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The Mythic Origins of Strozzapreti Pasta (Priest Stranglers)

Updated on May 20, 2017

A Pasta Named Strozzapreti

The word strozza in Italian means," to choke or strangle," and the word preti means "priests." To note, strozzapreti are included in the list of the most antique pastas, along with lasagne, vermicelli, spaghetti e maccheroni (mafalde, gnocchi, and tortellini).

Strozzapreti is a type of dried pasta typical of Italy, in particular from the area of Romagna in region of Marche. Pasta for the poor was made at home and consisted of simple ingredients, though this one called for skilled hands. The stretched out pasta was flattened with a rolling pin, cut into strips about 1-1.5cm long, cut into 5cm, and then formed by hand one at a a time. This type was smothered in rich sauce, usually a ragù.

The same pasta is made diversely in different zones of Italy. In Trentino, up north, the strangolapreti are gnocchi made with stale bread, spinach, egg, and a Trentinese grain, served with melted butter and sage. In Milano, they add a soft cheese to this recipe.

In Umbria, it's a elongated square-shaped pasta made from flour and water.

In Lazio, Rome area, the strozzapretti are spaghettoni cut by hand and lathered with a layer of tartufo, yum.

In the city of L'Aquila, they resemble thick cords made with semolina and are about 20cm long.

In the south, in Salento, they've become potato gnocchi, in Calabria, a gnocchi made with flour, egg and salt.

The most common recipes are made with:

  • crayfish sauce
  • asparagus and prosciutto
  • wild boar sauce
  • mushrooms and turkey
  • gorgonzola and shrimp

The name “strozzapreti” is used to indicate a pasta that puts one at risk of strangulation or suffocation when they eat it.

Crazy Name for Pasta & its Origins

It makes one think. The name of this pasta is supposed to have been handed down by way of myth from the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. What arose from it were numerous stories, costumes, plays, recipes and jokes.

In a Neapolitan play from 700 A.D., we find the word macaroni-strozzapreti or macaroni-priest stranglers. In the play "Della Porta,"the character known as "La Sorella" (sister) exclaims, "Come on the master is awaiting you at the table with a plate of extraordinarily large macaroni that will strangle you as soon as it's put into your mouth."

There was another joke in another play called "La Tabernaria" that goes like this "Upon his return he found a table set with a plate of ravioli and macaroni stranglers."

Carola Francesconi in "La Cucina Napoletana" of 1977 tells us of a story taking place in the bad section of Naples, a gourmet and hungry priest eats an enormous hill of gnocchi excessively fast and he is suffocated.

The legends makes one think, did something really happen to the priests at the time? It makes you wonder if the name wasn't by accident. Strozzapretti (priest stranglers/chokers), came from pasta created to be very extensive in its length similar to the ropes used by anarchists to literally strangle priests.

Legends of Strozzapreti Conspiracy Against Priests

One of the legends created to explain the origin of the name of this past is reflected in the tradition of the Romagna women who prepared this "type" of pasta as an offer to the priests of the region. All the while, their husbands hoped the priests would choke as they gobbled up minestra. Graziano Pozzetto, expert in cooking in the Romagna tradition, suggests that the etymology of the name can be attributed to the thickness of the strozzapreti which served to tame hunger, so that even a priest would have been choked by it.

Another legend explains and confirms, that the name points to the buckle on a shoe that was made with a long curly leather they then used to strangle the priests in the days of the Pontifical State, when the people were in rebellion against the power of the church.

Another story tells of when a housewife or housekeeper was out of eggs, they'd set out to possess the priest by preparing pasta with only water and flour in hopes the priests would choke on the eggs they didn't have.

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    • Spanish Food profile image

      Lena Durante 12 days ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      What a fascinating bit of food history! It's always so interesting to me how multiple stories arise around the origin of a dish or ingredient. It makes it hard to tell which one might be true, but it's a lot of fun to wonder!

    • jacqklin profile image
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      jacqklin 5 days ago from ITALY

      Thank you Lena. It all started from a visit to wholefoods. I ended up laughing in an aisle alone because I could understand what the name of that pasta meant.

    • Spanish Food profile image

      Lena Durante 5 days ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      That's hilarious, Jacqklin! I'm not sure I've ever noticed it at the grocery store, but now if I ever see it (on shelf or a menu) I'll think of this and have little giggle myself, thanks to you!

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