Guitar lessons

I’m now the proud owner of a guitar. It’s not a guitar in the chordophone sense, which is a shame because I’ve wanted one, a black and white fender, since I was twelve. It was 1984 and my dad clunked the cassette of Dire Straits Alchemy Live into the car stereo for the first time and Mark Knofler’s Sultans of swing guitar solo curled seductively from the back speakers. This was followed by The Wall, Dave Gilmour on guitar and an excuse to howl ‘We don’t need no education’ until our lungs hurt. Dad encouraged our over excitement, Mum tried to contain it while Ben and Rosie and took up our air guitars, pulled on imaginary sweat bands and performed boisterously (it would ultimately deteriorate into provoking, pushing, fighting, car sickness and hot tears) on the backseat of the car as we hurtled up the M1 motorway to Manchester.

My new guitar is una chitarra, a gift from my student Lidia, her extremely nice parents and her grandma, Nonna Jolanda, who bought la chittara in her suitcase from Abruzzo to Rome for me. It’s the curious square object in the first photo, a wooden frame tightly strung with fine music wire that actually looks more like a harp than a guitar. It’s for making the Abbruzzese speciality, a thick square spaghetti called spaghetti alla chitarra.

I’ve coveted una chitarra since last summer. My parents were in Rome for a long weekend and we all went for Sunday lunch with Lidia and her parents Sergio and Maria Teresa on their sun drenched terrace in San Giovanni. Nonna Jolander, who is Maria Theresa’s mum, had got up early that morning to make fresh egg spaghetti alla chitarra with her chitarra before she returned home to Abruzzo. We ate the great golden mound of square spaghetti with a rich beef ragu, plenty of freshly grated parmesan, each mouthful punctuated by rather too much wine for such a hot day.

This wooden gift has been the impetus, the spark if you like, I needed to start making my own pasta. Jolander laughed when I told her I was nervous, the secret she said, was practice, lots and lots of practice. She was unequivocal about the ingredients, the flour for spaghetti alla chittara should be semolina flour or farina grano duro (which is hard durum wheat four, not the soft 00 flour, although that is the best second choice) and the eggs should be very fresh with rich orange, almost red yolks. I should start with very manageable quantities, 200g of flour, a pinch of salt and two large eggs which would make enough pasta for two people.

She tutted and ticked her finger from side to side when asked about using a food processor or pasta machine – not that I have either. ‘I must start making and rolling pasta by hand, I should feel the dough‘ she said.

She began, I scribbled and watched; First you sieve the flour into a bowl, then you turn it out onto a clean wooden board and make a well in the middle, this is the fontana di farina, fountain of flour. You sprinkle the salt and crack the eggs into the crater of your flour volcano.

Working with a small bowl of water beside you in case the dough is awkward. You begin by breaking the yolks with your fingertips and then gently, moving your fingers in a circular motion, you stir the eggs and then slowly start to incorporate the flour, eventually bringing the mixture together into a ball. Things may all get very messy and sticky for a while  be patient, this is all part of the process – apparently, many people work with one hand at the beginning. You may need to add a little more flour or water she warned earnestly. I wrote equally earnest notes which made her laugh.

Next you knead the dough, pushing it will the heel of the hand, then folding it back on its self, rotating it clockwise and repeating this action again and again for about 10 minutes until the dough stops feeling rough and floury but is smooth, tender and elastic. My ball reminded me of play dough by the end but I resisted the urge to sculpt a small animal. Leave the dough covered with a clean damp cloth or cling film for 20 minutes.

Now the rolling. Now this is the part I was rather afraid of. I’ve read extraordinarily complicated instructions about this process, the inimitable Marcella Hazan’s directions for hand rolling fresh egg pasta suggestions are over 4 pages long and full of must nots and for goodness sake don’t which left me baffled and defeated before I’d even started. Jolander laughed when I tried to explain what I’d read. She shook her head and wagged her finger again, ‘Roll‘ she said ‘cosi” and she held her fingers about 3mm apart  ‘non ti preoccupare‘ (don’t worry too much). So I rolled.

