Monday, February 18, 2008


Pizzoccheri are buckwheat noodles in a "sauce" of cabbage, potatoes, brown butter with sage and fontina or bitto cheese. Sounds like an Italian/Irish/Polish fusion dish gone wrong, wouldn't you say? But it's actually a far Northern Lombard dish from Valtellina. And despite the apparent insipidness of the buckwheat, cabbage, potato combo, it is delicious and full of flavor thanks to the cheese, butter, sage and garlic! Obviously not for dieters, it's a good, stick-to-your-ribs kind of winter meal. We first had this in a mountain refuge after a 2-hour climb near Lake Como and let me tell you, the richness of the dish really hit the spot. I'm here to tell you how to make the noodles especially since I don't remember ever finding them ready-made in the States, and then I'll tell you the simple preparation for the finished dish.

The pasta:
2 cups buckwheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt

Any recipe I have ever seen for pizzoccheri noodles calls for simply flour and water. I find that buckwheat flour makes for breakable dough and so I insist on using eggs to bind the dough to make intact noodles. Combine the flours in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. In a cup, beat the eggs and add the salt. Pour the eggs into the well and begin to incorporate the flour by mixing in a circle and pushing some of the flour at the sides into the center. As you are mixing, you will be able to tell if the eggs are enough to incorporate all the flour or if you need some water to help. In any case, the dough should be very stiff and quite on the dry side. You do not want sticky dough so if you do add water, do it by teaspoons so you don't end up adding too much. Once you have a ball of dough, let it rest covered for about 1/2 hour.

Using a pasta machine, roll pieces of the dough into sheets. Process them through to the second to thinnest setting and lay them out to dry just a bit. Once all your pasta is in long sheets, it's time to cut them into taglaitelle. Roll the sheets through the tagliatelle cutter and lay them flat on your work surface. Do NOT roll the noodles into nests as with other pasta since these noodles will glom together at any opportunity.

Leave the noodles lying flat on the table while you prepare your other ingredients:

4 cups chopped cabbage
2 medium russet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 stick butter
10 fresh sage leaves, shredded
4 cloves of garlic, minced
10 ozs (approx. 300 grams) grated fontina or bitto cheese
4 ozs grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 350F. In a large stock pot bring abundant water to the boil. You will be adding all the ingredients except the sage, garlic and butter into this, so make sure there's enough water. Toss in a tablespoon of salt. Add the cabbage and lightly boil for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, raise the heat in the beginning to get the water boiling as quickly as possible and boil another 5 minutes, or until the potato pieces are just barely tender. As you are hanging around in these five-minute periods, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the sage and garlic. Cook over medium heat until the garlic is blonde and the butter itself takes on a light brown, nutty color and aroma. This is called "beurre noisette" Music to cook pizzoccheri by: the tune of the Italian National Anthem with the lyrics substituted by the directions on how to cook pizzoccheri. This, just in case you didn't believe this dish is really Italian. The last thing that goes into the pot is the pasta. Put it in, turn the heat up momentarily to get the pot boiling asap and stir to make sure nothing sticks. Boil for 1 minute and then check the consistency of the pasta. If it is al dente, pour all the contents of the pot into a large collander and drain completely. Pour half the cabbage, potatoes and noodles into a wide baking dish, taste for salt and add more if necessary, along with some pepper. Sprinkle on half the cheese and pour on the rest of the noodles and the rest of the cheese. Salt again if necessary. Now pour over the butter, garlic and sage sauce and mix everything to make sure it is all coated with the sauce. Place in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted, but not browned, about 10 minutes.


Blogger rowena said...

This dish, along with cassoeula, are what I call the "Pimp My Arteries" favorites. Butter and cheese and "Can I have a 2nd helping please?"

I'm kinda peeved that the weather turned a bit colder but now I've an excuse to have a few more servings of winter victuals before it'll be too hot to be slugging around after a heavy meal.

3:58 PM  
Blogger rowena said...

I forgot to add...mustard shoyu is just a mixture of chinese hot mustard (powder form) with soy sauce. It is a STAPLE at ramen/saimin noodle shops on the islands. I treat it like how some folks treat Tabasco: a good helping!

4:02 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

You're so funny--you crack me up. The suggestion for music here is hilarious.

This sounds like great comfort food on a cold day.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Rowena, "Pimp My Arteries" - hilarious! Yep it's good solid heavy winter food. And thanks for the explanation of mustard shoyu, it sounds really delicious.

Hi Christina, I'm assuming those singers are from Valtellina and wanted to make an homage to Pizzoccheri as a particularly Italian dish. Pretty silly.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Wow. Buckwheat has no gluten - I am amazed they stay together. Guess that egg does the trick, eh? Have you ever tried doing 1 cup buckwheat flour to 3 cups regular wheat flour? Wonder if you'd still get that cool buckwheat taste?

9:40 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Hunter,

Well, I didn't know that about the lack of gluten in buckwheat. That explains a lot. Actually, the long noodles I make do break up into couple inch-long strips while cooking, which is exactly what the finished product is supposed to be like. The soba noodles (basically a vermicelli version of the same thing and they break up as well. maybe i should try adding more regular flour as you suggest.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous ann said...

ohmigod! That sounds amazing! it's basically everything I love about food in the world in one dish. Toss in a few pieces of sausage and color me satisfied. That would be the best dinner ever. Thanks for the recipe. Now i just have to find buckwheat flour (stat!).

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bet this warms you up pretty well indeed. Loved the video :)

3:29 PM  
Blogger Proud Italian Cook said...

Susan, This is definately real comfort food!Glad your back and cooking up a storm!!

4:15 AM  
Blogger Stelle in Italia said...

i remember having this while I was up in northern Lombardy a couple of years back--really good! Thanks for the recipe (and funny choice of music!)

11:04 AM  
Blogger Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

I second Ann's motion for sausage. Everything is better with sausage...

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Matteo Recanatini said...

I found pizzoccheri online at
They are delicious!

4:54 PM  

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