Friday, August 9, 2013

Spaghetti Quadri

After buying my Bottene torchio pasta press from Emiliomiti [here], I purchased a bronze die to make spaghetti quadri, a thin square noodle meant to resemble maccheroni alla chitarra, the traditional pasta of Abruzzo. To make authentic maccheroni alla chitarra, you roll a thick-ish sheet of egg pasta over closely spaced wires strung length-wise across a rectangular wooden box called a guitar (chitarra). In Italy Dish by Dish [2011], Monica Sartoni Cesari writes that maccheroni alla chitarra “is a relatively new shape—well, for Italy. It dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century. Before the invention of the chitarra,…the same shape was made by cutting the pasta with a shoemaker’s hammer (rintrocilo).”

What a spaghetti quadri die lacks in character when compared to a shoemaker’s hammer or a zither-like box, it makes up in efficiency: attach bronze die to torchio and add dough; insert and screw down piston; harvest square spaghetti.  Pretty simple in concept, but the key to success lies in the dough. Before settling on the recipe, below, I had a good number of misses with this die. Looking back on my notes, I think the problems stemmed from my (1) flour blend, and (2) liquid-to-flour ratio. (Not much left to get wrong, I’d say.…) I finally succeeded after pushing the dough closer to the sandy consistency of a machine-extruded dough. After hydrating, this resulted in a very dry and hard dough that produced a pasta with a firm bite. Here’s the recipe that I use to make spaghetti quadri.

125 grams Giusto’s Extra Fancy Durum flour
125 grams Central Milling 00 Pizza flour
2 grams kosher salt
125 grams egg mixture (2 whole medium eggs plus 1 medium egg yolk. If the eggs/yolk weigh less than 125 grams, add water to make up difference; if the eggs/yolk weighs more, remove the overage.)

1. In a stand mixer fitted with its paddle attachment, mix together the flours and salt. In a glass, beat the egg mixture.

2. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour the egg mixture into the mixing bowl. Mix the dough for about 2 minutes. The dough should be crumbly, but still slightly damp and should hold together if tightly squeezed.

3. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add any dough on the paddle to the mixing bowl. Using your hand, bring the dough together into a large ball in the mixing bowl. Place the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and flatten the dough into a disc. If the dough crumbles a bit, don’t worry: tightly wrap the dough with the plastic wrap so that it holds its shape. As the dough rests, it will hydrate and come together. Leave the dough to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

4. Attach the torchio to a work surface and insert the spaghetti quadri die. Unwrap the dough and lightly dust it with flour. Roll the dough into a thick cylinder and slide this into the torchio’s chamber. Insert the torchio’s piston into the machine’s chamber and turn the torchio’s handle—this will take some effort—until the pasta extrudes from the die. Cut the spaghetti quadri into approximately 12-inch long pieces, lightly dust with flour and place on a baking tray covered with semolina. Continue turning and cutting until the dough runs out. You will have enough pasta to serve 4 as a starter or 3 as a main course.

To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the fresh spaghetti quadri, stir the pasta and when the water returns to the boil, cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Taste to determine if the pasta is ready. If so, drain and add the pasta to your ready sauce, mix the two together and cook the pasta and sauce for 1 to 2 minutes.

Don’t be surprised if nearly every regional Italian cookbook you consult suggests serving this pasta shape with a lamb and pepper ragù.  It’s a classic pairing worth trying. This pasta also tastes delicious with a simple light tomato sauce spiked with hot pepper.