Spaghetti alla chitarra is good choice for a pasta novice because you roll the dough a little thicker than normal, after all, you’re aiming for a chunky square spaghetti. I rolled my piece of dough before cutting it in half and rolling it a little more, then I placed it on top of the chitarra. I am sure seasoned pasta makers with wince at my inaccuracy. I was quite pleased.

The nicest part is rolling the pin over the pasta, pressing the soft yellow dough into the wires that cut it into long thin strips and watching them tumble onto the board below. Finally you gently separate the strands, unfurling any that are stuck together and lay them on a cloth or a board and sprinkle them with a shower of fine semolina. I’d made pasta. We both stood admiring the fruits of my labour for some time and then Vincenzo tried playing la chitarra. It was like a drunk person playing an out-of-tune harp.

Our pasta needed sauce. Actually, it didn’t need sauce, I imagine it would have been perfectly delicious tossed with nice extra virgin olive oil, black pepper, maybe some pecorino. We needed some sauce. There was no time for a long-winded ragù (although I have plans) so I made Marcella Hazan’s tomato and anchovy sauce which is my red sauce of choice at present. It’s a particularly tasty deep red elixir and might redeem this post if you are feeling all these words about pasta making with an obscure implement you don’t have – or want – are pretty useless. By the way, you can of course cut spaghetti all chitarra on your pasta machine – it’s the tonnarelli setting, or if you are very patient and steady of hand, you could cut it by hand I suppose. I would like video evidence of you doing this.

So this sauce. You saute some finely chopped garlic gently in extra virgin olive oil before adding some anchovy fillets which you prod and nudge until they melt and dissolve. Then you add some chopped tomatoes or passata, a pinch of salt and some black pepper and let the all bubble and burp away for about 25 minutes. A deep, dark, anchovy infused tomato sauce perfect for spaghetti alla chitarra, spaghetti, spaghettini, linguine……..

Tomato and anchovy sauce

Adapated From Marcella Hazan

  • 1 plump clove of garlic, very finely chopped
  • 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 anchovy fillets
  • 600g tomato passata or chopped tinned plum tomatoes (san marzano are good)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently warm the oil in a frying or saute pan, add the garlic and allow it to cook very gently for a few minutes – it should not brown or it will taste bitter.

Add the anchovy fillets to the pan and gently prod and mash them with the back of a wooden spoon until they dissolve and melt.

Add the tomatoes, salt and a few grindings of black pepper to the pan and adjust the heat so the sauce cooks at a gentle but steady simmer for 25 minutes or until the oil floats free from the sauce.

Serve with dried or fresh spaghetti or spaghetti alla chitarra. Fresh spaghetti alla chitarra takes about 3 minutes to cook in fast boiling, well salted water.

It was very good.

I made pasta, I may well print a T-shirt or a badge at least. I’d love to know about your pasta tales. Have a really good week.


Filed under Eggs, food, fresh egg pasta, pasta and rice, recipes, sauces

70 responses to “Guitar lessons

  1. I haven’t even read the post yet, but that last photo is “moz def…you feel me?”

    • rachel

      You know baltimore girl !

      • As soon as I read your post I asked Roberto if his mother has a chittara. She does not. I am thinking that his father might bring one back from Italy in his suitcase for me this fall. I shall have to plant the seed now.

        Now, for tonight I am requesting that Roberto prepare the tomato and anchovy sauce. He is enjoying a day off…maybe I should ask him to make some homemade pasta as well?

  2. Raquelita

    Ooo, a new post…yay! Congratulations on mastering fresh pasta – I’m well impressed.

    Speaking of Marcella Hazan, check out this recipe:
    Doesn’t it look familiar?! We went to The Kitchen for my birthday (Random aside: The first thing I said to my husband when I walked in – even before our food was served – was, “This reminds me of Britain!”…and then he pulled out this brochure he’d picked up about restaurants in Boulder, Colorado, and proceeded to tell me that the co-owner grew up in England and trained at The River Cafe!! Ah, nostalgia!) and I found this recipe while perusing their website later that evening. Inspired by your old post, we’ve made Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion several times already (it’s a keeper!) so a bell in my head clanged loudly when I read The Kitchen’s recipe! I’d love to tell you it’s just as delicious but the verdict is still another hour out…as the sauce is still “blip-blipping” on the stove as we speak!! Oh, but the tomatoed butteriness smells heavenly…

    • rachel

      I love this link thank you – aha a soup ! – I am intruiged by the cream – I will try this. I am very nostalgic for England at the home, a two week trip back there soon should do the trick !

