Thursday, September 1, 2011

maccheroni alla chittara

For such an easy dish, I went a long way for some of the ingredients.

Namely, I went to New York, and shopped at Eataly, which celebrated its first anniversary this week, and can open up a location around here any time it wants.

Namely, there were two things for this dish that weren't turning up anywhere in the greater Central Florida area, as best I could tell. Bottarga and the dish's namesake maccheroni alla chittara.

The bottarga is a little strip of tuna roe that's pressed and cured. You shave it like cheese over a dish, and it adds a little pescesalinity to a dish. Pescesalinity is a word I think I just made up, but that everyone should start using to mean "fishy saltiness." Pescesalinity sounds way better, right?

So the bottarga was easy to bring back to Florida on the plane. Just had to wrap it up tight. 

About the maccheroni …

It's a pasta. it is basically spaghetti-shaped. But while spaghetti is formed by forcing the dough through a metal die, for "alla chittara," a sheet of pasta is placed against a contraption with a bunch of evenly spaced strings (reminiscent of a guitar), and the pasta is pushed through the string, which cut it into the long strands. The story goes that pasta cut on a chitarra has a little more texture than that extruded through a brass die, and therefore holds the sauce better. Sounds reasonable.

I couldn't find it anywhere in Florida. I considered getting a chittara and making it myself, because I was confident I could. But I wasn't excited about buying another piece of equipment, especially one as big as a chitarra, so I kept looking. And i considered just making fresh spaghetti. But then when I was heading to New York, I knew I'd find it.

So it was one of the first things i looked for in the pasta department of Eataly. Let me clarify: the dried pasta department. Because there is also a fresh pasta department. And after much searching in the dried pasta department of Eataly, I found spaghetti alla chitarra. I decided that was close enough and threw a couple of bags in my basket.

Then I got to the fresh pasta department, and right up in the front of the case, there it was: maccheroni alla chitarra. I was instantly hit with a decision. They had it. The right pasta, with the right name. I could buy it with money. They would sell it to me. But I would have to figure out how to transport fresh pasta from the city to Newark, then Newark to Tampa, then Tampa to Clearwater. Without smashing it. Kept at temperature. I hated my chances. The dry, I just had to keep from breaking, which I thought was possible.

So, I spent more time than I care to admit staring at the fresh pasta case and weighing my options before I finally asked the woman behind the pasta counter, "What exactly is the difference between spaghetti alla chittara and maccheroni alla chitarra?"

And I braced for the answer.

"They're exactly the same thing."

Whew. That was the answer I wanted, and I thought there was a zero percent chance of getting it. I bought the dried.

After all that, the dish was pretty easy to make. Sure, I had to oven dry some tomatoes the day before I wanted to make the dish, but that's just good exercise. And sure, the habanero is really hot, but that's what makes it fun.

And dangerous

The pepper and some garlic gets cooked in some tomato sauce, then the pasta is tossed with the sauce and the tomatoes, and some bottarga is grated over. 

Wait! I forgot about the bread crumbs.

Mario often tops pastas with toasted bread crumbs, and I have to admit, I was skeptical. Seemed weird to me to put bread crumbs on top of pasta.

That's because I had never done it.

I took some leftover bread made by a friend, cubed it, toasted it, ground it to coarse crumb and toasted it again, expecting it to add little.

It was awesome. The textural change from the pasta to the crumb was so cool. Now I want to put bread crumbs on everything.

I'm not a big fan of big heat, and this dish was really spicy, but I loved it. Even though the heat was prevalent, it wasn't the only thing there. It tasted like pepper, not just like hot. And the tomato -- sauce and dried -- was sweet, offsetting the heat. Loved it. Want it again.

I didn't really taste the bottarga, and Pam said that it was too strong. Which was weird, because I grated more of it on mine than hers. And there was no plate mixup. Next time, I'll put even more on mine, and none on hers, and see if that solves both problems.

Oh, there will be a next time. In fact, there are more dried tomatoes in the fridge, and I heard that I'm getting some habanero from Velouria Farms.

Oh, and I found the recipe for this one online, too. And in it, it is suggested you could just substitute another pasta for the maccheroni. I guess assuming you won't fly to New York for it.
Up next: barbecued octopus

1 comment:

scott said...

pescalinity should enter the lexicon