Not exactly the image that comes to mind when you think about Mardi Gras, is it?
Me neither, but then I didn't get to spend yesterday (aka Fat Tuesday or Carnevale) in Venice or Rio de Janeiro or even New Orleans. I spent it in Maine, a place with little if any affinity for the annual period of pre-Lenten celebration for Catholics the world over.
As New Orleans was long the home of an important member of my inner circle, it seemed fitting that I do something to mark the occasion. And since Louisiana and music are so tightly woven together, I decided that I might play the guitar for the lady.
A stretch, I know. But romantic of me, yes?
It's a double-sided number, this instrument of mine. Well over a hundred strings in all. It takes some practice to master, but I can teach you how to play in about ten minutes.
You'll need a rolling pin, not a pick. Because we're making pasta here. And with a chitarra, not a Fender Stratocaster. (This is a food blog, after all.)
Chitarra is Italian for guitar and, considering its design, it is also the term for the pasta tool you see here. It's a very old-style tool, this chitarra, invented around 1800 or thereabouts (in Italy, but of course you knew that). It's made of hardwood and metal; not a single bit of plastic resides anywhere on the thing. The reason it has two sides is to accommodate two different noodle widths. On one side the strings are close together, so as to make spaghetti noodles (hence the term spaghetti alla chitarra); the strings on the other side are further apart, for more of a fettucine type noodle.
Speaking of the strings, they can be loosened or tightened by turning this knob, just as guitar strings might be adjusted, and the strings can also be replaced. (If you're interested in more information, or want to buy a chitarra, Fante's in Philadelphia is a good place to poke around.)
What the lady had requested on this particular evening was a simple cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) with spaghetti alla chitarra noodles. The sheet of fresh pasta dough you see here? I rolled it out by hand, not by machine.
The idea here is to let the strings cut the noodles. You start by pressing down and moving the rolling pin along the pasta sheet; this scores the individual noodles.
As you go back and forth with the rolling pin the spaghetti strands will start to fall through the strings.
Often you might help the noodles along by running your fingers over the strings as well.
Until they've all been cut and have fallen through.
After working on a few sheets of pasta dough this is what I wound up with for our Fat Tuesday feast.
And the cacio e pepe, a simple dish that actually takes quite a bit of practice to master if I do say, was just what the lady ordered.
Here is the briefest of clips showing how one man uses a chitarra (mostly using his fingers). The whole thing is under three minutes, but if you want to fast-forward to the actual chitarra demonstration, it begins at about the two-minute mark.
And just so you know, Louie Prima provides the soundtrack, so if you're at work or in church or maybe pretending to be doing important research at the library, you may want to turn off the sound.
Me, I like a little music when I'm playing my chitarra.