      • Raquelita

        Update: The result was a far superior version of Campbell’s Tomato. Emphasis on Far. Superior. A keeper…

        At least you have RyanAir and EasyJet…and you’re WAY closer to the lovely island than I am! Sigh, will somebody please bring the no-frills flying concept across the Atlantic stat?!

  3. I’ve always been intrigued by the chitarra. But what I like most is being transported to your childhood on the motorway to Manchester!

  4. Val

    I don’t have a chitarra or a pasta making machine but I am so inspired to go and make some pasta. You may just get some video evidence of someone crazy enough to make that all by hand…

  5. Bravaaaa! I have desired a chitarra since my stay in Abruzzo last fall. That final photo looks delicious, I can just feel the springy bite in those spaghetti.

    Oh my gosh, I’m hugry now.

  6. I used to be terribly intimidated by the thought of making fresh pasta. Then I did it – with the ‘help’
    of my toddler – and now nothing seems impossible.

    I’ve been wanting a corzetti stamp for quite awhile now, but your post has me adding a chitarra to my wish list. Which will be much more attainable, I believe. Thanks for the lovely post.

  7. Betta

    yey pasta fresca, what a new achievement, congrats!
    I love spaghetti alla chitarra.
    mitica nonna jolanda!

  8. Oh, pasta. I made it once, only, with my very first three year old, when I had a long afternoon ahead of me and no fear at all. It was easy and wonderful and I’ve been meaning to try it again, ever since. Ever since is going on 6 years now. I’ve been feeling the urge make the flour mountain and fill it with eggs quite a bit lately. I do think it’s time… Thanks for sharing this. I do think courage and sage grounded women whispering “it’s simple” in your ear are the key. Oh, and the anchovy sauce! Cannot wait to try.

    • rachel

      It is amazing how a little bit of encouragement from the right person can makes things seem possible.
      I know all the about the leaving things 6 years (and some)….I hope you try and yes the sauce is very good.

  9. I rarely make pasta, yet whenever I do, I think–why don’t I do this more often? It’s a very gratifying process. It makes everyone happy. Brava and cheers to you.

    Had to laugh, too, at the last photo, twirled noodles and hands, and Tracy’s B’more comment…true dat!

  10. I started experimenting with pasta making late last year, and have yet to find the ‘perfect’ recipe. I will give this a try! I love the flour volcano at the beginning, but it is so challenging towards the end when you have so much sticky paste on your hands, and so much flour yet to be incorporated, and the task seems daunting and quite impossible. And it’s always about that time that I dearly need to scratch my nose. And then I do, and I have egg flour paste on my nose until I remember to wash it off. I don’t know why I never thought of keeping water near by. Brilliance!

    I’m wondering if this chittara is something that could be make-shifted with piano or guitar wire, a cardboard box, and patience. Perhaps?

    I will try your pasta sauce recipe this weekend I think. Because of you, I bravely tried anchovies for the first time last weekend (making your salsa verde, yum!) and found them a far cry from the noisome sliminess I had imagined. One question before I can begin however – what is passata? If I can’t find it, will the recipe be just as good with tinned tomatoes? Or how about chopped fresh ones?

    • rachel

      Hello Janine
      I did find working with just one hand at the beginning was helpful (the other is free for emergency scratching)
      I also tried to work only with the fingertips…..Apparently all the messy, sticky bit is all part of the kneading process.
      I think with patience (and your creativity by the sound of it you could rig something up) or you could look here
      Passata is just sieved tomatoes (sorry I should have put that) chopped tinned tomatoes will work just as well.
      So glad you liked the salsa verde, it is delicious stuff, I will blob it on most things.

  11. This is a fine example of the good stuff in life. You’ll never forget this experience. And thank you for a new reason to eat anchovies.

