Updated: May 26
Humor me, please...I'm a music fanatic. I promise a food blog is buried in here, somewhere!
I wasn't even a twinkle in my father's eyes when The White Album was released by The Beatles in 1968. He was just getting a handle on two daughters when the needle hit the record for the first time on a turn table set inside a large piece of fine furniture. I don't think stereos were yet invented, and he definitely was saving his money for the multi-functional 8 track, cassette, and turntable "multi-media" machine I grew up with and used to listen to the same album, mostly on Saturday mornings while he spring-cleaned the house. Did I mention the music would be loud? very loud to be honest. No wonder why while I do my cleaning (or cooking) I blast music--and wipe clean the opening of the ketchup bottle.
Did you know that Eric Clapton played uncredited lead guitar on the album's electric version of the song While My Guitar Gently Weeps? 1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard in hand, he did a favor for his very good friend, George Harrison. While singing lead vocal, Harrison strummed on a 1968 Gibson J-200. Paul and John provided harmony, piano (A Hamburg Steinway Baby Grand) and bass. Ringo banged on the drums.
According to many articles I've read, this song was an exercise in randomness, Harrison found 'The song conveys his dismay at the world's unrealized potential for universal love, which he refers to as "the love there that's sleeping'.
Another account I read was that his band members weren't very fond of the initial introduction of the melody, which, since it's been told that he just opened a book to a random page to find the words "gently weep" and started writing a song, seems to be a more authentic reason for the lyrics. As his band member's love for this song was sleeping...
Perhaps later in life Harrison's guitar wept for Patti Boyd, his ex-wife who married Clapton just a few years after their divorce. With friends like Clapton...lol
But Clapton's marriage to Boyd also ended. Bro code remained strong for these men, and they played together again.
Others have performed their interpretation of this classic song, adding their own flair. The likes of Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Jefferson Starship, Toto, and Todd Rundgren have all recorded versions of the song. But I believe the most memorable interpretation of the classic was at the 2004 Rock n Roll Hall of Fame ceremony when Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Dhani Harrison and Prince played a stunning and utterly phenomenal live performance that could rival the original for greatness.
I wonder if any of these artists would use their guitars for anything other than music?
About 100 years earlier in 1860 someone, somewhere in Italy's Abruzzo region had an opened mind for another use for their chitarra.
Perhaps a group of musicians met for a jam session and some post jam session pasta, but someone forgot the pasta machine. Creative thinking? or resourcefulness? or neither... but that would be one fun story if it were the case.
You see, chitarra (key-tar-rah) is the Italian word for guitar.
The chitarra is a rectangular wooden frame with parallel wires running across it from top to bottom. The rolled-out pasta dough is placed on the chitarra and pushed through the wires by rolling a rolling pin over the top of the dough. Pasta makers in Abruzzo release the pasta strands from the wires by ‘playing’ them as they would a stringed instrument!
The thicker maccheroni alla chitarra is a pasta that calls for a bit of bite to it, or some girth, as it needs some strength to carry the hearty, rich sauces it usually accompanies -- chunky ragu, particularly made from young lamb, a staple in Abruzzo's cuisine, or, like this one below, a trilogy of pork, veal and beef. Or perhaps a red pepper sugo. While simple, traditional and tied to the land, the food of this mountainous region is incredibly hearty and tasty, and this pasta dish is just one excellent example.
This variety of egg pasta made with semolina flour has a square cross section due to the thickness when rolled out, pushed through the chitarra wires with a rolling pin and released from the wires by strumming the strings like it was a guitar.
Interpretations are everywhere in life. Evolutions if you will of things that are great made greater by someone putting their own touches on it. Sometimes reinventing it, sometimes just tweaking the original to your own style or preference.
The New York City Hell's Kitchen restaurant, Esca reinvented the meat-centric mountain pasta to represent its very seafood focused menu.
Chef David Pasternack teamed up with his friends, Mario Batali and David Bastianich (the son of the famous Lidia Bastianich of public television notoriety of the 1990s) to open the theater district seafood restaurant in 2000 when the hustle and bustle of the theater district was alive and well in Manhattan.
You couldn't' get a table. The infatuation with this trio was real.
In 2004, Pasternack was awarded the James Beard award Best Chef in New York City. He brought his A game as executive chef of Esca.
I was lucky to be able to get in there a few times. First, sitting at the bar since they were the only seats available without a reservation. The other times in the dining room. Honestly, I preferred the bar, the bartender, Victor had so much information to tell me.
Crudo, a dish of raw fish or seafood, typically dressed with oil, citrus juice, and seasonings started the meal, followed by a pricey plate of Maccheroni alla Chitarra, with a sea urchin and crabmeat sauce topped with shaved grilled scallions which presented like a work of art. And the flavor?
Out. Of. This. World.
Finishing the meal with Affagato, a root beer float if you will made with espresso. Ice cream or gelato topped with shaved dark chocolate and hazelnuts grace a bowl. When hot espresso drowns the ice cream something magical happens. (Affagato is Italian for drown) It's soupy and hot yet cold and delicious all rolled into one perfect end to a lovely dinner.
Pasternack purchased the restaurant from the Batali/Bastianich Restaurant Group in 2019 in the midst of high-profile celebrity chef scandal, but unfortunately, the scandal and a pandemic of 2020 has forced the theater district restaurant to close permanently. Lack of patrons from NYC theater and real-estate costs lead to the demise of the once thriving restaurant.
(Pasternack has partnered with Victor Rallo on a renovation and resurgence of ESCA with a new menu, wine list, and prix fixe lunch menu. The restaurant is Pastavino and is located on Staten Island). https://www.pastavinosi.com/menus/
It's safe to say Hell's Kitchen's chitarra gently weeps for the end of this iconic neighborhood restaurant.
