The region of Romagna in Italy, notorious as a land of sins and sinners, is also the homeland to a number of tasty and curious food delicacies, that go beyond the nowadays very popular piadina (Editor’s note:a type of flat bread popular in bars and restaurants across Italy, but originating in Romagna).
Amongst the pasta dishes, which also include favourites like passatelli in brodo and garganelli all’uovo, strozzapreti dominate the scene. These are thin strips of pasta 4/5 cm long made with flour, water and salt. Once you spread on your working table a thick and homogeneous sheet of pasta dough, you may cut it in strips 1 cm wide, then you twist these among your palms, with a sharp and quick movement. You should be getting pasta strings that may differ in length and/or thickness, which are cooked in boiling water and traditionally dressed with a meat ragout or with strigoli (Silene Vulgaris). Below, I am proposing also other variants that to my taste are just perfect with strozzapreti.
One of the legends created to explain the origin of the name goes back to the tradition of the women from Romagna preparing this type of pasta for the local priest, while the husbands, evidently a little bit more anticlerical, wished the priest would choke while he was stuffing himself with it.Graziano Pozzetto, an expert in tradition and cuisine from Romagna, suggests that the name’s etimology can be taken back to “the good texture of the strozzapreti … which was used to calm the hunger, so well that even the priest (that in the popular imagination was pictured as heavy eater) would have chocked on them”. Signor Pozzetto, in the same book (La cucina romagnola, Franco Muzzio Editore, 1995) gives one more interpretation of the name, linking it to that sharp and firm movement with which the azdora [the housewife in Romagna] ‘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!”.
The anticlericalism, which the above theories can be ascribed to, derives, presumibly, from the fact that Romagna was ‘donated’ to the Pope from the middle of the VII century. During the following few centuries, the Frankish Counts and the Papacy fought over it, until the Emperor Rudolf of Asburg left it in the hands of the Church in 1278.At what point of the papal domination the people from Romagna reached the end of their tether in terms of clerical oppression is not yet clearly determined. What is well known though is that the Romagnoli were always edgy under the papal domination as well as under Imperial rule, and that numerous local lords (Malatesta, Da Polenta, etc.) rebeled on several occasions, until they were definitively brought under the reign of De Borgia, alias the libertine Pope Alexander VI, father to Cesare and Lucrezia, on top of another ten kids, all of them obviously illegitimate.
Romagna remained, with mixed fortunes, under the Papal State until Napoleon and his lads included it in the Repubblica Cispadana. The Napoleonic digression soon came to an end, and in 1815 the Council of Vienna ‘threatened’ to restore the old Papal State. This time around though, the Romagna rebellion was massive, and led, as in other Italian regions, to the revolts of the Risorgimento, to the Garibaldi movement and eventually to the annexation of Romagna by the kingdom of Italy.
Nowadays, this fiery and friendly land has a love-hate relationship with the Church and the Papacy; it should suffice to look at the capital city of the Romagnola Riviera, Rimini, that was collectively excommunicated by the Pope around twenty years ago, because of the immorality of the so called Divertimentificio (fun-factory), but that each year hosts the Meeting for Friendship among People for Comunione e Liberazione (from their official site: “Communion and Liberation is an ecclesial movement whose purpose is the education to Christian maturity of its adherents and collaboration in the mission of the Church in all the spheres of contemporary life”) and the National Convention of the Renewal in the Holy Spirit. Who knows if the delegates attending the former and the miraculously-cured persons attending the latter find the time between a debate and a mass to taste a healthy plate of strozzapreti!