Church and State and Pasta?

The legends of pasta shapes are often mingled with historical happenings. Of course, as typical of legends, there are many different versions that arise. I happened upon a set of these stories when I picked up a package of strozzapreti pasta at an Italian deli in
San Francisco. The owner, who looked a little like Super Mario, asked if I knew what strozzapreti meant in Italian. I sheepishly admitted “no” in Italian. (Which is the same as in English, which tells you a little about my Italian language skills.)
Mario then said it meant “priest stranglers” and demonstrated by making the universal choking sign around his throat. I left little Italy, quickly, saying a few Hail Mary’s as I passed the Catholic church.
After a little research I found several stories about how the name strozzapreti came to exist. All the legends were based on the fact that in the middle ages the roman catholic church were the landowners in Italy. The peasants paid rents to the church and sometimes in lieu of rent the Italian peasant women would do what they did best and make the priests a good hot meal. Strozzapretti was frequently served. You can choose your favorite story associated with this infamous pasta shape to entertain your diners at home.
1. When the women were forced to make chow for their landlords they were angry enough to choke a priest!
2. The husbands were so livid their wives were making this beautiful pasta for the landowners they wished the priests would choke on the meal.
3. The gluttonous priests loved this pasta so much, they gobbled it too quickly and they choked.

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This pasta is cut from folded pasta dough, then strangled, uh I mean twisted, between the fingers. It is a thicker pasta so holds up well with hearty sauces and pesto. Since my basil is overflowing on my patio, I chose to try it with homemade pesto.
The word pesto comes from the Italian word pestare which means to crush or pound. The pesto I made for the strozzapreti is the one most of you are familiar with, Pesto Genovese. It originated in Genoa, Italy where a mortar and pestle was used to “crush” all the ingredients together to make this mouthwatering emulsion.  Crush, Pound, Strangle…sheesh, my ancestors were a violent bunch!

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Pesto Genovese

Makes 1 Cup

3 tablespoons Pine Nuts, lightly toasted
2 cups fresh Basil Leaves
2 cloves Garlic, peeled
Pinch of Salt
½ cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano

Using your mortar and pestle begin by crushing the garlic cloves until creamy…tick tock, tick tock…or if you’re like me and time and patience are limited, throw everything in your blender and let it do it’s thing until the pesto is creamy and lucious. That’s all there is to it! A little of this sauce goes a long way, so you may want to add it to your cooked pasta a few tablespoons at a time until each ” priest choker” is enrobed with just enough basil, garlicky goodness.

Looks like Dr. Love and the Juniors are hungry as Monks after a three day fast. Time to feed the landlords! Since I prefer legend number 3, I better tell them not to devour it too quickly. I haven’t brushed up on my heimlich maneuver in a while.

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