Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kids Make Spaghetti alla Chitarra

Chitarra not only means "guitar" in Italian but also refers to this ancient device for making pasta. It looks like the guts from a piano with thin wires strung from one end to the other. But instead of making music it turns a sheet of pasta into delectable, chewy noodles.

Lay the raw pasta dough over the wires and then press, perhaps with a rolling pin. When the dough can be pressed no further--when the wires become perfectly visible through the noodle and the pasta seems to be suspended in mid-air--you strum your fingers across the wires and the noodles fall gently into a tray at the bottom of the Chitarra. They look like squared-off spaghetti.

I bought my chitarra about a year ago and have been saving it for just the right moment. Kids love working with kitchen tools. So this lesson was a double treat, because they also got to process the pasta dough in my manual pasta machine.

Eventually the class divided into teams, with one side rolling the dough into sheets, the other pressing it through the chitarra. Then they switched so everyone could have a turn on both devices. Having a hand in the process made the finished pasta all the more delicious. We dressed it very simply, tossing the cooked noodles in garlic and extra-virgin olive oil, then dusting with Parmesan cheese.

To make enough pasta alla chitarra for six persons, first put a big pot of heavily salted water on the stove to boil. Add enough salt so that the water tastes like it came from the sea.

Next, peel and finely chop four cloves of garlic and drop them into a heavy skillet with 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Cook the garlic over low heat until it is golden brown but not burned.

While these things are happening on the stove, you can start your pasta dough. We use the classic bench method--a very casual approach--for making our dough. On a clean counter top or table top, mix 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat floor. Add about 1/2 teaspoon salt, then draw the flour into a mound with your hands and make a deep well in the middle. Crack three eggs and drop them into the well. Beat these with a fork, then add 1/4 cup water. (If the liquid wants to escape, make your well deeper, like the inside of a volcano.)

Using a fork, begin to stir the flour into the liquid around the inside edges of the well, gradually incorporating more and more of the flour into the liquid. When the dry and liquid ingredients have been roughly mixed, start pushing them into a ball with your hands. (If the ball is too sticky, add a little more all-purpose flour.) Knead the dough for a minute or two, then divide it into three approximately equal parts. If some dough sticks to the work surface, scrape it up using a pastry scraper or a spatula.

Continue kneading each piece of dough separately by pressing it through the pasta machine at the lowest setting numerous times, folding the dough over onto itself after it comes out of the machine, then rolling it again. Continue until the dough is soft and somewhat elastic. Now roll the dough through the machine at settings two, three and four. Your original dough will become a sheet of pasta--progressively longer and thinner as the settings increase and the machine's rollers narrow--until it has the thickness of conventional spaghetti.

Dust the sheet of dough with flour and cut it into two pieces. To make the finished noodles, lay one piece of dough lengthwise over the strings of the chitarra. Work a rolling pin over the dough, pressing firmly back and forth until the wires have cut completely through to the surface of the dough. Now strum the end of your thumb across the wires as you would a musical instrument until all of the noodles have fallen into the tray at the bottom of the device. Remove the noodles, place on a plate or baking sheet and dust with flour to prevent sticking.

Repeat this process until all three of the original pieces of pasta dough have been turned into noodles.

To cook the noodles, I brought my aluminum pasta pot, which has a drop-in strainer. When the water is boiling, drop in the noodles. They won't take very long to cook--much less time than dry, store-bought noodles--so taste after a minute or two. Strain the noodles but do not rinse (the starch on the noodles helps the sauce to adhere). Now toss with the olive oil and garlic, either in your skillet or in a separate bowl. Divide the noodles onto plates and dust liberally with grated Parmesan cheese.

Trust me, you will not have to worry about leftovers.

Note: In the event you do not have a chitarra, you can make noodles by rolling your sheets of pasta into logs and cutting with a sharp knife. Just make sure the pasta sheets are thoroughly dusted with flour to prevent sticking.


Joanna said...

I like that throwaway line, I bought my gitarre about a year ago .... I've never seen one on sale anywhere, not even in Italy ...

Great lesson
Happy Easter!

Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, all my Italian spellings were wrong when I first posted this. I've gone back and made corrections. Ghittara is sometimes also spelled chittara. They are sold in cookwares stores. Here's an example:

Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, all my Italian spellings were wrong when I first posted this. I've gone back and made corrections. Ghittara is sometimes also spelled chittara. They are sold in cookwares stores. Here's an example:

Donna said...


nico said...

The correct spelling is actually "spaghetti alla chitarra".