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Priest-stranglers in Neapolitan Meat Sauce

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These gnocchis served in the cult Napolitan ragù sauce would be a world-famous dish if they didn't take 7 hours to cook.

These gnocchis are so good that a priest choked to death eating them in the 18th century. Since then, Napolitans call them strangolapreti or strozzapreti - litterally 'priests-stranglers'.

But the gnocchis are only half the story. What really makes them a dish you wake up at night for is the diabolical ragù, a tomato meat sauce that takes 7 hours to cook. Such a treat!

Ragù napoletano
400gr double or triple tomato concentrate
800gr pig roast or ribs
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
150gr chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
50gr pancetta or guanciale
100gr prosciutto (ham)
50gr bacon
100gr pig fat
salt and pepper

(See below for strangolapreti/gnocchi recipe)

Grind down very finely the prosciutto, bacon and ham. Napolitans will think using an electric grinder for this is a monstrosity but if you don't have a hand meat grinder that will give you good results. You do need a very fine grind, no chunk should exceed the size of a small green pea.

Heat the fat in a large pot with a thick bottom and add the ground meat.

Let the meat color under medium heat for about 10 minutes, then add the chopped onions and parsley.

Once the onion is soft, add the pig roast. You normally should tie some of the pancetta around the roast with a string.

Wait until the roast is colored on every side.

Increase the heat to high. Add the wine gradually, making sure you don't cool down the sauce too much. Wait until the wine is almost completely evaporated before adding more.

In traditional ragù recipes, this first phase takes about 2 hours. If, like me, you don't have all day, I guess you can squeeze it in about 40 minutes.

Now starts the most important part of this recipe. You will gradually add tomato concentrate - invariably coming from a can - and let it become very dark under the high heat before adding any more. This operation is called pincer in French, and gives the tomato a unique caramelized taste.

Let the sauce become a dark burgundy before adding two more tablespoons.

If the meat is already cooked you can remove it and keep it covered in a separate dish. Proceed until you run out of tomato. This can take quite a long time and you can't leave the pot at any time!

Add two cups water, mix well and let the ragù simmer on the lowest flame for at least an hour but up to 7 hours if you can. Make sure there is enough water so it won't stick and mix regularly. This process will make a smooth, magical mix out of all the ingredients, resulting in a tomato sauce unlike any you have ever tasted. Definitely worth doing right.

In Napoli, some people add a stick of cinammon, or replace the red wine by a sweet white wine. My next ragù will have a serrano chili and cinammon. I recommend you try the traditional recipe once before adding your own touch.

The strangolapreti

Strangolapreti (Napolitan gnocchis)
1kg starchy potatoes
2 cups regular flour

Boil the potatoes with their skins on, or steam them without their skin, until they are soft but not mushy. Purée them in the finest grinder you have. Chunks and little black spots are not cool and they will show. If you don't believe me please check my pictures carefully and you'll see what I mean.

Add the flour until you get a smooth paste, not too soft. You can add an egg but it's not really necessary. The more flour, the harder and heavier they will be. In Napoli in the 18th century they made it with flour only - great if you need to choke a priest but not very light. Potato-based gnocchis are much superior and used everywhere in Italy nowadays.

My gnocchi dough is not very smooth and is quite chunky. Use a finer grinder than I did.

Cut a small piece of dough and roll it on lightly floured work space. The roll should have the same diameter as the base of your medium finger.

Cut pieces of dough from the roll about the size of a knuckle of your thumb.

If the cooking time makes the ragù, it's he shapethat makes the gnoccho. Hastily made gnocchi have no shape - they look like small barrels. By pressing each gnoccho gently on a fine grater or a bamboo mat, you will make it thinner, curved on one side and marked with little cavities on the other. This will result in a lighter gnoccho to which a much larger quantity of ragù will stick. They are also more appealing to the eye.

These are not the nicest gnocchis ever, but I made another batch the next day with much nicer results. Both tasted the same, so good luck!

Bring salter water to a high boil and don't add oil no matter what your daddy told you. Prepare the gnocchis on a plate or in a folded towel.

