We normally eschew fancy kitchen gadgets in our food appreciation classes in favor of making food by hand. But I make an exception when it comes to pasta simply because cranking the pasta machine and cutting noodles is so much fun. It really focuses the kids’ minds. The classes whiz by.
This week I brought to school a pasta making tool most people have never heard of–the chitarra (KEE-tarra), or guitar. Originating in the Abruzzo region of Italy, this instrument looks a little like the inside of a piano, with thin metal wires strung closely together over a wooden frame. (If you are so inclined, they are not at all hard to find online or at specialty stores such as Sur la Table.) The object is to press sheets of dough through the wires with a rolling pin. The result is a spaghetti that’s square instead of round.
Our pasta recipe couldn’t be simpler. Just mound 2 cups all-purpose flour onto a clean work surface. Use the bottom of the measuring cup to press a deep well into the mound of flour. Into the well, break 2 eggs. Use a fork to beat the eggs. Then gradually draw flour from around the bottom edge of the well into the egg, stirring continuously. Continue mixing flour into the egg until it begins to form a ball. Use your hands or a pastry scraper to finish the ball.
Most likely, you’ll have flour left over. Somehow, the dough knows exactly how much flour it needs and leaves what it doesn’t want on the table. You can use this extra flour for dusting your the dough as you knead it, and later for dusting your pasta after you’ve cut it.
Knead the dough with your hands for a few minutes. You can finish the process in the pasta machine. (Naturally, you could make this pasta without a machine, kneading entirely by hand and rolling out sheets with a rolling pin. But the kids love cranking the machine. I would not deny them the pleasure.) We divide the ball of dough into four pieces and finish each piece in the machine.
When the dough is soft and elastic, make your sheets, flattening the dough through No. 7 setting on the machine’s dial. This is where I stand back and watch the kids take over. One cranks, while another feeds the dough into the machine and a third catches the cough as it emerges on the other side.
Most likely, your finished sheets of dough will be too long to fit on the chitarra. Just cut them in half.
Now for the really fun part: Lay a sheet of pasta on top of the chitarra wires and roll over it, pressing reasonably hard, with a rolling pin. You will see the wires emerging through the pasta. But it’s not cut yet. At this point I grab the rolling pin with one hand and rub the pasta hard until individual noodles begin to fall through the wires. To finish, you can “strum” the wires gently with your finger, pressing the dough in any areas that seem to resist.
The chitarra has wires on two sides. In between is a removable board that catches the noodles. After each operation, simply lay the noodles to the side to dry a little, dusting them with a bit of flour to keep them from sticking together. Continue the process until you’ve used all the dough. You should have enough noodles for four generous portions.
Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Remember, fresh pasta, as opposed to the dried, store-bought kind, takes only a couple of minutes to cook. Drain the finished noodles well and dress them any way you like. We tossed ours with leftover marinara sauce we made the week before for our eggplant Parmesan.
Some grated Parmesan would be just the thing to finish this pasta. But we found that a simple dash of extra-virgin olive oil on each portion turned pasta alla chitarra into a sublime treat.