A Tasty Pasta Recipe With Spinach, Garlic, and Guanciale Sauce
I don't even know where this recipe for strozzapreti pasta with spinach, garlic, and guanciale sauce came from because I prepared it before we moved to Utah. I liked it enough to add the recipe to my drafts to be completed later so here we go.
Strozzapreti Pasta (stroh-tzuh-PRAY-tee)
Strozzapreti is similar to cavatelli pasta but elongated. They look like short twisted pasta that is typically rolled by hand but I'm guessing commercial companies have been able to figure out how to make them by machine.
I found this good video on YouTube explaining how Strozzapreti is made by hand. The video shows you how to make the dough from scratch, but I started it at the point of making the pasta and finished with how to cook it. This is not me in the video but it is a great explanation of how it is twisted.
A Little History of Strozzapreti
Strozzapreti is a specialty from north-central Italy. You'll find it in Tuscany, Umbria, and especially in Emilia-Romagna. The name strozzapreti translated means "priest strangler", preti means priest, and strozza means to strangle.
So why the strange name for pasta? The story I read goes back to the 1800s when the Papal State (the Catholic church) decided everything including the land, rivers, and mountains belonged to the church. Everything was taxed and over time they continuously raised those taxes and thus angered the farmers and local peasants living in this north-central part of Italy.
The priests, whose appetites were as large as their greed would stop into local villages on their way to Rome demanding a huge meal and a place to sleep. The locals had no choice but to comply.
The church also confiscated milk and eggs from the farmers so the farmers were forced to make pasta without eggs. Legend has it that when the women of this area made the popular strozzapreti pasta for the clergymen, they would curse them as they twisted the short pasta imagining the "strangling the fat throat of a purple-cloaked bishop."
There is so much more about the history of this pasta on the internet, but I really like the story told here.
If you don't want to make strozzapreti pasta by hand, you can find strozzapreti at most Italian specialty stores or online. If you can't find it, you can try substituting fusilli, penne, or gemelli.
Guanciale - (gyaan chaa lay)
Not everyone has heard of this delicacy from Italy but it is a critical ingredient for some Italian classic dishes like Bucatini all'Amatricianna and Spaghetti all Carbonara. If you have a gourmet specialty market, you should be able to find some especially if it is an Italian market. You probably won't find it in your everyday supermarket unless you are shopping at a Wegmans or Whole Foods.
Guanciale is a cured meat coming from pork cheeks or jowls. The pork cheek is rubbed with salt and an array of spices and then cured for about three weeks. By this time, it will lose as much as 30% of its original weight.
Guanciale Is Not Pancetta
Not to be confused with pancetta, a salt-cured meat coming from the pork belly, Guancialeis considered having a more delicate texture. It is an incredible ingredient for adding depth of flavor to Italian dishes and sauces.
Pancetta is another wonderful cured meat to cook with or use in a variety of dishes and is often substituted for Guanciale when not available, but if you can find it, buy some and try it in your next dish or any recipe that calls for bacon to enhance flavor.
You can try this other recipe featuring guanciale at Braised Beans and Spinach with Pecorino Romano Cheese Recipe.
Pasta with Spinach, Garlic and Guanciale Sauce
- Bring a large pot of water to boil for cooking the pasta. When it comes to a boil, add salt, stir and toss in the strozzapreti pasta—Cook following directions for al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the guanciale and cook for approximately 5 to 7 minutes until it renders some of its fat and starts to brown. Stir continuously, so the guanciale doesn't burn.
- Add the minced garlic to the rendered fat toward the end of the guanciale cooking. Add a tablespoon of olive oil if you think there is not enough rendered fat. Saute the garlic for 1 minute until it releases its wonderful fragrance.
- Add the spinach and stir to combine. The spinach will wilt rather quickly, about 1 or 2 minutes.
- When the sauce is done, hopefully, the pasta is perfect al dente. Before draining, remove and reserve about ½ cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and place back in the pot it was cooked in.
- If the sauce looks too thick, add a tablespoon at a time of the reserved pasta water. This will thin out the sauce a little and help the sauce stick to the pasta.
- Add the sauce to the pasta pot and stir to coat the strozzapreti pasta with sauce.
- Plate onto your favorite pasta bowls, top with hot pepper flakes if you want the dish a little spicier, and then some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. I like to add a little high end freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil to give the pasta more mouthfeel.