The Mythic Origins of Strozzapreti Pasta (Priest Stranglers)
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, and 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 the Marche region. 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 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 an 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 make 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.