Maccheroni alla chitarra with fresh tomato sauce, anchovies, ricotta and mint

Pasta with fresh tomato sauce, ricotta, mint and anchovies (or capers).
Pasta with fresh tomato sauce, ricotta, mint and anchovies (or capers). Photo: William Meppem

Maccheroni alla chitarra (or spaghetti alla chitarra) is a specialty of Abruzzo in central Italy. The pasta sheets are cut into by pushing them against what resemble guitar strings – hence the name (chitarra is Italian for "guitar") – resulting in a spaghetti-like shape with squared edges. You can, of course, use any pasta for this, but I do like the point of difference with what is a very simple sauce.

Ingredients

8 large ripe, juicy tomatoes*, cored and quartered

1½ tsp sugar

2 tsp salt

180ml extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, finely diced

5 quality anchovies*

3 tsp dried mint

½ tsp chilli powder

salt flakes and freshly ground

black pepper

600g fresh egg and semolina pasta – or semolina pasta without egg

350g fresh ricotta

15 mint leaves, roughly torn

80ml extra virgin olive oil

finely grated grana padano or parmigiano-reggiano, to serve

Method

1. Using a stick blender or food processor, blitz the tomatoes with sugar and salt until very smooth.

2. Heat the oil in a large, deep frying-pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and fry until softened and beginning to caramelise (about 10 minutes).

3. Add the anchovies and stir through until melted in. Then add the tomato pulp, dried mint and chilli powder and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper and continue to simmer gently for about 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, cook the semolina pasta in plenty of well-salted, boiling water.

5. Place the ricotta in a serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper, scatter over the mint leaves and drizzle over the oil. Set aside.

6. Once cooked to al dente, lift the pasta from the water with a slotted spoon and add to the sauce. Toss through the sauce until it clings to the pasta. Add a drizzle of olive oil if needed. 

7. Serve with the ricotta on the side to be spooned over the pasta at the table. Sprinkle over the grana padano or parmigiano-reggiano (you can also use parmesan, if you prefer).

*Notes: You absolutely must use superior tomatoes at peak ripeness, or a little beyond. Also, please don't skimp on the quality of the anchovies; while the flavour imparted is subtle, the purity of the umami-laced brininess is important. Don't like anchovies? Use a tablespoon of small capers instead. It will still be fabulous.