Childhood conditioning has hardwired into my brain that macaroni is a species of dried pasta that is small, tubular and curved with a distinctive “elbow”. So, when presented with a plate of maccheroni recently in Garfagnana, it came as quite a shock that it wasn’t at all the familiar shape. Intellectually, however, I knew that the Italian word maccheroni, which translates as macaroni, is simply a generic name for a variety of pasta shapes – like the English word noodles. Yet deep down, I expected to see those little tubular elbows.
It even surprises me after all these years living in the UK when I see those little straight tube noodles that are marketed as macaroni in British supermarkets. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem right. The supermarket, however, also carries imported Italian pasta that goes by the name of chifferi rigati that looks more like my familiar childhood “elbow” macaroni. In fact, it is probably “elbow” macaroni’s original name – either that or gomiti which is the exact same shape and literally means “elbows” (or quite possibly “crankshafts” – no one knows for sure). Did you know there were over 300 named pasta shapes in Italy alone? Whatever name it goes by, it’s a bit of a relief that I don’t have to settle for those straight British tubes for my mac & cheese.
from the web-site The Geometry of Pasta
(also a fabulous book of the same name by chef Jacob Kenedy and designer Caz Hildebrand)
But, back to that plate of Garfagnana maccheroni… It was flat. Big flat rough cut squares of homemade pasta, not tubes, nor any curved bits. Just flat, like mini-lasagne noodles. I had seen something like it that went under a different name – maltagliati. Of course, I was told this is one of the alternative names, but in Garfagnana it is more likely to be simply called maccheroni.
Maltagliati literally means badly cut – originally scraps, uneven edges and thicknesses from producing strips of fresh pasta from making those perfect ribbon-cut pastas – linguinies, fettuccinies, pappardelles, tagliatelles. In fact, maltagliati was considered to be a food of the poor, primarily since it used scraps, and the sauces that traditionally go with it were made from inexpensive ingredients. One source I read said it was a speciality of Emilia-Romagna – a region that borders the Northern Tuscan area of Garfagnana. Small wonder that pasta shapes don’t respect modern-defined regional borders, but probably follow older cultural customs on both the eastern and western ridges of the high Apuane Alps.
Macherroini–Maltagliati with Ragù
This pasta can be made with or without egg; versions of each type exist. This recipe is for an egg pasta, but if you prefer an eggless one, see my post Le Sarde for the recipe for pici dough. Simply shape in the same way described below.
- 300g (10-1/2oz.) of organic plain flour, unbleached all-purpose flour, or “00” Italian flour
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- Semolina for dusting
Put the flour and salt into a bowl and create a well in the centre. Add the eggs and olive oil to the well and mix with your hands until blended. It will be slightly sticky. Put the dough ball on a floured board and proceed to knead the dough until a smooth, firm ball is formed. Place in clingfilm and let it rest for a few hours in the refrigerator.
Just before you are ready to put the dough through your pasta machine, remove the wrapped ball from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. On a well-floured board, cut the dough into quarters. Take one of the quarters and put it through a pasta machine – set at a wide setting. You may need to fold, dust with flour and put through again if the dough is not smooth. Cut the smooth, thick dough sheet in half and fold each piece into thirds. Put each of these through the machine, this time set at a medium width setting. Again, it may need to go through the machine again, so simply fold, dust with flour and put it through the machine. Lay out the resulting long strips and cut with a pizza cutter into approximate 3 to 4cm wide strips and then into rough squares. Lay out on a tray, liberally sprinkled with semolina.
Process the remainder of the dough in the same way and continue sprinkling semolina on the pasta squares as they pile up in the tray. This, with any luck, prevents the squares from sticking together. Let them rest while you make the ragù.
- 1 large shallot
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 celery stalk or a small bunch of celery leaf
- 1 Tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 400g of one of the following: ground pork, beef or veal; plain pork sausage meat (casings removed) or portobello mushrooms (the latter a vegetarian option)
- 100g cavolo nero (Tuscan black cabbage)
- 50ml red wine
- 400g tomato pasata (or puréed tin of plum tomatoes)
Make your soffritto by finely chopping the shallot, garlic, celery and herbs. In a large pot, warm the olive oil on low heat and put in the soffritto ingredients. Place the lid on the pot and let the vegetables soften – about 10 to 15 minutes.
Take the lid off and turn up the heat, moving the vegetables to the sides. Crumble the meat (or coarsely chopped mushrooms) in the centre of the pot and cook until just done. Add the wine and stir, cooking a few minutes, allowing it to be absorbed by the other ingredients.
Clean and remove the rib from the cavolo nero and chop into small pieces. Add this and the tomato pasata to the pot, stir and check for seasoning. Add salt if required. Let simmer on low heat, covered, for about 30 minutes for the cabbage to cook. Take the lid off and continue simmering while you heat a large pot of well-salted water.
When the water in pasta pot is boiling, tip in the pasta, stirring immediately. Periodically stir while it cooks. It should take about 3 minutes, longer if you have made thicker noodles. Drain the pasta and add to the simmering ragù. Fold the noodles into the sauce and then serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.