Have you ever tried this buckwheat pasta? It’s very particular with a very unique taste, color and texture, and this traditional recipe maybe it’s “not the most beautiful to see” but it’s veeery tasty…really, and very “cheesy” 🙂 you’ll feel like in a mountain trip with those typical flavors! 🙂
This is another recipe that have a long history behind, so I think an introduction it’s needed before going to the recipe.
First of all the location: this pasta is well known in many parts of Italy, especially in the northern part, but its exact place of origin is the Valtellina, Sondrio province (even more in the detail, in the village of Teglio there is also the “Accademia del Pizzocchero”), a mountain area bordering Switzerland. But you can find them similar also in the Grisons canton (where they speak Italian) in Switzerland, indeed the Valtellina between the 1512 and the 1797 was several times part of the Grisons canton.
As many other mountain recipes it had to give energy to hard mountain workers 🙂 and it’s made with local and easily (locally) available ingredients, once considered “poor”.
(HERE you can see also another tasty recipe where I prepared a Polenta with buckwheat flour).
This pasta is usually made with a high percentage of buckwheat flour (which in spite of the name it’s not wheat and between its characteristics it is also naturally gluten free, so pure or cut with rice flour for example it’s also good for people with coeliac disease) and a smaller percentage of wheat flour. There are various recipes, but the most traditional are made with about 70/80% buckwheat flour and 20/30% wheat flour, which helps to flatten the dough thinner and not to break.
Their modern shape is about like a short tagliatella: 7-10 cm long, about 0,5-1 cm large, and 2-3 mm thick (but some older recipes say even 4 mm thick and just half centimeter large, almost like a stick with a square section).
The exact date of origin it’s not completely clear but there are some very old certain sources, for example in a book written in 1548 there is a note about “pinzocheri” and it seems that the person who allegedly created them first was such Meluzza Comasca.
The exact origin of the name it’s also not clear, someone say it comes from the root “pit” or “piz” which means “small piece”.
In recent years, as we saw also in some previous traditional recipes, an “Accademia del Pizzocchero” is born to preserve and divulge correctly this recipe. They codified an “official” recipe after many researches on the territory, but it has to be seen not as a strict rule to follow but as guidelines to preserve the tradition and not to completely change and misrepresent the traditional recipes.
Like all the traditional recipes the ingredients are very related to the territory, so the cheese used are cheese produced on the local mountains: Casera DOP is the main choice, but also Bitto and Scimudin are local cheese often used in this recipe.
They are not so easy to find abroad, so of course it’s possible to use other similar mountain cheese without going too far from the original choices: to prefer semi-fat cheese, with a semi-hard texture, and not too much aged for this recipe. For example good substitutes could be Fontina DOP, Bergkäse, Gruyère, Comté.
Also the butter used is mountain butter, made with the milk of cows that have been eating high mountain grass and herbs so it has a very nice and intense taste and aroma, and a deep yellow color.
Vegetables: the Savoy cabbage and the chard are with any doubt the most traditional choices, but following the seasons someone like to use also other vegetables as spinach or Lacinato kale/Italian kale for example.
One last thing before going to the recipe: in some villages of Valtellina, especially in Grosio, a special mixture of wild local herbs is often added to the Pizzoccheri and it makes them special. This particular mixture is called “Pestèda” and it’s made with mortar and pestle using garlic, salt, pepper, wild thyme and dwarf alpine yarrow (Achillea nana), someone use also juniper berries and it must be always a bit moist so when it gets dry some little wine or grappa is added too. Of course almost every local family has its own recipe for the Pestèda 🙂 personally I simply use sage, the most common choice 🙂
Let’s see the recipe now! This is all what we need 🙂
INGREDIENTS (4-5 people):
- 400 g of buckwheat flour
- 100 g wheat flour
- warm water at about 50 °C, about 280-300 ml (you’ll see while making the dough)
- 250 g of Casera DOP cheese (but in this case I used Fontina DOP)
- 120 g butter (better if mountain butter)
- 350 g Savoy cabbage (or chard)
- 250 g potatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- freshly ground black pepper
- fresh sage leaves
- 40-50 g of freshly grated Grana Padano (or Parmigiano Reggiano, or to keep a tie with the original territory some aged Bitto DOP or Bitto Storico, or a more aged Casera DOP too), to sprinkle in the end
- First we have to prepare the dough. Take a large bowl, add all the flours and then add gradually the water (warm water) until you have a compact but not too hard dough. Then pour the dough on the table and work it for some minutes until it’s homogeneous. Then cover it with a plastic wrap and let it rest for 45-60 minutes.
- While we wait for the dough we can cut the cheese in small cubes and then we leave it at room temperature so it will melt easier and better later.
- After 60 minutes we can prepare our pizzoccheri. Cut the dough into 3 or 4 smaller pieces and then flatten it using a rolling pin. As we said it must be about 2-3 mm thick. Then with a knife cut the flattened dough into 8-10 cm large slices, and then on the 8-10 cm large side cut the pizzoccheri, about 1 cm large. Lay them on some trays, with flour on the bottom.
- Now start boiling the water in a big pot: pizzoccheri have no gluten but are rich in starch, so we need a lot of water to cook them properly and not to have them too slimy. Many chefs agree to say that you have to count 1 liter water for every 100 g of pizzoccheri (but you can use something less), in this case I used about 6 liters of water for about 800 g pasta, with 60 g salt (rock coarse salt).
- While the water is reaching the boil cut the vegetables: the potatoes into cubes of the same size and the Savoy cabbage cut it in half, remove the central hard white part and then cut the leaves into big slices. Take also a pan in which we will heat the butter with the sage leaves and the garlic (sliced or just cut in half to be removed later, how you prefer).
- When the water is boiling we add first the potatoes, then after 8/10 minutes we add the pizzoccheri and soon after the Savoy cabbage (or the chard). Stir them gently with a wooden spoon, so they won’t attach to each other. How much time to cook the pizzoccheri? It depends on how much buckwheat flour you used, how thick they are, if you cook them almost immediately or if they get a bit dry…about 10 minutes, but it could be a bit more or a bit less, you have to try with your mouth (fresh pizzoccheri cook faster, but the dry pizzoccheri can take up to 20 minutes). Because of this, not to cook too much the Savoy cabbage I prefer to boil it for 5-6 minutes just to make it softer and then I take it out just before adding the pizzoccheri to the water and I will add it back later when the pizzoccheri are almost cooked (in this way I will also have less water in the dish).
- When the pizzoccheri are cooked drain them (with the vegetables too, of course) and put half of them in a large bowl, add half of the cheese, then add the remaining pizzoccheri and the remaining cheese. In the end add the hot butter on the top and mix just until the cheese is melted (but don’t mix too much).
- Mix a little bit, serve it, add some freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkle of freshly grated Grana Padano. Enjoy 😉
I know it’s a very fulfilling recipe, but it’s so good! 😀 that stringy cheese is so inviting, and you should smell the aroma! 🙂
PS: this dish usually don’t go in the oven, but if before serving you pass it at 180 °C, static mode, for just 3-4 minutes, nothing bad will happen and the it can help to melt the cheese even better.