ll Cibo é L'essenza Della Vita....

"The rooms that you use on a daily basis are the rooms people will always want to sit in, because they have soul." --Bunny Williams


"If you want to live forever and ever, drink wine and eat maccheroni." ~~~Sicilian Proverb

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Priest Stranglers and a Tiramisu Cheesecake

Happy Sunday!! 
    First of all, we want to thank you all for welcoming us to Blogland so enthusiastically. Every day I open my email and find the nicest notes from new friends. We love hearing your stories and are so happy that you enjoy ours.

     Since it is Sunday, I thought I could show you a recipe that had some sort of religious background story.
     And since I'm a little warped at times, the first thing that came to mind was Strangolaprete- roughly translated as Priest Strangler. Apparently this was a little joking jab at local priests who would come to dinner and gobble down so much of the family's food, they would strangle themselves with gluttony . I've also heard it as Strezzolopretti or Strezzoprete, depending on the local dialect.  You will sometimes find them on restaurant menus as Spinach Gnocchi, but how boring is that! Traditionally served with sage butter, they can also be topped with a Bolognese or Ragu, but I believe those sauces overwhelm the delicate flavors. These little dumplings make a great side to a simple roast chicken or meat dish.

        Local dialects are a source of great pride in Italy. A true Italian can meet a stranger and know immediately where he's from- if not the exact town, at least the general vicinity. The dialects vary so greatly as to become almost a completely different language going from North to South in the country.

    Then there's what I like to call "immigrant dialect". When my Grandma Josie and her sisters came over from Sicily as young girls, they had to learn to adapt to the ways and language of their new country, but still keep their heritage intact. My Aunt Katie, the oldest sister, never did learn as much of the English. She was older when they came and married an Italian, so there was not the great need. She got by in her lifetime very well with her broken English and her great spirit. My grandmother Josie was a bit younger and had to go to work. Out of necessity, she learned the language, but, as did most of the immigrants around her in her Brooklyn neighborhood, she "melded" the American ways and the English language with her native tongue.
       One great example of this (that any Brooklyn Italian knows) is the word "bakowsa" which means the "potty". Apparently, when the earliest immigrants came over, indoor plumbing was still a rare luxury. They were taught by their American neighbors to use the "back house" or outhouse. In the typical Italian way, they simply added a vowel- in this case an A- to back house. Hence, back-house-a.



And so the Italian language evolved

Aren't they too cute?!

    My parents got married in Italy where my Dad was stationed in the Army and met my mother. 

He cut quite a figure

My Sicilian grandparents in Brooklyn were unable to attend at the last minute, because my grandfather had suffered a mild heart attack and was unable to travel. 
For the first few months of their married life, my parents lived in her family's house in Vicenza while my father worked at the Army base

My Dad with some of the family at an outdoor trattoria

Six months later when Dad's tour of duty was over, they were to head back to the States to live. My mother was a 21 year old new bride, who did not speak a word of English and had never left her parents' home. Due to Army regulations, my father was forced to travel by ship and Mom flew to NY to be met by her new family.
         Keep in mind that this meant that approximately 65 rowdy Sicilians were standing at the airport terminal with a small photograph in their hands. This family was not known for being discreet
   My mother walked out into the terminal to be greeted by my diminutive but VERY domineering grandmother and promptly threw up on her feet and passed out cold.

Great first impressions abound in this family.

Come to find out she was pregnant with me and had no idea


So it's now dinnertime and Mom is trying very hard to impress this group and be helpful. They've basically been communicating in sign language all day. Grandma is washing dishes and Mom decides to help by drying and putting them away. She manages to ask my grandmother where they belong

"Een da cabineto" (cabinet + o= cabineto)

One problem here- in Italy where my mother grew up speaking the King's Italian, cabineto is bathroom.


There stands my mother holding a stack of dishes in the basement half bath and wondering what kind of family she married into that keeps their dishes in the bathroom. Here comes Grandma Josie in a tizzy- what kind of girl did her son marry that thinks my dishes belong in the bakowsa??

It's amazing they lived together for 15 years. 

And they both survived.

I'm also adding in a recipe for my Tiramisu Cheesecake because I happened to make it for today's dessert and it's REALLY good. Enjoy!

