Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Lamb Ragu

Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Lamb Ragu

Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Spiced Lamb Ragù

One of the most popular dishes of the Italian region of Abruzzo is spaghetti alla chitarra. It is also known as maccheroni alla chitarra – but the long noodles are more similar to spaghetti than what we call macaroni-shaped pasta, so “spaghetti” is often used outside of Abruzzo.

A chitarra is the implement used to make the noodles, it looks, and when strummed, sounds like a guitar, hence its name. It is a wooden frame that is strung with many parallel wires. A long rectangle of pasta dough is pushed through the wires with a rolling pin to make the noodles. I show how to make spaghetti alla chitarra in the next post, here.

A hearty lamb ragù is most often paired with these robust noodles. With its mountainous pastures and grassy plains,  Abruzzo has been an ideal environment for sheep-farming for centuries. I’ve spiced my lamb ragù with toasted fennel, cinnamon, and oregano. It’s topped with pecorino, an Italian cheese made from ewe’s milk.

For fun, I styled and photographed the dish in the dramatic style of late 16th century Italian master painter, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

Spiced Lamb Ragù Recipe


  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  •  6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c. dry red wine
  • 2 t. fennel seeds
  •  1 1/2 t. cinnamon, ground
  • 2 t. oregano, dried
  • 3 bay leaves
  •  1/2 t. chili flakes, or to taste
  • 1 28 oz. can whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • salt to taste
  • grated pecorino cheese, to serve
  • mint, to garnish

Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Lamb Ragu


Brown lamb in a skillet. Drain off as much fat as possible then set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and carrot and cook until soft. Add garlic and cook another few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour in red wine, raise the heat to medium-high and reduce by half.

Meanwhile, toast fennel seeds in a dry skillet. Crush seeds with a mortar and pestle.

Add fennel, cinnamon, oregano, and bay to the pot.

Add lamb and tomatoes to the pot. Crush the tomatoes with a potato masher. Add about a cup of water.

Simmer one hour, covered with lid slightly ajar, stirring occasionally.

Add salt to taste.

Spaghetti alla Chitarra

To Serve Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Lamb Ragu:

Toss spaghetti (recipe here) with spiced lamb ragù. Sprinkle with grated pecorino and garnish with fresh mint. Serve with Italian red wine.

Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Lamb Ragu

Buon Appetito Caravaggio!

Thank You

Extending a very special Thank You to my long-time blogger friend, Linda, for the awesome chitarra which she gave away on her fabulous blog, Ciao Chow Linda, back in 2012! I was the lucky recipient…

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