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.