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.
2 cups buckwheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina
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.