  12. I’m jealous of your chittara (not that I had ever heard of “una chittara” before I read this post, but now I have, and now I want one)! I made fresh pasta for the first time in college with my dear friend and roommate – in fact, the only times I’ve ever made pasta are with her when we have been visiting one another – she has always initiated it and led the process and I have always been the student – there is nothing like it – fresh pasta, that is. I’ve been wanting to make my own on my own forever – this post must be a sign.

    My brother used to play Pink Floyd and U2’s Joshua Tree on repeat in his room that shared a wall with mine from the time he got home from school everyday till late at night for about two years straight when we were growing up. When I hear any of that music, it takes me right back to lying in my bed in the dark going to sleep to “We don’t need no education.” What a lullaby. Loved your story and I now must make my own pasta and research more about this pasta guitar.

    • rachel

      being the slightly obsessive sort, i see myself on a fresh pasta mission for a while. I have to say after years
      of being intimidated by the stuff, it was surprisingly easy. I am sure good ingredients are key as is practice practice practice…..I am willing you on.

  13. don’t laugh, but our grocery recently started carrying buccatini, which I hadn’t had before. I am addicted to the feel of those thick squiggly tubes in my mouth, the mouth-feel of it is so good…but THIS shape looks even better! mmm, the whole post is mouth watering. i think that chitarra has found a perfect home.

    • rachel

      I don’t think I’d ever had buccatini before I came to Rome. We live above a restaurant called il bucatino – they claim to make the best bucatini all’amatriciana for miles (it is good.) Now all I need is a fender.

  14. Oh my, that pasta looks gorgeous. There is nothing more delicious in its simplicity than homemade pasta and bread. You inspired me to make pasta after a long time of not doing it!

    • rachel

      I agree with your bread and pasta sentiments – now I need to get back to (my occasional) bread making after a long time of not doing it.

  15. Tamsin

    Looks like fun! I wish I could get the special, extra-yellow yolked eggs they sell in Italy over here. Our local free-range eggs are wonderful but my pasta’s never very bright.
    The sauce looks interesting but I’m not keen on anchovies. Do they produce a fishy taste or just a rich/saltiness?

    • rachel

      The sauce is wonderful but the anchovies are distinctive, pronounced and well, fishy, even if you use very small quantities. You could leave the anchovies out – a bit of chilli (pepperoncino) maybe.

  16. oh no you DI-INT! i’ve had my eye on a chitarra for 2 years now and have been waiting till i get to philly to purchase it. when we do get it and if we post about it, i will certainly credit this wonderful post. i love the texture of spaghetti alla chitarra. salivating even thinking about it.

  17. what a lovely present. must have been to therapeutic rolling that pin over the pasta and seeing it tumble down below. x shayma

  18. rachel,
    i absolutely love your photography, your writing style and your recipes. you are an inspiration to me!

    i’ve never made a sauce with anchovies, but i’ve always wanted to try it. being italian/american, i’ve made a lot of sauce in my day. 😉

    this sounds really really good. especially with homemade pasta!

    • rachel

      Thank you, what a nice comment.
      The sauce with anchovies is very good (if you like anchovies that is) so i hope you add it to your sauce repetiore !

      • Hi littleclove,

        If you want to try a sauce with anchovies, pasta alla siciliana is also great. Saute eggplant cubes with garlic and then add diced tomatoes and black olives, mashed anchovies, and capers and let it simmer till the liquid reduces.


  19. I’m not going to lie, the sauce will likely be made before the homemade pasta since (1) even though I do have a mixer, I do not have a pasta attachment and (2) not only do I not have the chitarra, I don’t even have a rolling pin.

    But I’m not going to lie, after the comment above, it seems like I’m going to need to scout the once “Italian Market”, now “International Market” for one.

  20. Wow – that is gorgeous. I didn’t even know something like that existed…and now, of course, I dearly want la chitarra….in addition to the Imperia pasta machine already on my list! Until I move to Italy and can pick them both up, I’ll be content with the anchovy sauce. My parent-in-laws taught me how to make the Christmas ricotta ravioli last year. Delicate, delicious, little cheese pillow clouds were uber yum, but certainly time consuming. Hoping to learn orecchiette technique from my mother-in-law shortly…

    • rachel

      I like the sound of the christmas ravioli – ravioli is on my list now I am no longer a pasta virgin. Looking forward to your posts .

