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Despite the name, Pizzoccheri has nothing to do with pizza. It is a first course centered around a special pasta made of buckwheat flour, a type of grain also called Saracen corn (‘grano Saraceno’ in Italian). The recognizable hearty flavor and coarse texture of buckwheat pasta are almost absent from Italian cuisine, but they marry perfectly with potatoes, cabbage, butter and the Valtellina Casera cheese (also indigenous of Valtellina) to make a unique dish.
As detailed by its official website, Valtellina Casera is a medium-ripening, semi-cooked PDO cheese (see the ‘Formaggio Cheese’ post for more information on cheese classification) exclusively produced in Valtellina and made with partly skimmed cow milk. For the preparation of Pizzoccheri, Valtellina Casera is used when just over its minimum aging of 70 days while its flavor is delicate and milky and before it turns more intense.
In Italy, dried buckwheat pasta specifically cut for use in Pizzoccheri can be bought in stores. However, it can also be easily made from scratch without particular equipment.
For 200 g of fresh Pizzoccheri noodles
- 100 g buckwheat flour
- 50 g white all-purpose flour
- a pinch of salt
For the finished dish
- 200 g fresh Pizzoccheri noodles (the same amount of dried Pizzoccheri can also be used).
- 250 g potatoes (2 small, diced).
- 150 g Savoy cabbage (sliced). For a more delicate flavor, it can be replaced or mixed with spinach.
- 100 g Valtellina Casera cheese (thinly sliced). It can be replaced with other, easier to find, mild semi-cooked cheeses (such as young Fontina, Montasio, Raclette or Gouda).
- 20 g Parmigiano cheese (grated).
- 50 g unsalted butter.
- 3 cloves of garlic (crushed).
- 2 or 3 leaves of fresh sage (optional).
- Salt and black pepper.
For the Pizzoccheri noodles
- Mix the buckwheat flour with the white flour and the salt.
- Work in about ½ cup of water until an elastic dough is formed. Let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Roll the dough into a sheet 2-3 millimeters thick.
- Cut the sheet into small rectangles of about 0.5 by 5 cm.
- Using a spatula, separate the rectangles from the cutting board.
- Place the pieces on a floured plate (sprinkling with more flour before overlapping them).
For the finished dish
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (using ½ tablespoon of salt per liter of water).
- Add the potatoes and the cabbage to the boiling water.
- Let the vegetables cook for 10 minutes (or only for 5 minutes if using dried pasta).
- Toss the (uncooked) pasta into the boiling water and keep cooking for another 5 minutes (or 10 minutes if using dried pasta).
- Meanwhile, melt the butter with the garlic and the sage in it; roast until the garlic is golden, then discard both.
- Drain the pasta and vegetables mix.
- At this point start assembling the dish directly into each individual bowl. To ensure that the cheese will melt, start layering the ingredients alternating some of the pasta and vegetables with a sprinkle of Parmigiano, a few cheese slices and some melted butter. Repeat 2 or 3 times using up all of the ingredients, ending with a layer of pasta and vegetables and a sprinkle of Parmigiano.
- Add some black pepper and serve immediately without stirring.
A vegetable mincer can be used to make parallel cuts.