Going to weddings or to fashionable restaurants, at least in Italy, one stumbles over menus attempting to amaze with bombastic names like harmony of appetizers or parmesan basket with bresaola petals, sometimes with questionable names like the last tiny hole or and to digest, or with sprinkled definite articles like the saffron risotto with the juniper and the licorice.
Typical Italian traditional dishes display much more imagination in their names which sometimes derive from similarities with other elements of reality, or from chance, or are just the fruit of someone’s vivid imagination.
Minne di vergine, literally virgin’s tits, is the name of two different sweets. The first, better known, is a delicacy from Catania made of ricotta cheese on sponge cake covered with pure white icing decorated with a candied cherry. These have been created to honour the city patron Saint, Agatha, whose breast was ripped out because she dared not give in to the Roman governor Quintianus’ desires. The second sweet with the same name is also made in Sicily but on the South-West coast in Sambuca di Sicilia. Instead of sponge cake, here we find shortcrust pastry filled with pastry cream, candied pumpkin, chocolate flakes and decorated with a small ball on top which becomes darker after baking. The name of these latter sweets invented in the 18th century is believed derived from the nun who invented the and whose name was Virginia della Menna, but according to others, it derives from an ancient Sicilian tradition linked to feminine cults.
Similar in shape are the tette delle Monache (nuns’ tits), more modestly also called sospiri (sighs), soft sponge cake filled with pastry or Chantilly cream, that in Guardiagrele is also presented in groups of three because, according to legend, some nuns had the habit of inserting a protuberance between their breasts so as to make their breast less visible.
In the matter or breast, we find the Campanian zizzona, big tit, a huge buffalo milk mozzarella typical of the Battaglia area which can weigh up to 15 kilos.
Nothing to do with nuns, the uova alla monachina (eggs in the little nun’s style), a dish of the Neapolitan and Sicilian tradition typically had at Easter, it is made with hardboiled eggs deconstructed and remade with ricotta cheese or bechamel sauce, then breaded and fried.
With Naples in its name, but totally unrelated, are the rame di Napoli (which could be translated Neapolitan copper although it could sound close to tree branch), a soft chocolate covered cookie typical of Catania. The name of this sweet has got nothing to do with trees and branches and the name perhaps derives from a coin minted by the Borbone following the unification of the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily.
Returning to the ecclesiastical sphere, there is a type of pasta and a type of gnocco whose name hints to priests’ gluttony or, in the Romagna region, the wish of choking to priests, in an anticlerical region where the Papal State levied taxes and imposed strict customs. We are talking about strozzapreti (literally priests choker) or strangozzi or strangolapreti or strangulaprevati (in Neapolitan) or strozaprit (in Romagnol dialect). A versatile pasta which lends itself to various condiments and that Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli mentions in one of his sonnets:
Nun pòi crede che ppranzo che ccià ffatto
Quel’accidente de Padron Cammillo.
Un pranzo, ch’è impossibbile de díllo:
Ma un pranzo, un pranzo da restacce matto.
Quello perantro c’ha mmesso er ziggillo
A ttutto er rimanente de lo ssciatto,
È stato, guarda a mmé, ttanto de piatto
De strozzapreti cotti cor zughillo.
Ma a pproposito cqui de strozzapreti:
Io nun pozzo capí ppe cche rraggione
S’abbi da dí cche strozzino li preti:
Quanno oggni prete è un sscioto de cristiano
Da iggnottisse magara in un boccone
Er zor Pavolo Bbionni sano sano.
This can be summarized as follows:
You can’t believe what a lunch has prepared for us master Camillo. Impossible to tell, one could go crazy. But what has sealed all this profusion, was, listen to me, a huge dish of strozzapreti cooked with sughillo (sauce from cooking pot roast). But talking about strozzapreti I can’t understand the reason why one should say they choke priests when each priest, with his naïve look, can swallow in one bite even mister Paolo Biondi.
Strozzapreti in the shape of a gnocco are found in Northern Italy, made with stale bread, spinach, eggs and Grana Padano, and in the Campania region made with flour and water (Naples) or with potatoes (Salento area).
