That week between Christmas and New Year is known in our house as the Festival of In Between. It is a curious, untethered time when people don’t know what day it is, or whether the shops are open or not.
Rather than questioning who we are and why we exist at all, we try to have casual meals with less exhausted people to eat up the last of the ham and all that panettone.
At lunch the other day, I made strozzapreti for a new friend who has recently transferred to the University of Adelaide from a town near Bologna. “Strozzapreti” means to “strangle the priest” so perhaps it was a macabre way to feed a newly made friend. It was all a bit of a joke in our house but my friend saw it as a political statement and relished the opportunity to talk local politics.
She did not recognise my meticulously made pasta shapes. In the region of Emilia where she comes from, the dough for strozzapreti is made from flour, water, Parmesan cheese and egg whites, all beaten together. The effect, indeed the intention, is the same though: to strangle that pesky parish priest who calls just before meal times and then proceeds to eat all the pasta!
Her balls of dough, more like gnocchi to my mind, are big enough to get caught in the throat. “And good riddance", was her last comment.
There are ‘strozzapreti’ in most regions of Italy and each region has a legend to explain the origin of the name. My friend, la emiliana, comes from a very politically active town, one which is decidedly anti-cleric. Her father’s fervent hope was that the rustic balls of deliciousness would, in fact, choke the greedy, money grabbing minister.
But another friend from Le Marche, tells the story that in days gone by, they would invite the priest to lunch and feed him so well that he might overlook any unpaid rent for the fields they leased at exorbitant rates from the church. You can imagine a poor, down trodden casalinga working that pasta hard and hoping that she could throttle the priest with it.
Recipe for Pasta Dough (see also blog: Pasta - An ancient science. Feb. 6th 2018)
300 g '00' flour
1 whole egg, plus 2 egg yolks
Bring the ingredients together and knead for at least 6-8 minutes. Cut into 4 even pieces.
I rolled each of the small portions of the dough into thick, flat sheets. I used a rolling pin – I’m on holidays, I have all the time in the world, but you could roll it with a machine set to the widest opening. Now, cut the dough into long strips, which are lightly rolled between the palm of one hand and the pasta board. The strips are cut into 10 cm pieces.
I served mine with an intense meat ragu – my friend commented that if the pasta didn’t kill the priest, perhaps the richness of the sauce would.