bought pasta you wish.

Sugo d’agnello
At least two 28-ounce (500 g) cans of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
One or two thin slices of onion
One or two cloves of garlic, sliced lengthwise into quarters
Approximately 1 lb (500 g) of lamb, with bone, chopped into pieces.
Olive oil
One dash of dry red wine
Salt to taste

Sauté  the onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the lamb, and cook over medium heat for up to 5 minutes, just until it browns on the outside.  Add the tomatoes, preferably passing them through a food mill first.  Add a dash of dry red wine, salt to taste, and let simmer for an hour or more, until the lamb is tender.

When the sauce is done, cook the pasta al dente, strain the pasta, return it to the pot you cooked it in, and spoon in enough of the lamb sauce to coat all of the pasta.  Serve in pasta plates, and top with another ladle of sauce, ensuring that a few pieces of the succulent lamb find their way onto each plate.

Costolette d’agnello alla griglia
Approximately 2-3 lbs (1-1.5 kg) baby lamb chops.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
The needles of 1 sprig of rosemary
Red pepper flakes
Salt and Pepper

Prepare a marinade with the olive oil, red wine, rosemary, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  Place the chops on the grill, and brush the marinade on top of them.  Grill the chops, on both sides, adding marinade, salt and pepper to taste.  Serve them hot off the grill.

Riomaggiore delle Cinque Terre: Un fotoracconto

What an August it has been!  When we wrote our most recent post, The Wineries of Northern Italy – Piedmont and Le Langhe, we had just moved back into our house and were floor to ceiling with boxes.  It’s gotten a little better, thanks to lots of help from Cara’s mom and dad who took turns coming down and helping Stefano unpack while Cara was putting in long hours at work.  After two or three days trying to get the kitchen in order, they both concurred that we have far too many kitchen utensils!

Fall is here, school has started, and while we are far from settled in, things are calmer and we’re glad to begin giving some attention to Due Spaghetti again.  And cooking again!  We’ll be sharing new recipes with you again soon, but first we need to tell you how our Italian vacation ended.

After touring the beautiful countryside and visiting the most amazing wineries in Trentino Alto-Adige, la Valpolicella, and Piedmont and le Langhe, we ended our road trip across Northern Italy with a stay in Riomaggiore, one of the five fishing villages that make up the Cinque Terre.  You’ve probably heard of the Cinque Terre, as it has become a popular travel destination in recent years.  Located in the Italian region of Liguria, near the  town of La Spezia in the Gulf of Genoa on the Mediterranean coast, Riomaggiore is the southernmost of the villages.  Like another of our favorite Italian destinations, the Amalfi Coast, in the Cinque Terre, the mountains meet the sea creating spectacular, dramatic landscapes dotted by colorful, pastel-colored villages that seem sculpted right out of the stone.

We will let the photos speak for themselves, but here are a few tips about travel to the Cinque Terre:

  • Hotels book out very fast.  Instead of a hotel, we opted to rent an apartment from Signora Edi, who oversees the rental of several apartments in Riomaggiore.  We communicated with her and her staff via email, and booked from the U.S. after seeing photos of the apartment she had available.  Her website is here.  Our apartment was Il Pescatore.  It was very simple but clean, and we loved the view overlooking the Marina and the sea from the kitchen and master bedroom windows.  We fell asleep at night to the roar of the waves.  An added plus is that Edi offers private parking for a small fee.
  • Speaking of parking, it’s a challenge in the Cinque Terre.  The villages are not accessible by car.  In Riomaggiore, you need to park off of the main road that leads up to the village, and walk several blocks downhill into the village.  Of course, that means you have to walk back up the hill to get back to your car.  Pack light.  If you have a lot of luggage, consider bringing only what you need in a smaller bag, and leaving other things in your car.  When you are booking a room or an apartment, ask them about parking arrangements.
  • The Via dell’Amore is one stretch of the walking path that connects all 5 villages.  Via dell’Amore connects Riomaggiore to the neighboring village of Manarolo, and is just over 1 kilometer long.  When we were there, Via dell’Amore was open, but other parts of the path were closed due to the torrential rains and resulting mudslides that hit the area in fall 2011.  You have to pay to access the path, but it the spectacular sights are worth it.  You can also take the train from village to village.  There is free internet access during daytime hours in and around the train stations.
  • Unfortunately, the Cinque Terre seem to have been discovered by young Americans looking for a good time.  In Riomaggiore, on Friday and Saturday evening we were greeted by youth walking in the streets with beer bottles and even entire wine bottles in hand, and making a lot of noise in the marina, late into the evening, disregarding not only those tourists looking for a quieter stay, but also the many Riomaggiore residents whose apartments look out onto the marina.  Stefano in particular was baffled by this, noting that there are plenty of sea-side spots in Italy that cater specifically to young party go-ers.  Why did these travelers choose Riomaggiore?  It was not so bad that we would recommend not visiting the Cinque Terre, but it is a factor to consider if you visit on summer weekends.

It was dark by the time we arrived in Riomaggiore.  This is the view from our apartment window overlooking the marina.

The outdoor restaurant with the umbrellas is called La Lanterna.  It served the most delicious seafood.  Reservations are not taken at lunch, but if you are willing to wait you can find a table.  At dinner, you will definitely need reservations.  We highly recommend it!

After a stormy night in which the wind blew and the sea roared right outside our window, we awoke at dawn and captured some photos of the sleepy village just beginning to stir.

Riomaggiore, looking like a patchwork quilt.

The sea was too rough for the boats to go out, so they were docked in the marina the entire time we were there.

Our apartment, Il Pescatore, was right in the marina, overlooking the sea, in Via Giacomo, 107 right next to the gelateria.

Luca looking out the kitchen window at the activity below.

The mountains meet the sea.

Some of the amazing seafood we ate at La Lanterna.