Thursday, April 10, 2008

Strozzapreti with Asparagus and Smoked Salmon

You might want to strangle your parish priest for putting you through those long homilies every Sunday, but why not invite him to dinner instead? You may be able to persuade him to cut his sermon time in half (and spend more time on the golf course) by plying him with a little pasta and wine. May I suggest Strozzapreti with Asparagus and Smoked Salmon? Never heard of this strange sounding pasta?

Strozzapreti means "strangle the priest" or "priest choker" in Italian. There are several legends to explain its origin. One is that in the Italian countryside, it's the custom to invite the parish priest for Sunday dinner. As the priest is often poor, he rarely buys meat. The host, in an effort to conserve the roast, fills the priest with pasta to the choking point during the first course so he won't overindulge on the meat during the second course.

Strozzapreti is a handmade rustic pasta that hails from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy near the top of the boot - the same region that produces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, balsamic vinegar, Prosciutto di Parma, and Tagliatelle alla Bolognese - so it's in good company. It's hand-rolled into irregular cylinders about three inches long, but is rarely uniform in size. The food purveyors at Dean & DeLuca call it "penne with an attitude". It's a bit capricious as it doesn't always cook evenly so you have to watch it carefully while cooking - better a little underdone than mushy. Test a couple of the cylinders to make sure they are "al dente".

Although it may be hard to find at big chain grocers, Strozzapreti is available at Williams-Sonoma, Dean & DeLuca, and many other speciality food markets. I have found it without difficulty at the gourmet market at Sam's Wines & Spirits in the Chicago area.

I like the combination of asparagus and smoked salmon at this time of year when fresh asparagus is readily available. You may substitute a pound of shrimp (toss the raw shrimp in at the same time as the asparagus) for the salmon or whatever will encourage your parish priest (or any clergyperson) to get off the pulpit sooner. It can be served as a first course or for lunch, as well as a main dish. Pair with a Sauvignon Blanc or an unoaked Chardonnay.


1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely snipped chives
1 lb. strozzapreti or penne pasta
2 lbs fresh asparagus, trimmed and diagonally cut into 2-inch pieces
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup low salt chicken broth
1/3 cup dry white wine or white vermouth
juice and rind (colored part only) of 1 large lemon
4-6 oz. smoked salmon, cut into julienne strips
freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and chives and stir until the crumbs brown, about 4 minutes. Set aside.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook until the asparagus is crisp-tender and the pasta is al dente, about 5-8 minutes (watch carefully). Drain the pasta and the asparagus and return to the pot. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat. Add the warm cream and the remaining ingredients to the pot and toss well with the burner on low until heated through. Add the bread crumb-chive mixture and a few grinds of the pepper and toss again. Serve immediately.

Today's post is dedicated to the memory of Reverend Victor J. Sivore. Father Sivore was half Irish, half Italian and one hundred percent lovable. He was a dear friend and a wonderful priest and shepherd. Wherever you are Vic, mangia, mangia!