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Fresh "Knitting Needle" Pasta with Goat Sauce

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Sunday, 26 December 2010
List of viewable recipes from "My Calabria" by Rosetta Costantino and Janet Fletcher

Fusilli Calabrese con Sugo di Capra (Fresh "Knitting Needle" Pasta with Goat Sauce)

Recipe from My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino and Janet Fletcher (W. W. Norton & Company, 2010)

ImageFusilli are the signature pasta shape of Calabria, the first shape that every young girl learned at her mother's side in times past. Unlike the corkscrew-shaped pasta that many manufacturers call fusilli, Calabrian fusilli are hollow, spaghetti-length strands made by rolling the fresh dough around a knitting needle. In some parts of Calabria, they are known as maccheroni al ferretto or filej (prounounced fee-LAY), also spelled filei.

Women of my mother's generation are amazingly adept at the technique, having made fusilli for Sunday lunch for years on end. Regrettably, in many Calabrian households, the skill is not being passed down. My home is an exception. Although I am not as swift at shaping fusilli as my mother, my son is a whiz.

The most traditional sauce for fusilli is sugo, a tomato sauce infused with the flavor of braised meat, usually goat. You can make sugo with any cut that benefits from long, slow cooking, such as the shoulder of goat, lamb, or pork. When we kept chickens in Calabria, my mother would sometimes use an old hen or rooster. The sauce absorbs the flavor of the meat, but the meat itself is left behind in the pot when the pasta is sauced. It reappears as a second course, following the pasta and usually accompanied by fried potatoes.

Many Hispanic and Middle Eastern markets carry goat or can get it. It is a dark meat with a rich taste, and if you trim it well, the sauce will not be at all fatty. I like to add a couple of spoonfuls of my homemade tomato paste for added color and depth, but it's not essential.

You will need a No. 1 knitting needle to shape the pasta, or you can make a rod from the long side of a thick wire clothes hanger, snipped from the hanger with wire clippers. If you don't want to make homemade pasta, you can substitute dried pasta. Imported filei Calabresi (also called maccheroni al ferretto) are sporadically available in the United States and would be the closest substitute among dried pasta shapes. Another good choice with this sauce would be strozzapreti ("priest stranglers"). Rustichella d'Abruzzo makes an excellent version (see Resources, page 369). Despite their name, the familiar dried fusilli packaged by manufacturers such as De Cecco and Delverde do not resemble fusilli Calabrese.

Suggested wine: Odoardi "Vigna Garrone," Scavigna, Calabria.   Alternate: Rioja

A smooth red wine with great depth of fruit but only moderate tannins, with aromas of dark chocolate, cardamom, and black cherry; one of Calabria's finest wines.

  • 1½ recipes Homemade Fresh Pasta (page 59) or 1 pound (450 grams) filei Calabresi, strozzapreti, rigatoni, penne, or bucatini


  • 3 pounds (1½ kilograms) bone-in goat, preferably shoulder, trimmed of all visible fat
  • ¼ cup (60 milliliters) extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, halved
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons Homemade Tomato Paste (page 299) or Italian tomato paste, optional
  • 1 quart (1 liter) peeled, seeded, and diced fresh plum tomatoes or Home-Canned Peeled Tomatoes (page 296) or one 28-ounce (800-gram) can Italian San Marzano tomatoes, broken up by hand, with juice
  • 8 to 10 fresh basil leaves, torn into smaller pieces
  • Ground hot red pepper, optional

Freshly grated pecorino or ricotta salata cheese

To shape the fusilli: Work with a little dough at a time and keep the rest covered with a kitchen towel. Cut off a piece of dough about the size of a cigar and roll it into a rope about 3/4 inch (9 millimeters) thick. Cut the rope into 3- to 3½-inch-long (7½- to 9-centimeter-long) pieces. Working with one piece at a time, press a knitting needle into the center of the dough lengthwise. With the palms of both hands, begin rolling the dough around the needle, stretching it along the needle as you roll, until it is about 10 inches long. With one hand, quickly slide the pasta off the needle and place it on top of a kitchen towel until ready to cook. If the dough is properly made and you don't press too hard as you roll, the noodle will come off the needle without sticking. Repeat with the remaining dough. The fusilli may be prepared up to 4 hours ahead and left uncovered at room temperature.

For the sauce: Ask the butcher to saw the goat meat into 12 approximately equal pieces. Heat a heavy 8-quart (8-liter) pot over high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the meat and 6 of the garlic halves. Brown the meat on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the browned garlic, then season the meat with 2 teaspoons salt. Stir in the tomato paste, if using, then add the diced tomatoes, basil, hot pepper to taste, if using, 2 teaspoons salt, and remaining 4 garlic halves. Cover and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the meat is tender and beginning to fall off the bone, about 1½ hours. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the pasta nicely. If it is too thin, cook uncovered for the final few minutes to reduce it. If it is too thick, thin with a little water. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Keep warm.

To cook and dress the pasta: Bring 5 quarts (5 liters) of water to a boil in an 8-quart (8-liter) pot over high heat. Add ¼ cup (35 grams) kosher salt, then add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and transfer the fusilli to a serving bowl or platter. Sprinkle the pasta with grated cheese, then add 1½ cups (375 milliliters) of sauce, leaving the goat meat behind. Toss the pasta and serve immediately. Serve the meat as a second course.

Serves 6


Last Updated ( Sunday, 26 December 2010 )
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