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.

La pasta fatta in casa

This week, Due Spaghetti reached and surpassed 25,000 hits!

When we started Due Spaghetti last May, we really didn’t know what it would bring, or even how long it would last.  We just knew that a lot of people were curious about Italian food, wine and culture, and that we enjoyed sharing our experiences with them!  Over the past 9 months, through Due Spaghetti we’ve thought about food differently.  We’ve researched recipes and marveled over regional variations.  We’ve expanded our own repertoire and established an even higher standard of quality for our dinners.  We’ve very likely learned as much as we’ve taught.

We’ve also found a community of people from all parts of the world who share our passion for Italian food and wine.  Some of them are Italian food bloggers that we now follow regularly, others have roots in Italy just like we do, and can relate to the recipes that we post and the memories we write about.  And then, there are family, friends and colleagues whom we see and interact with everyday, who every once in a while surprise us by mentioning something they saw or a recipe they tried on Due Spaghetti!

“How should we celebrate,” we asked on our Facebook page?  Due Spaghetti follower Lisa, who spent summers in Rome as a child and now lives in the U.S., very appropriately responded, ‘na spaghettata!

It was good advice.  Our inaugural post, Spaghetti al pomodoro e basilico, featured spaghetti.  Shortly thereafter, we asked Rome-born chef Filippo Caffari of the Butcher Block in Minneapolis to explain to our readers exactly what Due Spaghetti means, and he told us, molto emphatically, with lots of gestures.  It’s fitting, therefore, that we commemorate 25,000 hits with a mouth-watering plate of pasta.

We didn’t choose spaghetti, though.  Instead, we used our Sunday afternoon to show our readers how to make homemade pasta, or pasta fatta in casa.  Many Italian food bloggers and cookbook authors have broached the subject with readers.  We consulted our favorite cookbooks, checked the recipes of our fellow bloggers, and of course, called Stefano’s mom, Maria.

The thing about homemade pasta, though, is that no recipe is the same.  Flour and eggs – that’s all that’s called for.  But the ratio of flour to eggs varies from recipe to recipe, because factors such as temperature and humidity vary from location to location and from season to season.  The homemade egg pasta we make in Minneapolis in winter will require less flour than the pasta fatta in casa that Maria makes in Rome in summer.

The most comprehensive explanation of variations in pasta fatta in casa recipes is in Giorgio Locatelli’s cookbook, Made in Italy.  However, the best description of how to mix, knead, roll out and cut pasta comes from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  The recipe that works the best for our climate is straight from Il Cucchiaio d’Argento, or the Silver Spoon.

Ingredients for 4
2 eggs
170 grams (1 and 2/3 cups) flour, plus more as needed

If possible, use an Italian type 00 flour, such as King Arthur Italian-Style
flour. Otherwise, use all-purpose, unbleached flour. And, buy the best eggs you can
find. Farm fresh eggs are superior in taste and add a beautiful yellow color to your
pasta.

Preparing the dough
Pour the flour onto a clean, smooth work surface. Form the flour into a mound, and then create a wide, deep well in the center. Crack the eggs into a small container and beat lightly with a fork. Pour the eggs into the center of the flour, and use a fork to mix, gradually drawing more flour into the eggs until the eggs are no longer runny. Set the fork aside and continue mixing with your hands until the dough is smooth. If needed, incorporate more flour – the dough should be smooth, but not sticky.  Set the dough aside, wash your hands and clean your work surface.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes, using the palm of your hand to press the dough down. Fold the dough and press again, turning the dough in the same direction. Press, fold and turn.

After 10 minutes, the dough will be smooth and elastic. Cover it in plastic wrap, and let it sit for an hour.

Making Pasta
After an hour, your dough will be ready to be pressed and cut into pasta. You can either use a pasta machine, or you can roll and cut the pasta by hand. We opted to roll and cut by hand.

If you use a pasta machine, separate your dough into four equal pieces. Attach your pasta machine to the edge of our work surface, set out dish clothes to place your pasta on, and prepare some flour to have handy. One part of your pasta machine is designed to produce smooth sheets of pasta, and the other side is where you cut the sheets of pasta into fettuccine or the square-shaped spaghetti alla chitarra. You will first make smooth sheets of pasta. Set your pasta machine on the widest setting, and feed the pasta through the press. Fold the pasta sheet in half, and run it through a second time at the widest setting. Set this pasta sheet onto the dish cloth, and repeat for the remaining three pieces of dough. Sprinkle flour onto your sheets of pasta if needed to prevent it from sticking.

Once you have finished pressing all four pieces of dough, narrow the press by one notch, and run each piece of dough through the press again. Continue narrowing the press and passing the dough through until it is the thickness you prefer. Then, take each sheet of pasta and run it through the opposite end of the pasta maker, whatever width you prefer. As the fettuccine or spaghetti alla chitarra come through the machine, set them onto a cutting board or other surface, using your fingers to arrange them into a bird’s nest shape.

If you decide to roll out and cut your pasta by hand, sprinkle flour onto a broad, clean
work surface. Separate the dough into two or four pieces, depending on how large your work surface is. Use a rolling pin or a dowel, roll out the dough into an oblong form, flipping it over from time to time and using as much flour as you need to keep it from sticking. When the sheet of pasta is as thin as you like, set it aside and roll out the next piece.

After all of the dough has been rolled into pasta sheets, it is time to cut the pasta. Take a sheet of dough, and fold it loosely into a flat roll about three inches
wide. Using a cleaver or a similar rectangular, smooth chef’s knife, cut the roll into
ribbons of pasta. Use your fingers to lift and separate the pasta, and arrange it into a
bird’s nest shape.


Cooking your pasta
Cook your homemade egg pasta right away in boiling, salted water. The pasta will cook quickly, in 2-3 minutes. Drain the pasta carefully and dress it in your favorite sauce. We used a ragù sauce left over from meatballs that Stefano had made earlier in the week.

Find a Sunday afternoon, equip yourself with good flour, quality eggs, a clean work surface, and either a pasta maker or a rolling pin, and give it a try.  It’s not that hard, if you follow the tips we’ll give you below.  And there is simply nothing like a plate of pasta fatta in casa.

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