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There’s a Name for That

Posted on 1/30/2018 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

Every Italian pasta shape has a little story to tell—but none so intriguing as “strozzapreti,” which literally means “priest strangler.”

Question: If you ask the waiter to substitute twins for your priest strangler and he apologizes that tonight they only have butterflies and ears, what are you eating—and where?

Answer: Pasta in Italy.

Move over spaghetti: in Italy’s restaurants you have hundreds of starchy competitors. Italy magazine reported that there are 350 shapes of pasta—and so many variations in size that there are as many as 1500 names to remember. (Spaghetti, for instance, means “little twine,” so spaghettini means even littler twine.)

One of the most unforgettable pasta names is strozzapreti: priest strangler. The long, hand-rolled pasta looks like pieces of cavatelli that got stretched until they resemble twisted ropes. Popular in Tuscany, Umbria, and the Emilia-Romagna, strozzapreti have a firm bite and hold up well to hearty dishes, but at first glance nothing in their appearance suggests that they could actually kill anybody.

Legends abound about how they got their deadly name. Mostly, the stories reveal the angry sentiments of poorer people towards the clergy who once controlled the purse strings of the region. One claim is that the priests would make local women cook for them, and this made the women so mad that they strangled the pasta, instead of the pastors. Another says the husbands were so angry that they wished death on the men of the cloth. A third says that the boorish, gluttonous priests would eat the pasta so fast that they choked on it. A less grim version is that the strozzapreti look like the collars priests were forced to wear, known colloquially as chokers.

Few other pastas come with such murderous backstories, but there is plenty of whimsy in the names and the shapes. It’s only the flavor that Italians take seriously.

Pasta pop quiz: Which names’ meanings are real and which are fake?

  • Fusilli lunghi are spindles you might use to make thread

  • Rochietti are the spool the thread would go on

  • Gemelli aren’t just twists; they’re Gemini-style twins

  • Rotelle are chariot-style wheels with big spokes

  • Manicotti are sleeves, muffs, and manacles

  • Linguini are little tongues to tempt the tongue

  • Orecchiette are adorable baby ears

  • Farfalle are butterflies that were never caterpillars

  • Vermicelli are squiggly little worms

  • Campanelle are little fluted bells that do not make a sound

  • Cavatappi are corkscrews to pair with wine, not open it

  • Cappelletti look like the alpine hats of the people eating them

  • Mafalda Reginette are little queens with frilly edges but firm spines

  • Pipe Regate are smoking pipes minus the tobacco

  • Fagottini are little tied bundles of goodness (you decide what kind)

Answer: All real. Isn’t that delicious?

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