Legendary Dishes | Strangolapreti (spinach dumplings with butter, cheese and sage)


The name is a clue to the origins of this traditional dish of northern and central Italy. They are not, as some might imagine, a cousin of the spinatknödel, the spinach dumplings of Alpine Austria and Alpine Germany. And the name is not always associated with the dumpling tradition.

The priest strangler is a different dish despite the similarities with the ingredients – bread, cheese, egg and spinach – largely because the recipe is variously interpreted, specifically in Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna ,Tuscany, Trentino and in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, where the priest strangler is an altogether different beast.

In the southern provinces the priest strangler is potato gnocchi dressed with butter and cheese, and served with tomato sauce.

They can be made like gnocchi, with a semi-dry mixture to produce a light sponge, or they can be made like knödeln, with a semi-wet mixture to produce a heavy sponge.

They can also be made like a sweet sponge cake.

Nicola Malossini, owner of Ristorante Birreria in Trento, is certain their origin is not in the Italian Alps despite an association with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) when they were served to the high priests.

“They are contained in some recipe books dating back to the fifteenth century. These delicacies were mainly cooked between Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany. They consisted of millet bread gnocchi to which milk, cheese and butter were added at will.”

Over the years the influence of Alpine knödeln has produced the Trentino variant with the local Trentingrana cheese yet recipes with the Trentino appellation can also be made with breadcrumbs rather than stale bread, and are gnocchi-like.

Whatever they were known as in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the legend of the priest strangler did not emerge until the eighteenth century when a generous plate of gnocchi made with wild green herbs was served by an Innkeeper to a hungry priest who had wandered lost in the countryside. The ravenous priest was so hungry he nearly choked on the gnocchi. Thereafter these green gnocchi became known as the priest stranglers!


  • 500 g spinach for 185 g cooked and squeezed
  • 120 g white wheat flour, t00
  • 100 g stale bread broken into pieces, soaked in 100 ml whole milk and 1 egg, squeezed and mashed
  • 75 g Parmigiano cheese
  • 30 g fine olive oil breadcrumbs
  • Salt, large pinch
  • Nutmeg, 5 gratings

Dressing 1

  • 300 ml whole milk
  • 100 g goat’s cheese
  • 50 ml cream
  • 15 g butter
  • 6 sage leaves, cut into strips

Dressing 2

  • 30 g Grana Padano / Parmigiano cheese, grated

Combine the cheese, spinach, soaked bread and flour. Rest for 1 hour.

Shape into small ovals, roll in the breadcrumbs.

Bring a pot of hot water to the boil, cook in batches, serve sprinkled with cheese or with a cheese sauce.

Strangolapreti alla Trentina

  • 750 g spinach
  • 200 g breadcrumbs soaked in 300 ml whole milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 180 g Trentingrana / Grana Padano cheese
  • 75 g white wheat flour, t00
  • 75 g onion, chopped small
  • 15 g butter
  • 1 garlic clove, mashed
  • 1 tsp dried vegetables
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 4 sage leaves


  • 30 g butter
  • 30 g Trentingrana, grated
  • 4 sage leaves

Whisk the eggs into the milk, pour into a bowl with the breadcrumbs, dried vegetables and seasonings and herbs. Leave for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the onion, cook gently until the onion is soft. Then fry the garlic in the mixture for a few minutes.

Blanch spinach in salted water, cool, squeeze, chop and toss in the fried onions. Leave to cool.

Combine the cheese, flour, spinach mixture and breadcrumb mixture. Rest for 1 hour.

Shape like large oval gnocchi.

Cook in salted water, drain when they come to the surface.

Heat the butter in a pan, reduce heat, fry sage for a few minutes.

Arrange strangolapreti on plates, leave to cool a little, sprinkle with cheese, drizzle with butter-sage sauce.

Strangolapreti alla Friuli-Venezia Giulia

This delicious cake from the mountains above Venice is also a priest strangler!

  • 300 g sponge cake, crumbled
  • 120 ml grappa / rum
  • 60 g walnut kernels, coarsely chopped
  • 60 g almonds, chopped
  • 60 g pine nuts
  • 45 ml water
  • 40 g candied lemon, cut into cubes
  • 40 g raisins soaked in warm water and squeezed
  • 30 g sugar
  • 5 g butter, to grease the mold

Dissolve sugar with water over low heat stirring with a wooden spoon to produce a syrup. Add grappa or rum, stir and leave to cool.

Place the crumbled cake in a bowl, add the syrup, nuts, candied lemon and raisins. Leave for 30 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a buttered mold.

Bake at 180ºC for 25 minutes.