Priest Chokers

Strozzapretti

According to an old tale, these delicious ricotta and spinach dumplings got their name when a gluttonous priest ate too many of them too quickly. I use whole sage leaves to flavor the sauce because chopped sage can be a little distracting. Leave the sage leaves in or take them out before serving the strozzapretti, as you choose. Try them, either as a minestra course instead of pasta, or as a main course.

Makes 6 servings

For the strozzapretti:

1 1/4 cups ricotta cheese, preferably fresh or whole milk

2 eggs

1/2 cup finely chopped, cooked and drained spinach (see note)

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese

5 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs, or as needed

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Large pinch freshly grated nutmeg

2 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed

For the sage sauce:

1/2 cup Chicken Stock (Lidia’s Italian Table, p. 80) or canned low-sodium chicken broth

3 tablespoons butter

10 fresh sage leaves

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for passing, if you like

Place the ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined sieve and place the sieve over a bowl. Cover the ricotta with plastic wrap and let drain in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or up to 1 day.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the eggs until well blended. Add the spinach and beat until blended. Stir in the drained ricotta, 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano and 5 tablespoons bread crumbs. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir until well blended.

Coat a baking pan with a generous amount of the flour. Line a second baking pan with a lightly floured kitchen towel. With floured hands, roll two tablespoons of the ricotta mixture into a 11/2-inch ball. Roll it in the flour until generously coated. Before continuing, test the flavor and texture of the mixture by dropping the strozzapretto into the boiling water. It should hold its shape and rise to the surface within a minute. Continue cooking for 1 minute after the strozzapretto rises to the surface, then lift it with a slotted spoon from the water. If the strozzapretto didn’t hold its shape, add a little more bread crumbs. Taste the cooked strozzapretto and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Once you’re happy with the taste and texture of the strozzapretti, form the remaining mixture into balls, roll them in flour and set them on the lightly floured towel.

In a skillet large enough to hold the cooked strozzapretti in a single layer, heat the broth, butter and sage leaves over medium low heat to simmering; simmer 3 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Add half the strozzapretti to the pot of boiling water and stir gently until they return to the surface. Cook until firm, about 1 minute after they rise to the top. Remove them with a skimmer and transfer them to the pot with the sage sauce, draining well. Repeat with the remaining strozzapretti. Place the pan over medium-low heat and gently shake the pan to warm the strozzapretti and coat them with sauce. Remove the pan from the heat, add the grated cheese and swirl the strozzapretti in the sauce until they are coated.

Serve the strozzapretti in warmed bowls, spooning extra sauce over each. Pass additional cheese if you like.

Note: For 1/2 cup chopped cooked spinach, start with about 10 cups (loosely packed) stemmed fresh spinach leaves. Wash them thoroughly, in several changes of water if necessary, to remove all grit. Drain the spinach in a colander. Transfer the spinach with just the water that clings to the leaves to a large, heavy pot. Place the pot over high heat and cook until the liquid in the bottom begins to steam. Season the spinach very lightly with salt-- remember, the spinach will reduce drastically in volume. Cover the pot and steam the spinach, stirring several times, until the spinach is tender, but still bright green, about 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately drain the spinach in a colander and rinse under cold running water until the spinach is cool enough to handle. Squeeze as much water as possible from the spinach with your hands. Squeeze firmly – the more water you remove from the spinach, the lesser the amount of bread crumbs you will need to add to the mixture, and the more tender your strozzapretti will be. Chop the spinach in a food processor or by hand and measure out 1/2 cup to use in this recipe.