Monday, May 30, 2011

Strozzapreti-Gemelli with Tomato, Shallot and Mint

I have been meaning to make strozzapreti for a while, and since my flight got in relatively early in the day, I figured I'd have plenty of time before dinner to take a shot at them. Strozzapreti are a fresh pasta cut into strips and twisted into an open spiral. The long strozzapreti are usually served with a ragu containing meat, but we didn't have anything appropriate to make that kind of sauce. If you continue twisting the strozzapreti, they double over and become a kind of gemelli, with a dense texture and significant internal capacity suitable for a simple vegetable sauce, so that's what I made. The pasta is simple and conventional, one egg and enough flour to make an elastic pasta that isn't too wet, just under a cup. If the pasta is too wet the noodle collapses when twisted and just becomes a thick, solid lump. The noodle needs to maintain an internal hollow to allow the sauce to penetrate. I used unbleached white flour for this batch, but would prefer stronger flour like bread flour because the higher gluten content makes a more elastic dough. We didn't have any bread flour, and a couple of the noodles did have little breaks in them. Sue me.

I let the dough rest under plastic for about a half hour to hydrate and form gluten before I worked it in the machine. I've found that running the pasta through the machine several times on each thickness setting, folding it double between turns, makes for a stronger, more elastic dough. Elastic is the word for today. I finished the roll-out on setting number 5, which is one shy of the thinnest setting on my machine, and what I would use for any wide-cut noodle.

If there's a quick technique for making these strozzapreti-gemelli I couldn't figure it out intuitively. This noodle isn't traditional in Piedmonte where my family originates, so even if I had a surviving grandmother I don't think I could have learned it from her. I just rubbed them between my palms to get the twist started and then on the board to tighten them into gemelli. I don't know if it's important to let the pasta dry to set the shape, but rather than risk having them unravel in the boiling water I let these dry out until the surface was firm. Most fresh pasta is cooked in a flash, but these are more substantial and require a little more time, four or five minutes in the water, and another minute or two in the sauce.

For the sauce I made a fine dice of a small shallot (we were out of onions) and a couple cloves of garlic and sweated them in about two tablespoons of butter, fortified with a glug of olive oil. Once they were soft, I added some capers and a couple of pickled Thai birds-eye chilies from last summer's crop. The alley garden has totally saved my bacon (pasta) a hundred times since we started it. In addition to the mint, which is making an appearance daily, that one little Thai chili plant produced a bucket of little red firecrackers last year. We dried a bunch and I still have a pint or so that JSP pickled. I added the just-boiled noodles and a ladle of the boiling water, and once the sauce tightened almost to serving consistency, I crushed a couple of canned tomatoes into the skillet and tossed the pasta to combine. On the plate I added some chopped mint, drizzled some olive oil and decorated with chopped almonds and coarse grated parmigiano.

The name strozzapreti literally means "priest choker" or "strangles priests." It is thought to make reference to the priests who charged rent to farm on church-owned land. When the priest came to collect the rent, he would expect a meal, and if the meal happened to choke him to death, so much the better. The curious position the church holds in Italy is a marvel, simultaneously adored and reviled, it has historically been both the moral authority and an example of contemptible corruption. Mama would love her son to become a priest, but fantasized about strangling a priest with her pasta.

I was happy with the pasta, though it choked nobody to death, but I need to get some strong flour before making them again. Also, I need to have somebody show me how to make the noodles faster. (vg)

4 comments:

  1. the old nonnas in campania use a straight piece of wire clothes hanger to roll the Strozzapreti shape quickly

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  2. That sounds like it would work great. I have some little skewers that would probably work just as well. I'm now anxious to try another batch.

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  3. 6.20 on this video they're making it

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ711--H2hE

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  4. The best, most memorable plate of pasta I have ever eaten - in Bologna - was comprised of strozzapreti with sage and pancetta. I am tempted to dig out the pasta machine and have a go at these.

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