Sunday, November 01, 2009

Strozzapreti with Roasted Tomatoes

I made this recipe the other night for supper. It's from the New York Times: a series they call "recipes for health.," I've tried a couple of the recipes now and I have to say I'm hooked! I'll try to go back there every week and see what's up.

Anyway, strozzapreti is a hand-rolled, hollow pasta. In Italian the word means "priest choker." Rather than summarize the origin of that, I'll past the Wikipedia story about it here:

"There are several legends to explain the name "priest choker".

One is that gluttonous priests were so enthralled by the savory pasta that they ate too quickly and choked themselves, sometimes to death. Another explanation involves the "azdora" ("housewife" in the Romagna's dialect), who "chokes" the dough strips to make the strozzapreti: "... in that particular moment you would presume that the azdora would express such a rage (perhaps triggered by the misery and difficulties of her life) to be able to strangle a priest!" Another legend goes that wives would customarily make the pasta for churchmen as partial payment for land rents (In Romagna, the Catholic Church had extensive land properties rented to farmers), and their husbands would be angered enough by the venal priests eating their wives' food to wish the priests would choke as they stuffed their mouth with it. The name surely reflects the diffuse anticlericalism of the people of Romagna and Tuscany."

Ha! I do have to say that the explanation about choking the dough to make it is pretty accurate. And it is a very thick, chewy pasta. So as a food it is highly choke-able. At any rate, it was fun to make and the guys immediately volunteered that we should have it again. I do have to say, though, that it took about an hour to make the pasta. I suspect each time I make it, it will take less time. I had a pretty good rhythm going by the time I was half-way through the batch so it went a lot faster. It doesn't really make a huge pot of pasta. But it's so thick and filling that it was plenty for the three of us with another small serving left for my lunch. The recipe says it serve two, but I think you'd be uncomfortably full. Also...I almost forgot...another reason I like this recipe is because it calls for fresh tomatoes, which I love. But fresh slicing tomatoes are a no-no in our house when they are out of season because they taste so plastic. Cherry tomatoes, however, are pretty good and available all year around.

Strozzapreti with Roasted Tomatoes

12 oz (about 22) cherry tomatoes, halved
3 T olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 C finely grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
1/2 C firmly pack fresh basil or parsley leaves

1 C grano duro flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs

First the sauce:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, gently toss the tomatoes, 1 Tablespoon of the oil and 4 of the garlic cloves. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet, cut sides of the tomatoes up. Roast until soft and collapsing, about 45 minutes. Do not allow them to dry or brown.
Meanwhile, in a food processor combine the remaining garlic clove, cheese and basil or parsley. Process until very finely chopped. It will look granular. When the tomatoes are done, immediately spread the cheese-herb mixture on top of them and mash them lightly with the back of a spoon so the cheese melts. Drizzle with 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.

The strozzapreti:
Mound the 1 cup of flour on the counter, make a well in the center and drop in the eggs and flour. Using your hands, mix the eggs in the well, gradually pushing in more and more flour to make a pasty dough. Add more flour if needed, but don't let it get too stiff. You don't want it to be too sticky to shape with your hands and you don't want it too stiff and dry. Think about play-dough. Make it a little bit stiffer than that.
Roll the dough out onto a floured surface (wooden surfaces work best) until it's as thin as you can make it. Be sure you have enough flour down that you can pick up the dough easily. Cut the dough into strips about 1 inch wide and 3 inches long. Don't worry about being exact.
Pick up a strip and wind it around a skewer. Bamboo would best but I just used a metal kabob skewer. Squeeze it onto the skewer (choking the priest) and then slide it off the end. It takes a little practice to get it down, but after several you'll figure out your own technique. Lay the strozzapreti out on a plate until you are all done.

Cook the strozzapreti in a large pot of boiling salted water. You want the pasta to be tender and slightly chewy, but cooked through. When it's done, drain it and pour into a large bowl. Immediately add the tomato mixture, tossing quickly.