Pattie's Strangolapreti

1 large bag spinach, steamed, squeezed dry and chopped OR 8 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup whole milk ricotta
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 day old, stale roll, diced, soaked in warm milk and squeezed dry
1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk, beaten together
4 rounded tablespoons (app.) flour
good pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp kosher salt
Black pepper to taste

I have taken to using an immersion blender and mixing the half spinach and all the bread crumbs, then adding the rest of the ingredients, but you may choose to skip that step
Flour your hands and form small ovals of mixture-place on floured wax paper. Drop in rapidly boiling, salted water. When they float to the top, remove with a strainer (do NOT dump in a colander!). Drain off excess water and place in a casserole dish. Cover with sage butter, sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of Parmesan and broil for  a minute or 2 just to brown the top
SAGE BUTTER- Melt 1/2 stick of butter with about 6-8 sage leaves and simmer 1 minute
** The ricotta is not truly traditional in this recipe, but I prefer it to just flour which sometimes results in a heavy, gummy dumpling


Pattie's Tiramisu Cheesecake

2 Tblsp butter
1 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
In a medium saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in hazelnuts, sugar, and water. Cook for approximately 5-7 minutes until the nuts are toasted and the syrup coats the nuts evenly. Spread on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and  separate with a fork. Cool completely. This will harden and you can then crumble it if necessary.
Cookies, Biscotti, or Ladyfingers processed to fine crumb- total 2 cups (I like to use my biscotti, especially if I have chocolate!)

3-4 T. butter, melted 
2 T. Kahlua
2 8 oz. packages cream cheese

1 C. sugar

16 oz. mascarpone cheese

3 eggs

1 heaping Tblsp. cornstarch

2 T. Kahlua or espresso 
1 cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Using a food processor or blender, process the cookies until they are  fine crumbs.

In a small bowl, melt the butter, add 2 T. of the coffee flavored liqueur or espresso and add the crumbs. Mix to moisten the crumbs. Press the crumb mixture into a 9 inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, and sugar until very smooth. Add 2 tablespoons coffee flavored liqueur or espresso, and mix. Add the eggs and cornstarch and mix on slow speed until just smooth. Pour batter into crust and place pan on the middle rack of the oven. Pour in boiling water around springform pan to about an inch up the side
Bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes, or until just set.

Let cool by opening the oven door with the heat off for about 20 minutes. Let the cake continue to cool and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight, before serving. 
Slide a thin knife around edge of pan and remove sides. Place cake on platter and slip strips of parchment or waxed paper under the edges. Press hazelnut brittle onto sides and carefully remove strips of paper. Serve with shaved or powdered chocolate on top
**Just a note- When I went to buy the mascarpone, I found a flavored version with chocolate and coffee in it! Tiramisu mascarpone- brilliant!! I used this for the first time today and just cut back the Kahlua in the cheesecake to 1 tablespoon

As Always,
Buon Alimenti, Buon Amici,

Pattie and Allie


  1. these look great- hope you make for dinner when I come!

  2. Your recipes are to die for!!~ The spinach one I am going to try for sure, It is so nice coming over here and you sharing all these Italian traditions...being Italian myself we have different ones as my family is from the Naples's all good!!~

  3. Your tiramisu is lovely..and the pics and your poor mom!..It's never easy the first time.. I can only imagine everything different...
    Great memories they shared with you!

  4. Your Strangolapreti sounds so interesting and it's a dish I have not even heard of before! Have to try it!

  5. Oops forgot to mention how cute your Mom and Dad are! I have a thing for uniforms!

  6. I know what a priest strangler is and man oh man does it look good...going to have print up that recipe and try my hand at it someday!!!! =)

  7. Patti, I love this post! The story of your mom arriving in America is priceless as are the wonderful old pictures. I just told my husband that we must try the spinach recipe. It sounds divine!

  8. Patti,I always know I am in for such a treat when I come and visit you! What a wonderful story and the pictures are priceless! You are perserving your history and heritage for your whole family. And we get to learn about it too!
    I love gnocchi! these sound so delicious. I'll have to make these!
    And that cheesecake!!!!! Oh, My! I just gained 5 lbs. looking at it.
    Thanks for the great post. Say Hi to Allie for me, please.

  9. Yum...that cheesecake looks delicious! I would have loved to have it for Sunday dinner today :)
    I am so touched by your story, it reminds me so much of Tony's family and his mom. What a wonderful story and a wonderful family you have!
    This is just a beautiful post! I am so glad you shared it with us :)

  10. Pattie and Allie, I am sorry I have a new program and I cannot access your email address on your profile. I am dying to here what you found for me. If you can think of any other way to contact me,let me know. I don't like putting my email up in a public forum so I know it is a bit tricky. Sorry!! Kathysue. PS Thank you for stopping by and always leaving such nice comments, I really appreciate that.