  21. oh wow, I want one. Looks like so much fun! I absolutely love making pasta. I love feeling the cut noodles fall through my fingers. I also really enjoy eating fresh pasta with no sauce – just olive oil and good salt.

    • rachel

      It was fun after the inital pasta anxiety. Agree with the oil and salt thing, all you need really – I remember your lovely lemon pasta which is on my list !

  22. I’ve been meaning to find a simple tomato sauce made with anchovies, thanks for pointing me towards this one. Sometimes the most obvious things are right in front of your nose (or on your bookshelf, as the case may be). Have a lovely Friday!

  23. Wow! This chitarra is amazing. I never saw one when I lived in Florence, so I wonder if it is more of a southern Italian thing. I am feeling the urge to trak around in search of one when I am on the continent in a few weeks. Do you think I could make one at home though? It looks like almost like a loom but with wire.

    I am so intrigued now! Thank you so much for sharing.

  24. I don’t have a chitarra but I make pasta for lasagne (spinach) I can’t stand the store=bought ones; anyway, love that recipe I used to have Marcella Hazan’s book but tossed it in a huff one day. I am going to make this sauce!

    • rachel

      I can’t help wondering which recipe caused the huff ! her instructions for rolling pasta put me in a rather bad mood……yes try the sauce it is simple and very good.

  25. I love the look of this pasta – can very easily imagine eating a big bowl of it. Maybe, one day, if I ever have proper worktop space again… In the meantime I bought some fresh wild garlic pasta at the market today from a very enthusiastic local guy who has just started selling there. I think it will be a light lunch tomorrow.


    p.s – Sultans of Swing. Yes!

    • rachel

      That wild garlic pasta sounds good. Even the Italians recognise the small but passionate and enthusiastic good local food revolution in the UK. Kindred spirits in music too !

  26. Dea

    Its so nice to read posts/articles of someone who cooks for pleasure. I don’t know exactly when cooking became a chore as opposed to a pleasure, but you inspire me, the tomato anchovy sauce recipe sounds heavenly. I read all your posts eagerly and with pleasure but I always am happy when you post something veg or pescetarian friendly.

    Way to go on making and mastering fresh pasta too! You are such an accomplished chef/cook 🙂
    Contact an editor and see about turning all these posts into a book. I’d buy it, lovely photos, posts, recipes… a human interest facet too..what’s not to love 🙂 Ciao bella xo da Dea a Marsala, dove tira un vento freddo maestrale.

    • rachel

      Well we’ve had rain rain rain in rome and there is more to come.
      I am not sure about mastering pasta, but what i lack in skill I try to make up for with unbridled enthusiasum.
      It is so nice to called inspiring. The sauce is very good and even better i think with Marsala anchovies and soon tomatoes!

  27. Dana

    I’ve been wanting to try pasta alla chitarra ever since I read about it in Lidia Bastianich’s latest book (with which I am obsessed). I just don’t know where I’d buy a chitarra here in the States! This looks delicious.

  28. Lauri

    OOOH I just made this sauce! I had everything in the pantry and it is delicious. I am just waiting for the water to boil.

  29. snowmoonelk

    I was inspired to make this sauce, having read your recipe, and also having recently been in Abruzzo and actually eaten spaghetti alla chitarra with a wonderfully rich tomato sauce…now to buy a chitarra!

  30. Pingback: Just call me anchovy. « rachel eats

  31. Jen

    Excellent post. I can imagine her wagging her finger at you!

  32. Pingback: Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Anchovy Sauce « Catering Directory

  33. My equivalent is pasta with sausage sauce. In the time you cook the pasta, the sauce is ready.

  34. Dee

    This recipe has turned my passionately-anti-anchovies husband into a believer!

  35. It’s fantastic that you are getting ideas from this piece of writing as well as from our dialogue made at this place.

  36. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this,
    like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics
    to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is wonderful blog.
    A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s