Spinach Tonnarelli Sauced with Yellow Peppers and Tomato Dice

Tonnarelli Verdi con Peperoni Gialli e Pomodoro a Dadini

In my pantheon of illustrious homemade pastas there is a special niche for the tonnarelli noodle. If you cut across it you will find that it is square, as broad as it is high. It has the buoyancy and sauce-absorption capacity of other homemade pastas, because that is what it is made of, but tonnarelli’s chunkier profile also endows it with a firm bite comparable to that of factory-made, dried, boxed pasta. Tonnarelli is a specialty of Latium, the region where Rome is located, and its neighbor to the east, Abruzzi. In Abruzzi it is known as maccheroni alla chitarra because the dough for it is cut on the steel strings of a guitar-like tool. With a hand-cranked pasta machine, the making of tonnarelli, as described below, becomes extraordinarily simple.

The tonnarelli noodles for this recipe are green because they are made of spinach dough, an attractive background for the yellow peppers and tomato dice of the sauce. Please note that the tomatoes are just scalded, not cooked. They must retain their dice-like shape and the liveliness of their fresh ripe taste and the firmness of a nearly raw consistency.

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Ingredients

For the Pasta

  • ¼ pound spinach
  • Salt
  • 2 eggs
  • cups flour

For the Sauce

  • 2 large, yellow bell peppers
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • cups fresh, firm, ripe tomatoes, cut into ½-inch dice with their skins on, all seeds scooped away
  • chopped hot chili pepper, teaspoon or to taste

For Tossing the Tonnarelli

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Cheesecloth

A shallow, warm serving platter

Method

Making Green Tonnarelli

  1. Trim, wash, and cook the spinach with some salt, incorporate it with eggs and flour, knead the mass to produce a ball of spinach pasta dough, and roll out the dough in a pasta machine as described in Making the Pasta, steps 1 through 5, of the spinach ravioli. Before you roll the dough out, however, carefully go over the instructions in the step that follows.
  2. Because you are making tonnarelli, the strips of pasta that you are stretching out through the machine’s adjustable rollers need to be rolled out thicker than those for fettuccine and other noodles. Tonnarelli owe their marvelous chewy consistency to their shape—the four sides being of equal length when looked at in cross-section. To obtain that square shape, you must roll out the pasta strip to a thickness equal to the width of the grooves in the narrower of the machine’s two noodle cutters. On most machines’ thinning rollers, the setting most suitable for rolling out pasta dough that you can then cut for tonnarelli is either the second or third before the last. To make sure, run some dough through one of those settings and see whether it is as thick as the grooves of the narrower cutter are wide.
  3. Spread each pasta strip, as you roll it out of the final thinning setting you’ve chosen, onto clean cloth towels laid flat on a counter. The strips must dry for 10 minutes or more, depending on the temperature and ventilation of your kitchen. From time to time, turn the strips over. The pasta is ready for cutting when it is still supple enough that it won’t crack when cut, but not so soft and moist that the strands will stick to each other.
  4. Install the narrower of the machine’s two pairs of cutters. When the pasta strips are dry enough not to stick, but still pliant enough not to crack, run them, one at a time, through the cutter. As the ribbons of tonnarelli emerge, separate them and spread them out on the cloth towels.

Making the Sauce

  1. Wash the peppers, and skin them with a swivel-bladed peeler. Split them, peel away any remaining bits of skin, remove the core and all seeds, and cut the peppers’ flesh lengthwise into strips about inch wide, or thinner if you can.
  2. Put the chopped onion and oil in a 10-inch skillet and turn on the heat to medium high. Cook the onion, stirring from time to time, until it becomes colored a pale gold.
  3. Add the strips of yellow pepper and the salt, and turn over a few times to coat well. Turn the heat down and put a lid on the pan. Cook the peppers, turning them over occasionally, until they are thoroughly soft, but don’t let them brown.
  4. When the peppers are completely limp, add the diced tomato and the chili pepper, turn over all ingredients to coat them, but cook for less than a minute, taking the pan off heat. Try to time this concluding step so that it is completed just as the pasta is done and about to be drained. The tomato in the sauce should still be almost raw.

Cooking and Saucing the Tonnarelli

  1. To a large pot of boiling water, add a small fistful of salt. Gather all the tonnarelli in a dish towel, tightly hold one end of the towel high above the boiling water, loosen the bottom end, and let the pasta slide into the pot.
  2. As soon as the tonnarelli are tender, but still firm to the bite, drain thoroughly, transfer to a shallow, warm serving platter, pour the sauce from the pan over them, and toss a few times to distribute the sauce well. Add the 2 tablespoons of butter and the grated Parmesan, toss once or twice again, then serve at once.

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