Maccheroni

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.

chifferi_rigatifrom 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.

maccheroni

MacherroiniMaltagliati 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.

maccheroni_feature

The Pasta

  • 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.

maccheroni_prep

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.

maccheroni_ragu

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.

maccheroni_finishedFinished!

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24 comments

  1. A timely reminder to get going with some pasta making, given the over abundance of fresh eggs. It’s funny, but when I think of maltagliati, I think of my attempts at cutting my own fringe.
    This looks like a very wholesome sauce too.

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    • The sauce was a put-together from things in the fridge. Plus, we had just visited our favourite farm where they make fantastic sausages… Turned out very well, I thought. My guys are becoming fresh pasta aficionados. Never cut my own fringe – well, never went the way of a fringe (“bangs” as it is called in the US). Always thought they’d get in your eyes!

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    • It is really a great pasta and so easy to do. It was the name that threw me, having grown up with those little elbows. The book, The Geometry of Pasta, explains a lot about the meaning, geographic distribution and origins of pasta names.

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  2. I love maltagliati and making my own pasta; I can’t explain why I’ve never made maltagliati myself! And the ragù sounds heavenly, I can imagine the maltagliati soaking up all that amazing flavor.

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    • Maltagliati is really easy to make – and so forgiving, allowing for irregular shapes. The ragù worked very well. I used sausage meat, but I expect it would work well with any of the other meats or the mushrooms I mention. Will need to try these variations.

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    • I’m sure you could come up with a GF version of pasta…In fact, I saw one on the internet (Jamie Oliver, perhaps?) that used rice flour, but also added xanthan gum to get that elasticity! I’ve also seen Gf pasta made with buckwheat… A challange! And, the Yak will be singing and dancing!

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  3. I agree and I must say that even for me that I’m italian the maccaroni word is odd… I mean … I grew up with the idea that maccarone is this pasta http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maccheroni …ridged pasta similar to chifferi …anywway i discovered that in Rome or ABruzzo maccaroni or maccheroni are long spaghetti …so, as you probably know, in Italy it all depends on regions traditions! 🙂
    I love your maltagliati…for sure you cook better than many italian women I know! ,…and you know more of our food culture too! 🙂

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    • Wow! What a wonderful compliment! First, I love good home cooked Italian food, which I think helps when cooking – trying to achieve those flavours. Second, I’m a sucker for traditions of any sort. The book or the we-site, The Geometry of Pasta, is also packed full of useful knowledge about Italian pasta – fascinating!

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    • Isn’t that the truth! Some amazing sauces (and rather odd ones, too) have been created simply by seeing what was available in the kitchen or pantry. Sorry the pasta isn’t GF, but as I commented to Cherry, there are pasta dough recipes out there that use rice or other GF flours. I do love homemade pasta.

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  4. Oh my, this is beautiful and extremely informative. I really don’t know much about the original pasta names. I did however, buy semolina flour last night. Do you think it’s possible to make pasta without a pasta roller? Maybe I should just get one…i really have the smallest kitchen ever and no storage space. The ragu looks perfect too. What a wonderful meal. I’ll make this after the grape leaves 🙂

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    • Hi Amanda, You should read Heather’s comment to this post which explains how pasta making is done in Garfagnana. So, yes to your question – no pasta machine required. It is possible to roll out the sheets with a rolling pin. I have found that a long hardwood cylindrical rolling pin without handles (called a matterello in Italian) is the best for this sort of thing (also great for pizza dough, pastries…you name it).

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      • Thank you. I think I’ll try it. I got one of those last week because my friends told me they don’t leave marks. I thought that was a french rolling pin. I didn’t know Italians had a name for it too. You are a wealth of knowledge. Thank you. I’m let you know how all of my experiments from your blog go. I also read the book you recommend “when french women cook” and really enjoyed it. 😉

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  5. Debi, you’ve brought so many great things back from the Garfagnana. Here’s a trick about rolling pasta that I learned from the women in my village while helping with our village feasts and we had to roll a lot! Roll each of your four pieces through at the widest setting of the rollers, then move the rollers two notches closer and roll all four pieces through, and finally move them to the next to the narrowest setting (I find the narrowest makes the sheets too thin) and again roll all four through. It’s amazing how much time it saves only readjusting the rollers three times rather than twelve. Also, you only have to rest the pasta 20 minutes, and no need to put it in the fridge. For Amanda, who asked whether you need a pasta machine, they didn’t even exist when many of the women in my village were born. If you make a more peasant-like dough—300 g flour, 2 eggs (women sold eggs for money so they weren’t keen on using too many themselves), pinch of salt and enough water to make a softish dough, you can roll it with a rolling pin. And one last comment about maltagliati: you can hang the strip of rolled out pasta over your wrist and through the gap between your thumb and forefinger and tear pieces off straight into the boiling water. Next time you’re out, book in for a pasta lesson!

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    • Hi Heather, Thanks for the tips. That is actually what I did (laziness genes showing) – all four pieces at a wide setting, each cut in half and then all 8 processed through (2 notches down) to a medium setting. I know I should have been more explicit in the instructions. You are right, any thinner and they become unmanageable! I really like the idea of a softer “peasant-like” dough with fewer eggs and a bit of water. Managed to find a big olive wood matterello when we were there, so rolling by hand should be a doddle. I love this new kitchen appliance addition. Certainly, next time we are in Garfagnana, I will book in for a pasta lesson. There is always more to learn – and I do remember you telling me about tearing the strips of pasta straight into the boiling water. Would love to see just how this is done.

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  6. Reading the comments brings to mind the women in our house, where making pasta was almost a daily affair. I don’t make pasta often enough to make maltagliati from scraps and cut them by hand in varying shapes. Your maccheroni are more regularly shaped and remind me of fazzoletti, “little handkerchiefs”. I’m fascinated leaning about the various forms of pasta and how the names came about. Thanks for today’s lesson. 🙂

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    • I had to look up fazzoletti! You are right, they do look similar. Perhaps they are even the same thing with a different regional name. The sources I looked at indicated that the name fazzoletti originated in Liguria – and as you know, this is adjacent to Northern Tuscany AND Emilia-Romagna. Thank you, also for a pasta lesson! Great to exchange ideas.

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