From the sacred to the profane, we pass from strozzapreti to spaghetti alla puttanesca (spaghetti in the whore style) or, simply, with red sauce, capers and olives, typical of the Parthenopean cuisine with a Roman version which provides the addition of anchovies and the use of penne instead of spaghetti. The origin of this name is not certain. According to some it was devised by a host to replenish the clients of a brothel; according to others it was invented by Yvette, a French prostitute, who wanted to pay a tribute to the oldest profession in the world; according to still other, it was invented by architect Sandro Petti, chef of his restaurant Rancio Fellone, a night when he was out of everything but some hungry friends insisted he prepared something because they were very hungry and anything (puttanata, in this case translates as something easy, simple), hence the name.
Writing about strange names, in the realm of cured meats, there is a high presence of names that openly remind sexuality. So we find palle del nonno (grampa’s balls), a typical product of Umbria, slightly smoked and made with different cuts of pork meat. It is characterized by the honeycomb shaped casing and the elongated shape, hence the name.
Coglioni di mulo (mule balls), also known as Campotosto (town in Abruzzo region) mortadella, an almost impossible to find salami which owes its name to the oval shape and to the fact that it always comes in pairs so as to allow its maturing hanging on a pole or cane. The culatello (buttock) di Zibello of the Bassa Parmense area (South of Parma), considered the king of cured meats because it is made with a high-quality part of pork which, unlike in prosciutto, is removed of all pigskin, fat, bone, and fiocchetto. It is said that culatello has the flavor of fog, typical of that region. Originally called investiture because culatello was considered a vulgar term, it has medieval origins and only in 1735 it was called with the name we use today.
Always in the realm of sexual references, we find the Ligurian brandacujun, a recipe based on potatoes and stockfish which were first boiled and then “brandati”, that is energetically shaken, hence the second half of the name. According to some, the name derives from the fact that this preparation was carried out by the most stupid of the crew (cujun, means both testicle and stupid) who did not know how to do anything else. Another explanation is that this dish had to be prepared by shaking a very heavy pan, so the sailor positioned himself with bent knees keeping the pan only a few inches off the floor, so not only was the pan shaken but also some of the sailor’s intimate parts.
The Roman cazzimperio, that is the “pinzimonio” or vinaigrette where to dip raw veggies, derives its name from the cazza, Roman name for the ladle, while, according to others, it derives from its aphrodisiac effect (cazzo, dick, imperio, empire) and the name was later changed in pinzimonio from the union of pinza, dip, and monoi, from matrimonio, marriage, to say that dipping could only be done within the marriage.
A last sexuality evoking dish name is the cazzilli di patate (little potato dicks), a type of potato nuggets, a typical recipe from Palermo.
Three dishes with derogatory names are the grattaculi, ass scratchers, a spiky part of zucchini which owes its name to the discomfort they give to people who lean down to harvest them, the Puzzone di Moena (Trentino region) cheese, big Moena stinky, characterized by a strong and intense odor, and the Veneto region cheese called Bastardo del Grappa, bastard of the Grappa mount that owes its name to one of three reasons: because it was made by mixing cow, sheep and goat milk, or because it was made with milk that was not good enough to make Morlacco del Grappa cheese, or finally because on mount Grappa neither Asiago nor Montasio cheese can be produced.
From Mount Grappa our thought goes to the army and the bersaglieri cookies come to mind (Bersaglieri are in fact an Italian army corps). Typical of the Catania region, bersaglieri cookies are covered with cocoa icing and are sold together with regina, queen, cookies which are instead covered with a white lemon icing. In Sicilian dialect they are called “viscotti ca liffia”, cookies with smooth top, because liffia means smooth and the verb alliffiare means to flatter or convince through sweetness, while the name bersaglieri is probably linked to the 1943 American landing in Sicily when American soldiers were generically called bersaglieri and this cookie was created for them using the chocolate that Americans gave away to the population.
The last strange name of this roundup is neonata, newborn, whose commercial name is bianchetti (whitebait), that is newborn fish that can be of different types: anchovy, red mullets, sardines, red breams caught with a trawl. Now rarely available thanks to the norms directed at protecting the fish stocks of the Mediterranean, the neonata is prepared as pancakes or meat balls, as a pasta condiment, or eaten raw with olive oil, lemon, and pepper.