  11. What wonderful memories and great dishes you had to share with us today. It's always such a pleasure to visit here.

  12. Hi Patti!

    What a fabulous post !I LOVE the story!! And the pictures...what treasures. You are blessed to have such stories, the history of your family. And this includes the recipes, which truly are your families history. Ty for sharing with us!!!! I cannot wait to use these. My husbands family is from a small city which was in Italy, Bratina Italy (our last name). Now it is in Croatia. I will bet he will love this dish and dessert. No doubt!
    Hope you have a great week. Stop by my place if you get a chance. Would love to have you visit. You are always so kind and leave such precious comments. I truly adore you!
    Tales from Bloggeritaville

  13. Hi Pattie and Allie (I always forget to say Hi to Allie! LOL),

    As usual, great recipes! I am going to try the "Priest Stranglers" for sure. Looks like a great side dish and I really try to get as much spinach in our menu as I can during the winter. And sage butter is a major favorite here! We grow our own herbs and always make different herbed butters for dinner. Yes, how "unhealthy" are we since we consider herbed butter a standard condiment in our household! LOL

    Loved your family history stories today! Your sweet mom must have thought the folks here were a bunch of loons! LOL

  14. mmmm..golosissimo il tiramisù!!! bravissima!! baci!

  15. I so enjoyed your family funny...well, except for your mom! lol I lived for a year in France and can so understand! I made a few boo boos myself! The recipes sound wonderful...especially the cheesecake! Yum! Happy week!...Debbie

  16. Loved the recipes, they look and sound so yummy but but but, I want to hear more stories about your Parents.. I could sit and read stories like that all day.. Please do tell more when you can..
    hugs and happy thoughts

  17. What a sweet story about your mom and dad!!! They were a cute couple.

    And I am not sure about that strangled stuff (I'm sure it is delicious!)...but I would like a huge piece of that Tiramisu cheesecake please...I love Tiramisu!!!

  18. Oh my goodness, what a story! I loved every detail and the pictures are wonderful. I had to laugh at the Strangled Priest too :) Great recipes!

  19. What a wonderful family story, and your old photos are a treasure. Love the priest strangler story. I remember years ago when our parish priest used to come to Sunday dinner. Nice memories.

  20. Patti, I love reading all your stories since my daughter-in-law is Italian. She had told us about the different dialects. I just always though Italian was Italian. That food looks scrumptious. I need to get me some black ink for my printer and print these off and fix it especially sometime when she is here. Thanks for sharing all this history.

  21. Hi Patti,

    Our family is Italian too. We are in the process of looking for a ranch. We are going to name out ranch
    Terra Del Sole

    I have already created a blog by the same name. I am a new follower. Drop by my blog and follow.

  22. Hi Pattie...

    Ohhh my goodness...your Strangolapreti looks sooo delicious! I must admit, I have never had that dish before but I know that I would love it! Loved reading the history of the dish...very interesting and so funny! And...your cheesecake looks divine, my friend! I could crawl right through this monitor for a piece...seriouslly! Hehe! Thank you so much for sharing your recipes and for sharing a little about your family! I found the stories about your mom endearing...poor girl! I bet she was terrified getting off of that plane!

    Thank you so much for coming by for a visit to my Tea Rose bedroom...I really enjoyed your sweet note, my friend! Have a wonderful day!!!

    Chari @Happy To Design

  23. Great pics...funny stories. Loved the one about the "bakowsa". Hee-hee!

  24. Hi Pattie and Allie
    This was such a wonderful remembrance of your parent's meeting and seeing all those wonderful photos really brought it all alive!
    Such wonderful family stores precious!
    I know all too well the fractured English/Italian of the new immigrants as my husband's family spoke that way ..I give them so much credit for being able to work hard and give themselves and their children good lives in the US!

    I call this dish Spinach Gnocchi as my Calabrese husband calls another pasta Strangolapreti. It's funny how even pasta names can be regional! We love them!

    Your Tiramisu Cheesecake recipe is going in my files, Pattie! Outstanding!

    I am really enjoying your blog so much!
    ♥ Pat

  25. I was wondering, can I give a Shout Out and feature your blog on Sunday? I just love your stories and recipes!
    I agree about the convection oven...I am a little nervous about burning something, too.
    Tony said to figure approx. 20% less cooking time. I'll let you know how I do!

  26. thats a beautiful story. i read every word! you mom n dad are so cute....ur poor young in a new place..but as you say she survived! bravo to her...teh cheesecake looks wonderful..chocolate is my staple food ^^

  27. Hi, this is my first time here, this cake look so beautiful and yummy, will visit you more often from now.

  28. Mmmm good! Wonderful post and two beautiful delicious recipes! Yummy! :-)

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    maria grazia

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  32. buy websitefree textingHi, this is my first time here, this cake look so beautiful and yummy, will visit you more often from now.


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