Pour all your gnocchis in the boiling water at the same time. Increase the heat to maximum to compensate the temperature drop due to the cold gnocchis and don't cover. Really don't. Covering a pot of cooking pasta is said to be enough ground for a divorce in Naples.

Your gnocchis will be cooked when they come to the surface. Eat one to make sure. Using a slotted spoon, take them out and put them in a strainer. Don't, please don't, pour down gnocchis and water into a strainer. This will break the gnocchis and overcook them and just shows poor taste in a kitchen.

Heat the serving plates with a ladleful of hot cooking water, shake the gnocchis in the strainer so excess water falls off and put them carefully in the plates.

Finally, the gorgeous strangolapreti are ready to serve in the luscious, velvety dark red ragù.

This really is a fantastic dish, well worth the effort. The recipe is for 4 large portions or 8 as a first course. You can definitely make the ragù the day before, keep it in the fridge and remove the tiny spots of fats that will come up on top the next day.

My recipe comes from the monumental La cucina napoletana by Jeanne Caròla Francesconi, a monumental 750 pages long tome about every traditional napolitan dish and its history. It has a long, passionate discussion of the ragù, its origins, cultural importance in Naples and accepted variations. If you read Italian this is a must. Although it has no pictures, it still is one of my 10 favorite cookbooks, and I have many.

Oh - the pig roast. Well, you can serve it a second course or in an entirely different meal. It only serves to impart porky flavor to the sauce and is never eaten with the sauce.

Good luck and let me know how you fare with this dish!



