Abruzzo’s northern Teramo province is famous for its delicious ‘Spaghetti alla Chitarra con Polpettine’ adored by young and old, who hungrily twiddle up the succulent, weeny meatballs between the long, squared-shaped spaghetti.
Its ragu is light rather than a heavy meat one, that points the region’s alignment to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies as well as cucina povera whose ingredients carefully treasure what we so often wastefully discard today. The job of this slow cooked marriage of passata, bones, carrot and celery it not to just to plump up the firm chitarra, but to fragrantly smoother its juicy beef polpettine (meatballs). This is the only time I’ve been served meatballs and pasta together in Italy, that menu favourite of ‘Italian’ restaurants outside the country is an Italian American invention.
AnnaMaria from the B&B Panfilo Farmhouse whose Aromatic Tomato Pasta Sauce we loved so much when we stayed there a couple of years ago invited me back for a Teramana cooking session, and these are her tips to perfect spaghetti alla chitarra con polpettine. Afterwards we took advantage of our climate emergency by sitting outside for lunch despite it being the beginning of February. We shared the dish with a local shepherd who passes through her property daily whilst walking his girls, timeless moments that bring all parts of the region’s history back to the here and now.
Tips for Perfect Teramana ‘Spaghetti alla Chitarra con Polpettine’
- Before rolling your hazelnut-size meatballs marinate the minced beef for an hour with a really good glug of extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Flash fry your mini meatballs for just 45 seconds and leave them to rest if you want them to remain juicy and give a complementary uomi flavour to the light ragu.
- Don’t fry your bones, carrot and celery stalk in oil, instead add 3 mugs of water, a good pinch of salt and pepper and allow the bones absorb and soften with the water before adding your bottles of passata so that you don’t lose all their valuable stock.
- Don’t skimp on the passata, this type of pasta will absorb your ragù!
- Invest in the very best organic coarsely ground flour that you can afford. Good flour shouldn’t make you feel bloated and tired after eating it it should also have its very own flavour too that complements your sauce and your meatballs. AnnaMaria used an organic wholewheat flour by the amazing Castellalto mill, Mulino Di Giovannantonio (DGL Agricoltura) that was a mixture of low gluten hardy ancient wheats grown in Abruzzo, if you get a chance go and stock up!
- Save valuable time by cutting your pasta using a chitarra cutter on your pasta machine. Not everyone has time to sit rolling pasta through a chitarra which is quite a ‘modern’ 19th century invention.
- For the Pasta
- 4 eggs
- 300 g Type 0 Flour
- 100 g Semolina Flour
- A good pinch of salt
- 1 tp of white wine
- For the Meatballs
- 200 g Minced Beef
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil to taste
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Piece of beef on the bone
- 1 Chicken or Turkey Drumstick
- 1 Pork Rib
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- ½ Onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 Celery Stalk
- ½ little finger sized piece of Rosemary finely snipped
- Salt to taste
- 2 jars Passata
- Prepare your meatball by adding to your mince a good pinch of salt and pepper and olive oil into a bowl and mix with a fork.
- Grease the palm of your hand, take a piece of the mixture, the size of a hazelnut and roll into small balls and leave on a plate to rest.
- On a clean kitchen surface, add your flour and shape it into a well shape, in the middle add eggs flour, salt and white wine in the middle
- With a fork whisk in the flour until you have a dough
- Knead together, this dough should be hard and will take time to work it into a pliable smooth ball.
- Leave your dough to rest for half an hour in a ceramic pot (traditional method) or a plastic bowl.
- In a non-stick pan and your olive oil and flash fry your meatball, turning them 3-4 times without letting them harden, drain and leave on a saucer. (Keep your oil - you will add this to your ragu).
- Add all your ragu ingredients into a saucepan and add 3 mugfuls of water. Cook for half an hour until the water is no longer visible.
- Add your 2 jars of passata and the remains of your olive oil that you fried your meatballs, salt and cook for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
- Cook for half an hour, when all the water is withdrawn, pour the tomato puree, add the salt and simmer for about an hour and 45 min.
- Cut your ball of pasta into 3.
- Roll out and pass through your pasta machine until you have a sheet of about 3mm, you're looking for lengths of 40 cm long. Attach your chitarra cutter onto your pasta machine to cut your pasta, when cut sprinkle with type 0 flour and place on a tray.
- Bring a kettle of water to the boil ready to add to pan to boil your pasta. You'll need 2.5 l for the spaghetti. Cook for 10 minutes or until you see the pasta rise to the surface, when this happens turn off the heat and leave the pasta in the water for 2 minutes. Add 4 small water glasses of cold water into the pan stop them cooking and then drain in a colander.
- Take 2 ladles of the previously prepared ragu, add the meatballs and simmer 5 minutes.
- Add the remaining ragu into a bowl and add the grated pecorino cheese and mix together. Add ⅓ of the meatballs to the spaghetti and mix and add the remaining meatballs on top of the spaghetti.
- Serve with peperoncini.