Makaruni are traditional in Istria, a kind of pasta made when there was no time to roll, cut and shape pasta dough. Rolling little pieces of dough between the palms of one’s hands was quick and effective, especially if the children got involved to expedite things.
My grandmother and other women of her generation were truly expert makaruni makers. In no time, they would take a big batch of pasta dough and turn it into slim little noodles. Instead of rolling the little bits of dough back and forth for a second or two, my grandmother could compress and stretch a bit of dough into a perfect makaruni with one swipe of her hands—and flick it right onto her floured tray in the same movement.
Though you might not get that fast, forming makaruni is truly simple and once you start rolling, you’ll quickly become proficient. Today, as when I was a child, the whole process is fun, so get the family to help and the makaruni will be done fast. And in a few minutes you’ll enjoy the great taste and texture of your handiwork.
This delicious sauce is traditionally made with gallinaci or chanterelles, though other mushrooms can be used. Makaruni are also wonderful with the “Amatriciana” sauce of tomato and bacon on page 000.
- For the pasta
- 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for working
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup very cold water or as needed
- For the sauce
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup thinly sliced onion
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
- 2 pounds fresh chanterelles or other mushrooms (mixed varieties) cleaned and sliced
- 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt plus more to cook the makaruni
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, shredded and packed to measure, 4 to 6 leaves
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 cups hot light stock (chicken, turkey or vegetable broth), or more as needed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ½ cup freshly grated Grana Padano
To mix the makaruni dough, put the flour and salt in the food processor and blend for a few seconds. Beat the eggs with a fork, then mix with the water in a measuring cup or other spouted container. Start the food processor running and pour in the liquids through the feed tube. Process for 30 to 40 seconds until a soft dough forms and gathers on the blade. If the dough does not gather and is wet and sticky, process in more flour in small additions. If it is dry and stiff, process in more water, by spoonfuls. Turn out the dough and knead it briefly until smooth, soft and stretchy. Form into a round, cover it in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
To make makaruni, cut off a lemon-size lump of dough and keep the rest wrapped in plastic. Lightly flour the work surface and have a floured tray or baking sheet close at hand. Pinch off 6 or so marble-sized bits of dough. Roll each one between your palms, back and forth, into a strand about 2-inches long and drop it on the floured tray.
The makaruni won’t be uniform so don’t worry if some are fatter and shorter or skinnier and longer. Cut more small bits for rolling, as needed, keeping most of the dough wrapped. Occasionally, flour and toss the rolled strands and separate them on the tray, spaced apart in one layer so they don’t stick together.
To make the mushroom sauce, pour the olive oil into the large skillet and set over medium-high heat. Toss in the garlic, cook until sizzling, then scatter in the sliced onions and shredded sage leaves. Stir well, season with ½ teaspoon salt, and cook until the onions are softened and sizzling. Heap all the sliced mushrooms in the pan, sprinkle over 1 teaspoon salt and tumble the mushrooms over and over with a big spoon, mixing them with the onions and oil.
Cover the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are wilted and bubbling in their own juices. Uncover, raise the heat and cook, tossing and stirring, to evaporate almost all the liquid. Clear a spot in the pan bottom, drop in the tomato paste and stir it in the spot for a minute or so, until toasted and fragrant, then stir it all around the pan, to blend with the mushrooms and onions as they caramelize.
Pour in 1 cup of the hot broth, salt again, stir well and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook at a bubbling simmer, stirring now and then, until the liquid has cooked down and the sauce is very thick. Stir in another ½ cup broth and cook again until quite concentrated. Stir in the remaining ½ cup broth and cook now to a nice saucy consistency, dense but flowing. The addition and cooking in broth should take about 15 minutes total (If the mushrooms are not tender, stir in more broth and cook them longer. Adjust the sauce seasonings adding more salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and stir in the chopped parsley.
Meanwhile, heat 6 quarts of water with a tablespoon salt, to a rolling boil in the large pot. Shake the makaruni in a colander to remove excess flour and drop them all at once into the pot. Stir well and return the water to the boil. At first, the makaruni will drop to the bottom of the pot then rise to the surface of the water. Check for doneness by tasting and cook until just al dente, about 3 minutes or more at the boil.
Bring the mushroom sauce back to a simmer—if it has thickened, loosen it with pasta cooking water. Lift out the makaruni with a spider, drain briefly and drop them onto the sauce. Over low heat, toss together until the pasta is fully dressed and cooked. Turn off the heat and toss in the grated cheese. Serve immediately in warm pasta bowls.