  • #1
  • Comment by Christopher DePaoli
Hello- Your recipe looks very good. Is the cut of meat you're
describing as a "pig roast" typically called a "pork loin" in the U.S.
or Canada (i.e., by what other name might a "pig roast" be called?)
Please advise, thank you- Chris.
  • #2
  • Answered by fx
Christopher, nowadays many people do not use the big chunk of pig when making this sauce. Basically you have to take a large piece of pig and wrap it with bacon and herbs and tie it up. I didn't do this here and hope to redo this recipe to show how it's done.
  • #3
  • Comment by Christopher dePoali
Hello again: Regarding the "large piece of pig " as you described it,
would you have a preferred part of the animal to use & preferred
mixture of herbs to season it with? Merci pour votre attention / Vielen Dank für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit-  Chris
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
Christopher, thanks for your message.
The meat to be used according to Bugialli is beef rump roast which you need to tie up like a salami. But the authentic recipe calls for either a "prime cut of veal or pork" ('Primo taglio di vaccina o di maiale') which you need to lard with tiny pieces of prosciutto and then wrap and tie up with parsley sprigs and slices of pancetta. You also add 3 pork ribs no matter what meat you used for the roast. I hope this helps!
  • #5
  • Comment by Giovanni
Bravissimo!  Your blog is brilliant.  Well constructed, well designed and beautifully articulated.  The photographs are excellent.  You make each of your gastronomic 'cases' compelling!A good ragu is indeed to die for. An addition to the sauce which always seems to enhance the 'body' and mouthfeel is a small parcel of pigskin sprinkled amply with salt, parsely, garlic and chilli; rolled up and tied with string and allowed to cook in second half of the construction.  It imparts more divinity to a regal sauce. Thank you for your efforts and for sharing.Tanti Auguri
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
Ciao Giovanni, thank you so much for your comments. I definitely have to redo this recipe with better ingredients and need to add your pigskin parcel.
Grazie per la tua visita!
  • #7
  • Comment by Lindsey
Hello! My friend told me about your food blog, and although I haven't gotten a chance to try any of the recipes, they are beautiful! And the pictures are mouth-watering as well. I was wondering, would it be possible to transfer the sauce to a crock pot for the 7-hour simmering stage? Thank you!
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
Thank you Lindsey, you can definitely transfer it to a crockpot, have a look at my last article 'Pasta for the Sopranos' where I do the ragù just like this. A delicious dish indeed!
  • #9
  • Comment by sopitikoj
Hello Very good site. Thanks for author!G'night
  • #10
  • Comment by likopinko
Hello  So interesting site, thanks!  G'night                  
  • #11
  • Comment by yotixon
Hi  One of the best locations I've come across lately!!! Definately a permanent bookmark! Would you please also visit my site?
  • #12
  • Comment by Kelly
I absolutely love your site. I just happened upon it tonight and have bookmarked it. I will most definitely try some of your recipes. They are unique, explained well and are funny, too! This is the best "find" I've come across in months! Thank you!
  • #13
  • Comment by lokimikoj
Hi all!  Wow!!! Your site is beautiful!! I love the artwork.
  • #14
  • Comment by joe
Looks fantastic; I will try the recipe soon.Just a minor point of English: a "priest strangler" would be a person who grabs a priest by the neck and squeezes until the priest dies. A gnoccho which gets stuck in a priest's esophagus, causing him to asphyxiate would be called a "priest choker".
  • #15
  • Comment by bill
I made the gnocchi today - they were delicious with pesto for lunch. I will make the ragu this Saturday for guests Sunday night. I'll let you know how it goes. There is a local firm (Fatted Calf, here in San Francisco) and a national firm (Niman Ranch) that make guanciale. I will serve your fire-roasted peppers as a first course.
  • #16
  • Comment by bill
Oh, one question - there is no cheese in the photo, or in the description. Is this dish not traditionally served with grated cheese?
  • #17
  • Comment by Cynthia
Another on my list to try.. I often make a bolognese ragu that "only" takes 4 hours. ;-)You talk about 'pureeing' the potatoes with a 'grinder' (maybe you mean a food mill). I've never made potato gnocchi but here I would try using a potato ricer (a two-handled gadget with a plunger that pushes the potato through small holes, with the resulting product resembling cooked rice). No lumps! I've never had good luck with the food mill and potatoes.Joe, in Italian there are related transitive verbs with the same root. So, to 'strozzare' someone is indeed to strangle them. To 'strozzarsi' means to strangle (yourself) on something, i.e., choke.  That's why the literal translation may sound odd to Anglo ears. Of course, if you're the one serving the priest, you're indirectly guilty of the strangling! I hadn't heard of any particular priest being the victim.. I had gathered that priests were often viewed as 'golosi' (greedy, gluttons.. perhaps due to their restrictions from other vices) hence they could easily choke while (quickly) eating such thick, chewy morsels. In other parts of Italy the same name, strozza/strangolapreti, is used for a number of flour-based pasta forms as well (no potato), or even for large 'gnudi', which are ricotta/spinach dumplings. There's no one canonical (wink) 'strozzapreti' recipe.
  • #18
  • Comment by Leila Denmark
I made it yesterday and cooked it as recommended the full seven hours. The result was stunning. The last five hours, while the ragu simmered, was no trouble at all - just the occational stir.
  • #19
  • Comment by leila karlslund
Is there a way to print this recipe without the very large (and beautiful) pictures? My son cooked this ragu yesterday and tried in vain to print just the text. Instead it took 18 pages, because the size of the illustrations couldn't be reduced or avoided.
  • #20
  • Answered by fx
Leila I will make some changes to enable picture-free printing. That will be best for everyone's environmental karma I suppose!
  • #21
  • Answered by fx
Leila, I now have made a print version accessible from a link right below the title of every article. No pictures, no ads - just the text.
  • #22
  • Comment by Fred
Great recipe! Worth the time. I tempered the excess gnocchis in an ice bath. They can be kept in fridge for 2 days and re-heated as needed.
  • #23
  • Answered by fx
Fred, I'm so glad you tried my recipe! You can definitely reheat the gnocchis with a little butter in a saucepan, this will add a little crispiness. If you parboil them again they might become soggy.
  • #24
  • Comment by Karine
Hier, j’ai fait la sauce ragù (qui en passant était succulente) ainsi que les gnocchis que j’ai prépare à la dernière minute. Je me demandais si c’était possible de préparer les gnocchis à l’avance. Si oui, combien de temps et est ce que c’est différent si je met un œuf ?
Merci et mille fois bravo pour ton site!
  • #25
  • Answered by fx
Karine, bonjour et merci pour ta visite! Tu peux faire les gnocchis avec un oeuf, des bonnes pommes de terres bien farineuses et aussi peu de farine qu'il faudra pour qu'ils tiennent. Il me semble que tu pourrais préparer la pâte la veille et faire les gnocchis le jour même, mais je ne te recommanderais pas de les précuire. Le plus long est de faire cuire les patates et de les peler, le reste est facile et rigolo, tu peux même demander à tes invités de venir t'aider à les mettre en forme, ça leur fera une soirée vraiment mémorable!

