Autumn is typically one of my favorite seasons of the year, especially in Italy. A recent trip to Montalcino was glorious – the colors of the vines changing from green to gorgeous hues of orange and brown in just a week’s time. The air heavy with the smells of old vines burning after the harvest. Nets surrounding ancient olive trees lay waiting to catch the golden harvest. The Tuscan kitchen transitioned to one of earthy autumnal flavors filled with truffles and mushrooms; chestnuts and squash.
My recent trip was with a group of friends where we ate, cooked and tasted our way through the week. We found ourselves surrounded by a sea of wine glasses, as we tasted Rosso and Brunello with every lunch and dinner. Truffles made their way into the menus from antipasto to dessert. We found our hands buried in fresh pasta dough as we rolled pinci, twirled fusilli, pinched farfalle. New for me was the chitarra (translated ‘guitar’) which is a simple wooden frame with wires strung across the box. The pasta is rolled against the strings, which cuts it into long strands that fall into the box below. Simply brilliant!
Back in America, I had to have one to call my own. They are readily available online. Below is the recipe on how to use this very fun instrument– a welcome addition to any kitchen and great fun way to engage family and friends at your next dinner party. Here I have paired my first attempt with a simple Tuscan aglione sauce. Enjoy and buon appetito!
For the fresh pasta:
• 300 grams flour (use ‘00’ if possible)
• 100 grams semolina flour plus more for sprinkling
• 4 eggs
For the aglione:
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• Red pepper flakes, to taste
• 1 head garlic; cloves peeled and separated
• 1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
• Kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Fresh parsley or basil, chopped
• Pasta maker
• Chitarra, to cut pasta
1. Mix the pasta: Measure the flours into a mixing bowl and stir to blend. Pour the mixture onto a clean work surface. Create a mound. Form a wide well in the center. Break the eggs into the well. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork. Slowly, begin adding in the flour from the sides of the well. Once the egg mixture becomes slightly thickened, begin to use your hands. Mix in the rest of the flour using your hands. Continue until the dough has formed a ball. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). The dough is ready when it springs back when pressed.
2. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Let it rest for 30 minutes. Sprinkle a large baking sheet with semolina.
3. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Rewrap any of the pieces you are not using so they do not dry out. Using a pasta machine, roll the pasta out into sheets. (I rolled my dough up to the ‘5’ setting.) Lay out the pasta sheet to dry for a bit as you do not want it too wet or the strands will stick to each other. Roll out the rest of the dough into sheets.
4. Trim your pasta sheets to be about an inch shorter than the length of the chitarra strings. Re-roll any trimmings into a final sheet.
5. Place one of the sheets on the chitarra. Using a rolling pin, roll across the dough, pressing gently to cut through the dough. The strands of cut pasta will fall through the slats onto the tray below. If any strands remain uncut, strum across the chitarra strings to help the noodles drop. Once cut, tip the box to the side and the noodles will fall out. Sprinkle with the semolina. Wrap the noodles gently around your hand and place on the prepared baking sheet to dry. Roll out remaining sheets.
6. Make the sauce: Thinly slice the cloves of garlic. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan or cast iron skillet over medium low heat. Add in the hot pepper flakes and garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant. Add in the tomatoes and crush with a wooden spoon. Raise the heat to medium and cook for about 15 minutes, until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fresh pasta and cook for just a few minutes until ‘al dente’. Reserve about ½ cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta. Add to the sauce and cook for a minute or two to allow the sauce to coat the pasta. Add some of the pasta water if pasta is too dry.
8. Top pasta with chopped fresh parsley or basil. Serve with lots of grated fresh Parmigiano. Buon appetito!
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.