I started making fresh pasta over twenty years ago. I can’t really remember the first time I made it or for what dish. Over time Bucatini, Spaghetti, Fettuccini, Orecchiette, Lasagne, Ravioli, Tortellini, Gnocchi, Tagliatelle and Pappardelle. Along the way, I stopped being intimidated by making fresh pasta and today, approach a mound of flour and cracked eggs without trepidation.
Packaged, dry pasta has its place though. A great Bucatini Amatriciana or a Spaghetti Carbonara can be can and should be made with quality packaged, dry pasta. (I like Rustichella d’Abruzzo made with 100% durum semolina). In fact, I no longer see the need to make these and similar shapes by hand. But, for dishes like filled Ravioli, layered Lasagne or Pappardelle coated in rich Bolognese sauce only fresh egg pasta will do.
… clunky store-bought pasta may save a little time, but you will be sadly shortchanged by the results.”
— Marcella Hazan describing her Lasagne
In Abruzzo, a multi-stringed device called a chitarra (guitar in Italian) is used to make curious, square shaped pasta. It is often paired with a ragù that is made with lamb, or lamb in combination with other meats.
The chitarra piqued my interest and found its way to my online wishlist when as luck would have it, my beautiful daughter thought to have a chitarra delivered as a gift. In turn, my new chitarra became inspiration for this dish.
It took a while for me to learn that ragù is a slow cooked meat sauce flavored with a small amount of tomato (many recipes omit the tomato entirely). I associated Ragu with the basic tomato sauce of the same name sold in American markets and the many marginal servings of Spaghetti with meat sauce I ordered over the years.
Bolognese is the most familiar of the regional versions of ragù across Italy. I began to appreciate a ragù made with care when learning Marcella’s Bolognese. Today, elevated Bolognese sauces with housemade pasta are listed on the menus of fine dining restaurants and trendy gastropubs. Don’t be fooled by the description of a ragù as a just a simple meat sauce. Time and effort are needed to turn out an exceptional version of the dish.
Fresh broth brings a lot of flavor to a slow cooked dish such as this. If you are well prepared there will be a container of broth in the freezer from a previous cooking session that can be used. If not, it’s worth the small amount of time and effort to make a fresh broth.
For this recipe, broth is made with chicken wings and lamb shoulders bones that have been trimmed of lean meat for use in the ragù. The wings and bones are not browned, as this is a lighter style of broth. It can be made the night before while trimming lamb shoulders.
In a pinch, packaged, low-sodium chicken broth can be substituted. Kenji suggests blooming a considerable amount of gelatin in store bought broth to gain the collagen that naturally shows up in a homemade broth. (Incidentally, some of Kenji’s techniques for Ragù alla Bolognese are found in this recipe.)
Recipes for Abruzzo style ragù suggest using either lamb shoulders or leg. Shoulders are used here, but next time I would choose meat from the leg due to the low yield of meat from the shoulders.
After removing from the shoulder bones, the lamb also needs to have any sinew and tendon removed. The trimmed lamb should be very cold before grinding or processing to avoid smearing the fats. Just before freezing is about right.
While the lamb can be finely chopped with a knife, I chose to use a food processor rather than either a knife or grinder. Given the relatively small yield of lamb from the shoulders, I didn’t want to leave any behind in the grinding tube. The processor worked fine for mincing the lamb and since it was on the counter it was put to good use chopping vegetables for the soffritto and pureeing chicken livers.
In Abruzzo, Maccheroni alla Chitarra is made with 100% Semolina flour. Here, I mix Semolina and regular AP flour in equal portions by weight and mix one egg per 100 grams of flour (roughly 1/2 cup). Plan on about 100 grams per serving.
After the initial preparation steps the ragù is cooked in the over uncovered for about 4 hours leaving the cook time to rest before preparing the pasta. The result is a rich, rustic dish that goes well with the Montepulciano and Trebbiano wines of Abruzzo.
