Pasta from Abruzzo
Abruzzo is a mountainous region of Italy with a coastline on the Adriatic Sea. One of Italy's highest peaks (the Gran
Sasso, at an altitude of over 9,500 feet, is located in Abruzzo. The regional capital is L'Aquila, and Pescara, the most
populous city in the region, is a busy port. In the mountains, sheep, goat, and locally raised pork provide the meat and
cheese that make the base for the cuisine of this area. Along the coastline of Abruzzo there is an abundant variety of fish,
which play a major role in the local cuisine. Throughout the region, dishes are generously spiced with peperoncino,
where they are called diavoletti ("little devils"). Should a dish be labeled all’abruzzese, it will for sure be marked by the
spiciness of peperoncino. Abruzesse cooks also flavor their dishes with aromatic saffron and fruity olive oil. Major crops
include legumes, olives, artichokes, tomatoes, eggplants, and the especially flavorful broccoli rabe or rapini. Plenty of fine
quality wheat is grown in this region as well and it is used to make wonderful breads and pasta. The unique pasta from
Abruzzo is known as maccheroni alla chitarra or "guitar pasta". Sheets of egg dough are cut using a flat rolling pin on a
wooden box with strings (hence the name "guitar"). Crêpes or crespelle, called scrippelle in Abruzzo, are rolled around
savory fillings, dropped into broths, or layered with cheese, vegetables, and meat before baking.
Pasta alla Chitarra
From this region, originates an interesting pasta that is made on a guitar-shaped tool called a chitarra.
A chitarra comprises a rectangular wood frame over which fine metal strings are stretched at millimeter
intervals. A special key comes with it to tighten the strings if they loosen as well as a collecting tray into
which the pasta falls. Cooks place a thinly-rolled sheet of pasta dough over the chitarra strings, roll over
it with a rolling pin, and the fine metal strings cut the pasta into what is called maccheroni all chitarra.
This pasta has a square-shaped cross section as compared to conventional long pasta which is round.
Pasta alla chitarra is served with either a spicy tomato sauce, a sauce made with lamb, or simply with
chopped bacon fried in butter.
Homemade Maccheroni alla Chitarra
(Makes about 1 pound)
The dough has to be slightly firmer than usual for fresh pasta, so it will cut
neatly when pressed against the chitarra. To make the dough firmer you simply
need to add a little more flour.
2 cups (10 ounces) flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, slightly beaten to combine
Place flour and salt in a food processor. With the machine running, pour the
eggs through the feed tube. Process until a dough gathers from the side of the
bowl and forms a dough on the blade. If the dough does not come together, add
a few more tablespoons of flour. You should have a fairly firm ball of dough.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough until it is
smooth; less than a minute. Form the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic
wrap. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. You can refrigerate the
dough for up to a day.
Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll the dough to 1/8-inch thickness with a
pasta machine or a rolling pin. The dough should be no longer or wider than the
strings of your chitarra.
To cut with a chitarra:
Lay a strip of dough over the strings of the chitarra. (If you have a 2-sided
chitarra, use the wider spaced strings) Roll your rolling pin lengthwise up and
down the pasta. The strings should cut it cleanly into strands that fall into the
tray of the chitarra. Collect the strands and dust them with flour. Gather the
strands into loose nests and place them on a floured tray. Leave the strands on
the tray uncovered at room temperature until you are ready to cook them.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Shake the excess flour from the
strands of pasta and drop them in the hot water. Stir and separate the strands.
Cook the pasta for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al
To freeze the cut pasta:
Set the whole tray in the freezer. When frozen, seal in airtight containers.
Frozen maccheroni may be dropped into boiling boil to cook.
Pasta with Lamb in Saffron Sauce
2 cups beef broth
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 sprig each rosemary, thyme, and sage, minced
2 bay leaves
1 pound boneless lamb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
1 pound Maccheroni alla Chitarra
10-12 ounces grape tomatoes
Handful fresh basil
Freshly grated pecorino cheese
Heat the beef broth, add the saffron, and allow it to soak for 10 minutes.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion, garlic, and herbs until the onions are translucent,
about 10 minutes. Add the lamb and continue cooking until the lamb is lightly golden browned, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add 1-1/2 cups of the saffron-infused beef broth and season with salt and pepper. Cover, reduce the heat to low,
and simmer for 45 minutes.
Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Cut the tomatoes in half and coarsely chop the basil leaves.
Add the tomatoes and remaining broth to the lamb mixture. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Check for
seasoning and fold in the basil leaves. Drain the pasta and toss with the lamb ragu. Serve with pecorino cheese
grated over the top.
Saffron from Abruzzo is considered one of the finest saffron varieties in the world. It is grown in an area around Navelli. The soil of this mountainous plateau is perfect for cultivating the crocus flowers that yield the saffron. The flowers not only grow well here but develop an especially intense aroma. Harvesting is best done very early in the morning when the crocus blossoms have not yet opened. The blossoms are picked by hand and the pistils are removed and dried. Each flower usually has 3 pistils; it takes more than 14,000 pistils to make one ounce of saffron. That is why saffron is so expensive, but a little goes a long way.
The color and aroma of saffron require liquid to fully develop. The filiments need to be soaked in water, wine, or broth.
It is best to crumble them between your fingers as you add them to the liquid and soak them for at least 10 minutes. Whenever possible buy the filiments, as they keep the flavor and the aroma longer than powdered saffron.
Abruzzese Chocolate Ragu
You may be thinking, are you kidding, chocolate pasta sauce? But if you have ever had a Mexican mole sauce you know that chocolate can add a wonderful depth of flavor. The small amount of cinnamon and chocolate add a subtle richness to the sauce. In Abruzzo this ragu would typically be served with maccheroni alla chitarra but tagliatelli, fettuccine, or linguine would be a good substitutes.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
12 to 14 ounces ground pork
Salt and pepper
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups tomato puree
1/3 cup tomato paste
1-1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound pasta
Grated pecorino cheese for serving
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and
red pepper flakes. Saute until the onion is tender and lightly golden, about 7
to 8 minutes. Add the pork and season with salt and pepper. Saute until the
pork is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a simmer.
Cook until the wine has evaporated. Stir in the tomato puree, tomato paste,
and water. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 1 hour, until the sauce is
thick. Stir the mixture occasionally. Stir in the chocolate, sugar, and
Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the pasta
water. Toss the pasta with the sauce. Add a little of the reserved cooking
water if the sauce is too thick. Serve with grated pecorino cheese.
Fusilli with Broccoli Rabe
(Serves 4 to 6)
1-1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, thick stems trimmed and peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 anchovy fillets, mashed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper
1 pound fusilli
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving
Steam the broccoli rabe until just tender, about 3 minutes. Coarsely chop and
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and cook over low heat until
golden, about 3 minutes. Add the anchovies and crushed red pepper and cook
for 1 minute. Add the broccoli rabe and cook about 4 minutes. Season with
salt and pepper and keep warm.
Cook the fusilli in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the
pasta cooking liquid. Drain the fusilli and return it to the pot. Add the butter
and toss well. Add the broccoli rabe and reserved liquid and toss again.
Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve at once,
passing the cheese separately.
Some useful food words or terms that you may find in
Italian recipes, while dining at an Italian restaurant, or traveling in Italy.