Sunday, November 13, 2011

Strozzapreti pasta shows wicked Italian humor

The special pasta from North-Central Italy called “strozzapreti” (priest stranglers) is a rolled, then twisted, noodle of irregular length.

Provocatively anticlerical — like some sentiment in Catholic Italy — the name strozzapreti (STROTE-tzuh-PRAY-tee) exemplifies the Italian culinary tradition of fanciful titles for delicious foods.

Consider other pastas like linguine (little tongues), vermicelli (little worms), ziti (bridegrooms) and mostaccioli (little mustaches).

Italy gave the world spaghetti “alla puttanesca” ([filtered word]’s style) and “Fra Diavolo” sauce (addressing the Devil as a Catholic monk).

On the darker side, the small, red-tipped Sicilian cakes “Minne di Sant’Agata” commemorate the severed body parts (I’m not making this up; but I’ll let you do the translation) of Saint Agatha, an early Christian martyr in Sicily who was tortured to death for not giving up her chastity to a lecherous Roman official.

But then, Italy also is where Church tradition designated St. Lawrence as patron saint of chefs.

Laurentius, an educated Roman not known to have cooked, was a third century deacon, friend of the pope and archivist for the early church. Martyred during the Valerian persecution, Laurentius was roasted to death on a gridiron, giving him, apparently, the culinary credentials to become my avocation’s patron saint.

Where were we headed with this? Oh, yes, pasta.

Strozzapreti noodles are hard to find here. But some gourmet shops carry them, as do online vendors — including

However substitutes are available, short of making your own. These include “gemelli” (twins), “campanelle” (little bells) and “rotini” (twists).

Kroger carries more varieties than Publix.

The Dekalb Farmers Market in Decatur sells fresh homemade “radiatori” (little radiators) large enough and complex enough to choke a priest, or maybe even a bishop.

To be fair, they probably could do damage to a minister or rabbi, too.

Strozzapreti is served with a variety of sauces, usually chunky. I’m using a walnut-containing sauce adapted from one created by my daughter and co-restaurateur, Anna.

For Anna’s walnut and kale sauce with gorgonzola (she actually uses blue cheese plus bacon), a medium-bodied dry red wine is the call. Sicilian Nero d’Avola does particularly well. Otherwise, try a Chianti, Tuscan red or Malbec.The recipe serves six.

Walnut, Kale and Gorgonzola Sauce for Strozzapreti Pasta

3⁄4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
8 large leaves curly kale, stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped
1⁄4 teaspoon salt (somewhat less if using bacon)
3⁄4 cup crumbled gorgonzola or 1⁄2 cup blue cheese
1 cup light cream
1⁄2 cup water
3 slices bacon, fried, drained and crumbled (optional)
3⁄4 pound (12 ounces) strozzapreti or other short, twisted pasta
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping, optional

Make sauce before boiling pasta.

Toast walnuts on a plate in microwave, starting with 2 minutes, then 20 seconds at a time until toasted. Or toast them in oven. Set aside.

Heat frying pan to medium hot. Briefly fry garlic in oil, stirring, until fragrant. Add kale. Stir and fry briefly. Add salt plus several tablespoons water. Simmer, covered, until kale becomes tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add toasted walnuts and gorgonzola or blue cheese. Heat to melt cheese, stirring often.

Add cream and water. When mixture bubbles, remove from heat. Add bacon, if used. Taste, and add salt, if needed. Keep warm.

Cook pasta in plenty of boiling, well-salted water, stirring while adding pasta. Boil until just tender to the bite.

Drain and toss with sauce. Top with grated Parmesan, if desired.


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