During the colder months of the year it is not unusual to crave hearty, robust, one-pot dishes to warm us up on a chilly night and this historic dish from Valtellina in northern Lombardy perfectly fits the bill. Pizzoccheri are a type of pasta made with buckwheat flour (grano di saraceno) and take the form of thick, short strips which have a distinctive dark, greyish colour and a coarse texture. They are rich in protein and fibre and are usually served with a mouthwatering yet calorie-laden combination of potato chunks, Savoy cabbage, Valtellina Casera cheese, butter and sage.
Buckwheat has been cultivated in the Lombardy region since the 15th century and also features in another local dish of the area called Polenta Taragna. Traditionally the pizzoccheri are made and served fresh and are easy to make at home using a mixture of buckwheat flour, white flour and water. However, most supermarkets now sell boxes of dried pizzoccheri which has helped to spread the word of this delicious recipe throughout the country and also cuts down on preparation time.
There are several variations to the recipe including substituting the cabbage with Swiss chard, spinach or green beans depending on what you have to hand. The amount of butter can also be altered to your own preference although the original recipe states that the pizzoccheri should be practically drowning in the sage and garlic-infused butter. Vatellina Casera cheese can be difficult to find outside of Lombardy so a good alternative is Bitto or even Fontina which are more widely available.
Although not stated in the recipe below you can also put the assembled dish in a 180°C oven for about 5-10 minutes to further amalgamate the ingredients and create a bubbling, cheesy top.
Pizzoccheri (serves 4)
3 medium-sized potatoes
1 Savoy cabbage
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
150g of Bitto or Casera, thinly sliced
Handful of grated Parmesan
8-10 sage leaves
Salt & pepper
Preparation time: about 1 hour
What to do:
Peel the potatoes and cut into large chunks. Discard the outer leaves of the cabbage and chop roughly.
Boil a large saucepan of salted water, cook the potatoes for 20 minutes and then add the cabbage and pasta and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Melt the butter in a separate pan and soften the garlic and sage.
Drain the potatoes, cabbage and pasta and layer in a dish with the melted butter, slices of cheese and black pepper.
Serve with a good sprinkle of parmesan.