Who doesn’t love Italian food? I certainly always have, but I can’t say I had a real appreciation of the cuisine until I actually travelled to Italy. Experiencing balsamic, parm, and prosciutto at the source was amazing. But it was eating perfectly al dente, perfectly sauced spaghetti in Italy that really blew my mind. The way the Italians can transform something so simple as semolina and water into a transcendent meal is nothing short of alchemy.
I’ve been dying to see other parts of Italy ever since that trip. Until I can go again, a bit of dining chair travel will have to suffice. So I make pasta. A good plate of pasta will transport me, if just for a meal.
This labor intensive pasta, which comes from southern Italy if I’m not mistaken, seems to have countless names, including maccheroni al ferro, maccheroni al ferretto, and maccheroni inferrettati. Google Translate would have you believe that the meaning is “macaroni with underwire” *snicker*, but as far as I can tell it translates to something more along the lines of “macaroni with the iron”, referring to the traditional tool called a fusilli iron used to shape the tubes of pasta.
Fresh Macaroni “with the Iron”
16 ounces semolina
6 ¾ ounces warm water
Combine the semolina and water in a large bowl and mix until a rough dough forms. The dough will seem very dry at this point, but resist the temptation to add more water. Transfer to a work surface and knead for about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for about half an hour.
Cut the dough into eighths. Keeping the remaining dough covered as you work, roll 1 portion of dough into a 3/8-inch thick rope. If the dough springs back as you roll it, cover it with plastic wrap and let it relax for a few minutes before continuing. Using a bench knife, cut the rope into 2-inch pieces.
Press a fusilli iron lengthwise into a piece of the dough.
Roll back and forth, applying light pressure.
The dough should wrap itself around the iron and form a 4 to 5-inch long tube.
Gently slide the macaroni off the iron.
If it’s stuck, give the iron a slight twist while easing off the macaroni. Make more macaroni with the remaining dough in the same manner. As you work, arrange the macaroni in a single layer on lightly floured parchment-lined baking trays. Let dry for a few hours.
Makes about 1 ¼ pounds, enough for 4 to 6 main-course servings. This recipe yields a relatively dry dough. Still, the trickiest part is keeping the macaroni from sticking to the fusilli iron, and you might have to experiment with the amount of pressure you apply when rolling and elongating it. If a macaroni gets stuck and you smush it removing it from the iron, never fear: simply ball it up and try again. By the way, if you don’t own a fusilli iron, a bamboo skewer will work just as well if not even better, as dough sticks less to wood than to smooth metal. Knitting needles are often used as well. Cook the macaroni as you would any other pasta, in a large pot of boiling, salted water for 6 to 8 minutes, or until al dente. It’s pictured here with Angry Tomato Sauce made with bacon instead of pancetta.