For the broth
- 1 pound chicken wings
- Lamb shoulder bones, trimmed of meat
- 2 carrots cut into 3” pieces
- 2 stalks celery cut into 3” pieces
- 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 star anise
- 2 bay leaves
For the Ragù
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 ounces pancetta, diced
- 2 carrots finely chopped
- 2 stalks celery finely chopped
- 1 medium yellow onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- Salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 cup flat leaf parsley finely chopped
- 1-1/2 pounds lamb shoulder chops or leg, trimmed and ground or chopped (reserved any bones for the broth)
- 1 pound ground pork or mild Italian sausage
- 1 pound ground chuck
- 1/2 pound finely minced or pureed chicken livers
- 2 cups red wine
- 2 cups homemade or store bought low sodium chicken stock.
- 1 can (6 ounce) tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon dried sage
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon dried red peppers or to taste
- 1/2 Romano cheese
For the pasta (4 servings)
- 200 grams of AP flour (1 cup)
- 200 grams of semolina flour (1 cup)
- 4 large whole eggs
For the broth
- Place all of the ingredients in a large stockpot and fill with water to a level that covers the ingredients by 2 inches.
- Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Skim fat and foam from the surface of the liquid.
- Simmer on the stovetop uncovered for at least two hours.
- Cool and strain before use.
For the ragù
- Add butter to a large sauté pan over medium low heat. Add pancetta and cook until the pancetta renders its fat.
- Add chopped carrots, celery, onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper and continue cooking over medium low heat. Add 1/2 of the chopped parsley. When the onion is translucent and the vegetables begin to get tender, remove from the heat and set aside.
- Place a Dutch oven over medium heat with three tablespoons of olive oil. Add ground lamb, beef and pork to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and cook until meat just begins to brown and the pink is gone. About 10 minutes.
- Add reserved vegetable mixture and pureed chicken livers to the meat and cook over medium heat until most of the moisture is evaporated.
- Add wine. Continue cooking for 10 minutes or until most of the wine has evaporated.
- Add tomato paste, bay leaves and sage. Stir to combine while simmering on the stovetop and pre-heating the oven to 300 degrees.
- Place the ragù in the pre-heated oven and cook uncovered for 4 hours checking and adding additional liquid if needed.
- Remove from the oven to add heavy cream, dried red pepper flakes, grated Romano cheese and remaining parsley. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste if needed. Return to the oven and cook an additional 30 minutes before serving.
For the pasta
- Start the pasta at least two hours before serving the ragù.
- In a medium size bowl, add the flours and whisk together.
- Pour the flour onto a countertop and using your fingers, make a “well” in the center of the flour.
- Add the eggs to the well and begin stirring the eggs with a fork to combine. As the eggs combine continue stirring and bring in flour from the sides of the well.
- As the dough comes together, turn it out with your hands and knead for 5 minutes. Wrap the dough in cling wrap or place in a covered bowl and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- With your hands, turn out the dough on the counter and cut it into four equal sized portions (or more if you pasta machine will not take dough in this size). See dough aside under a dishtowel or in a covered bowl.
- Take one of dough portions and work it through a pasta machine on the largest setting several times to complete the kneading process. Pass it through two more settings before placing on the chitarra to cut with a roller. If a chitarra is not available, pass the dough through the cutters on the pasta machine to make thick spaghetti.
- Flour the cut pasta and place in serving size mounds on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper until ready for use.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cook one, or two servings of pasta until done. This is thick pasta and it will take at least 5 minutes to cook even though freshly made. Periodically taste the pasta to see if it has reach the desired texture and doneness.
- Place a sauté pan over medium low heat and place a ladle of sauce in the pan.
- Place a single serving of the pasta in the sauté pan and swirl to coat with the sauce.
- Remove the pasta from the sauté pan and place on a single serving plate. Ladle additional sauce over the pasta and garnish with additional Romano cheese and chopped parsley.