Cooking Class with Carol
Things to Consider
Pasta is most definitely the center of the Italian gastronomic universe. There are many views on how many different pasta shapes there are.
Cooks use different shapes and sizes of pasta for different purposes. For example, different shapes hold different sauces better than others.
Some cooks say thin pastas, such as angel hair, should be served with thin sauces, while thicker sauces work better with thicker, heavier pastas. People often pair flat pastas with cream sauces, while tomato sauces seem to cling better to round pastas.
What is your favorite pasta?
Age-old versions of this pasta included highly prized saffron typical of Sardinia in the pasta dough, infused in the egg before mixing with flour. But don't stop there. Other ingredients like squid ink (which lends to a black pasta), spinach (green) to tomato, carrots, nettles, pumpkin, mushrooms, artichokes, and more. Sometimes, even spices and flavorings like pepper and cocoa may be used. It's your pasta; try a variety and be courageous!
Another recipe with few ingredients. You know what that means--quality is key.
Semolina flour and fresh quality eggs will yield a beautifully colored noodle.
Straight semolina flour or a ration of 3:1 is used for making diecast, shaped pasta. Think penne, rigatoni, etc. the stiffer dough will allow the machine to make the shaped pasta and it will retain its integrity.
Making the sauce to accompany the pasta ahead of time is key. This fresh pasta cooks in a flash and having the sauce to dress it in will help it soak up the flavors but also allow it to not stick.
There’s no secret to kneading. You just have to bash the dough about a bit with your hands, squashing it into the table, reshaping it, pulling it, stretching it, squashing it again. It’s quite hard work, and you'll notice a difference after a few minutes. I've been told to "put your haunches into kneading" which I believe means to use your body weight and push from your butt. You’ll know when to stop – it’s when your pasta starts to feel smooth and silky instead of rough and floury.
Rolling out pasta. First of all, if you haven't got a pasta machine it's not the end of the world! Work in patches with a rolling pin for a consistent thickness. However, investing in pasta machine or the attachment to a stand mixer will make this process of preparing fresh pasta easy as can be. A pasta machine or attachment can be found for around $50-100 depending on the type. I've had mine for over 20 years. I purchased it from one of the Italian shops in Little Italy in New York. The same can be find on-line or at any Italian specialty food shop.
Whether you're rolling by hand or by machine you'll need to know when to stop. If you're making pasta like chitarra, you will roll out thicker than tagliatelle, lasagna or stracchi. You'll need to roll the pasta down to about the thickness of about 1/16 inch. If you're making a stuffed pasta like ravioli or tortellini, you'll need to roll it down slightly thinner or to the point where you can clearly see your hand through it.
3 1/2 to 4 cups semolina flour
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup olive oil
1 pound each stewing beef, pork, veal trimmed of excess fat, rinsed, patted dry and cut into pieces
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup guanciale or pancetta, finely diced
½ cup dry red wine
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
8 cups whole plum tomatoes (about two 35-ounce cans), passed through a food mill or puréed in a blender or food processor
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano
What To Do
In a heavy bottom Dutch oven, heat extra virgin olive oil.
brown guanciale (pancetta) 3-5 minutes. Do not drain fat.
Working in batches, brown the meat. Remove to tray and repeat.
Add more extra virgin olive oil if needed, add garlic and onions. Cook until translucent 3-5 minutes.
Add tomato paste. stir into vegetables and cook 2-3 minutes
add wine to deglaze pan
add meat back into pan including any juices
add plum tomatoes and basil
9. Bring to boil and reduce to low cooking for 1-2 hours stirring every 30 minutes so it doesn't stick. You can also put it in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour or until thickened.
10. Remove from heat (or oven) and add cheese
11. Keep on stove, hot and ready to receive pasta when cooked.
Place the flour on a board or in a bowl. Make a well in the center and crack the eggs into it. Beat the eggs with a fork until smooth.
2. Using the tips of your fingers, mix the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time, until everything is combined.
3. Knead the pieces of dough together – with a bit of work and some love and attention they’ll all bind together to give you one big, smooth lump of dough!
5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes. – make sure the plastic wrap covers it well or it will dry out.
6. Remove from refrigerator, remove plastic wrap and cut into pieces. Cover dough not being used.
7. Place a heavy bottom pot filled 3/4 way with cold water on to boil. This is for cooking the pasta.
8. How to roll your pasta:
If using a machine to roll your pasta, make sure it's clamped firmly to a clean work surface before you start (use the longest available work surface you have). I
9. Dust your work surface with flour, take a lump of pasta dough the size of a large orange and press it out flat with your fingertips. Set the pasta machine at its widest setting #1 and roll the lump of pasta dough through it. Lightly dust the pasta with flour if necessary. You don't want it sticking to the machine.
10. Fold the pasta in half and roll the dough through again. Repeat this process five or six times. It might seem like you're getting nowhere, but in fact you're working the dough, and once you've folded it and fed it through the rollers a few times, you'll feel the difference. It'll be smooth and silky, and this means you're making great pasta.
11. Now it's time to roll the dough out properly, working it through all the settings on the machine, from the widest down to 4 or 5 for chitarra. Lightly dust both sides of the pasta with a little flour if needed.
12. When you have the consistency and thickness desired, place dough on chitarra. Using the rolling pin, run across the wires until the pasta is cut. Slight force is required. Once the pasta is cut, use your fingers and pluck the strings like a guitar to release the pasta below.
13. allow to dry slightly on a rack or place in boiling water that has been salted. Allow pasta to rise to the top and cook for additional 1-2 minutes. Remove from water and immediately add to sauce. Toss to coat so the pasta does not stick together.
I finished the dish with fresh burrata, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and more Pecorino Romano cheese. Enjoy!