What Type Of Pasta Is Tonnarelli And What Sauces Does It Pair Best With?

Should you find yourself eating a romantic dinner in Rome, you'll likely find cacio e pepe on the menu. A famous dish in the Italian city, cacio e pepe is a simple and flavorful pasta dish comprised of peppercorns and Pecorino Romano cheese. At the heart of the dish is tonnarelli, a pasta similar in appearance to spaghetti but with a few key differences. Known also by the name of spaghetti alla chitarra, tonnarelli pasta is thicker than spaghetti and has square edges, while spaghetti is rounded. Most commonly found in central and southern Italy, it's thought that tonnarelli was first created in Lazio in the region of Rome. In nearby areas, the same pasta is made but goes by other names, such as maccheroni crioli in Molise. But no matter what it is called, tonnarelli has proven to be a popular and versatile pasta. 

Classified as an egg pasta, tonnarelli is considered wide at 2 to 3 millimeters and has a rough texture, making it great for sauce, which will adhere to it better. However, you don't need to be dining al fresco in Italy to enjoy tonnarelli. Making the classic pasta at home is very doable; All that is needed is a few ingredients and a pasta-making tool.

How tonnarelli is made

The dough for tonnarelli is made using only a few simple ingredients: semolina flour, all-purpose flour (or even better would be Italian "oo" flour) and large eggs. Semolina flour will provide a bite to the pasta and the Italian "oo" flour will result in a smoother and softer tonnarelli than regular flour.

To make the tonnarelli dough, three large, whisked eggs are combined with flour. The dough should be kneaded for about 10 minutes until elastic and smooth in texture. Then, the dough needs to be allowed to rest for about 30 minutes while covered in plastic wrap. The dough is then rolled out into a size that will fit well on the chitarra pasta tool, which is comprised of strings stretched between boards of wood. After sprinkling the chitarra with flour, the dough should be placed on it and then a rolling pin should be run over it until the pasta is cut and falls through. Finally, the pasta should be dusted with flour to keep it from sticking together and cooked in salted boiling water for about six minutes. 

Tonnarelli pairs well with these sauces

Some of the best pasta dishes to showcase the tonnarelli are carbonara, gricia, and cacio e pepe — or even a simple tomato or pesto sauce. Speaking to Thrillist, chef Chris Curtiss said you can't go wrong pairing a tomato-based sauce with tonnarelli because of how its thick texture feels in the mouth. At his restaurant, North Italia, Curtiss chose to make tonnarelli with squid ink and then served it with a spicy tomato sauce. Acknowledging that using squid ink to make pasta might be a bit much for many home cooks, Curtiss recommends swapping regular tonnarelli with spaghetti in dishes you normally would have used the latter. With the substitution, the dish will feel elevated. 

There are also favorite sauces to pair with tonnarelli based on the region. In Abruzzo and Molise, a ragù made of lamb, pork, or beef is popular while less common are sauces made with wild boar and hare. Another popular way to serve tonnarelli in Abruzzo and Molise is with tomato sauce and small meatballs made of beef called chitarra alla teramana. 

No matter which sauce is used, relax and let the flavors take you to Italy.