Sometimes, what’s needed to soothe the mind is an open afternoon and a pound of pasta dough. Maybe the game is on the radio, or perhaps there’s nothing better to listen to than the cars on the street and the birds in the trees. And I like to think of the other cooks who might, at the exact same moment and wherever they might be, be taking the same humble pleasure in preparing – by hand – something delicious for their loved ones.
I’ve always enjoyed the word strozzapreti – a uniquely Italian irreverence meaning “priest strangler”. The association being that the dish was so delicious that the priest nearly did himself in with greed. And strozzapreti are very good – they seem to be the very definition of toothsome; firm yet supple, and with enough solidity to ensure a good mouthful with every bite. In the harmonious way Italians have in marrying pasta shapes with sauces, strozzapreti are known for the ability to support meat sauces with ease.
I used my pasta machine to first roll out the semolina egg dough – and not too thinly either. I stopped at number six (or you could even go to seven), and then hand cut the sheets into squares and then long individual rectangles, 2″ x 3/4″ approximately. Then it was easy to fold the rectangles length-wise, pinch the ends closed, twist them tightly and roll down to secure the twists. It sounds far more complicated than the actual operation, and if your version of strozzapreti are more tube-like than twists, no one will complain.
And as for a harmonious dressing, I’d had the idea for some time to combine a long-braised sausage sugo with walnuts. I was aiming for a “dry”sauce – braised in its own juices (or a little water), without the addition of wine. Finely chopped walnuts enhanced an already rich sauce, but added a natural acidity as well. And to support and uplift the sauce, to make the dish complete, was the pleasingly toothsome bite of strozzapreti. We managed not to strangle ourselves, but T and I did eat greedily and contentedly that night.Recipe: Strozzapreti Pasta and Sausage Sugo with Walnuts serves 4 For the pasta – combine 2 cups very fine semolina flour with two eggs, and enough water to make a firm dough. Roll out the pasta as described above, placing the finished pasta on a kitchen towel dusted lightly with flour. The towel keeps the pasta from sticking together, and from drying out. For the sauce – use 1 lb. best-quality spicy or mild Italian pork sausages. Chop 1 whole onion finely, and sauté in olive oil. Remove meat from casings, and add to the sautéed onions, stirring to brown. Add a large spoonful of tomato paste or crushed tomatoes, lower the heat, and let braise for about an hour. Check frequently, and add small amounts of water as needed. When finished, add 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts, and set aside until needed. You should not need to add additional salt, but you can add fresh (I like marjoram) or dried herbs (oregano, fennel, bay leaf) if your sausages are not strongly seasoned. Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water until al dente – it will take about 10 minutes after adding the pasta and the water has returned to a boil. Drain, reserving a bit of the pasta cooking water, and toss with the sauce. Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.