I've been following your website for about 7-8 months now and your combination of recipes plus macro photos is amazing. You do amazing work.
I appreciate all of your napolitana sauces and recipes however doesn't the simmering for 7 hrs make these sauces too acidic from the tomatoes? Is there anything you do to counteract this? I just don't like adding sugar to my sauces...let me rephrase that...I will absolutely never add sugar to my sauces.


  • #27
  • Answered by fx
Jarrett, thanks for stepping out of the digital woodwork and into the the comments section! You could, if nobody was looking, add a very tiny wee bit of sugar if your sauce is too tart, but I find it rarely necessary. Just taste it by the end and make a judgement call to correct the balance. Good luck and have fun!
  • #28
  • Comment by Grazio
Hello fx,

 I am an aspiring chef. I am 13 and i cook every meal in my home. I love this website and i thought i should finally comment. This dish is very similar to a dish we have here in the states. What we have here is called Sunday Gravy. You put pork chops, braciole, sausage and meatballs.   Put in San Marzano tomatoes and simmer all day. You should really try it
  • FX's answer→ Grazio, welcome to FXcuisine, you must be our youngest reader so far and already well versed into Italian cooking as I can see! If you had a complete recipe for the Sunday Gravy, including some details as to the part of Italy the people who cook this came from originally, I'd be very interested. Thanks and good luck for your future career as a chef!

  • #30
  • Comment by Mike Griska
There is nothing better than a slow cooked ragu. I have been making a Bolognese ragu for years. It's a labor of love but well worth it. Your presentation is excellant. I will try to make this recipe soon. I also enjoyed reading all the comments. Very thoughtful. I have a few questions, etc. on the recipe. The pork fat is not shown in the ingredient picture. I have been using salt pork for years and assume this is OK. The directions did not indicate to render the pork fat before adding the ground meat. I assume this is correct? Do you brown the garlic and remove it from the oil prior to adding the ground meat or grind it together with the meat? Browning  the garlic and removing it sounds correct. The 2C of water are not on the ingredient list or in the ingredients picture. Not an important point. The comment to add pork skin in phase two is something we do all the time. Rolling it up with spices and tying it is a brilliant suggestion. The meat stacked in the picture looks like panchetta or guanciale on top, thick sliced boiled ham or ham steak in the middle and prosciutto on the bottom. Your ingredient list calls for bacon? I do not see it. Enough of my picky comments! Great recipe, great presentation and narrative. Kudos chef. I can't wait to read more of your recipes.
  • FX's answer→ Mike, sorry for the late answer. Yes, you do need to render the fat or else add olive oil otherwise the ground meat with burn. Many people fry the garlic in oil, then remove the garlic and throw it away, since much flavor has been passed to the oil. Normally I don't include water in the ingredient list unless it is a recipe meant for desert explorers. Have fun!


You mentioned about La cucina napoletana in Italian. Would you have recommendations on Italian cookbooks in English? More specifically ones on Neapolitan cooking

  • #33
  • Comment by Laura
Hi There
Can someone help me please.... at what point do you add the Pork Ribs? - do they go into the mixer with the bacon and ham at the start? - or do they go into the pot whole at a later stage?
  • #34
  • Comment by David
I made this sauce...cooked it for the whole 7 hours, and i nearly strangled myself eating it.  It has the most delicate flavour. Slow food is king.  Take pleasure seriously!  Thanks.
  • FX's answer→ Glad this worked for you David!

  • #36
  • Comment by matthew
what do i do with the pig roast when i am done cooking?
  • #37
  • Comment by matthew
would it be possible to make this sauce in a (much) larger quantity. I have concerns that the tomato paste would not caramelize properly if i attempted to double or quadruple the ingredients.
  • FX's answer→ Matthew, you would need either a larger pan or to proceed in several batches.

Great recipe - thanks...

I will try it after I retire later this year - can't wait !


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