Buckwheat Pasta with Cabbage and Potatoes (Pizzoccheri). Pizzoccheri is a buckwheat pasta dish from Valtellina, in the Lombardy region, near the Swiss border. It is a hearty dish made with buckwheat noodles (called tajarid in the local dialect), potatoes, Savoy cabbage, and plenty of cheese and butter. It is that kind of comfort, substantial, food suitable for winter.
Song of the day: Feels Like Home - Grace Kelly, Elliott Skinner
This traditional pasta dish is a complete meal that will transport you to the mountains of Northern Italy. Imagine yourself in a cozy chalet, on a cold snowy day, enjoying a warm plate of Pizzoccheri (remember, the letters /ch/ in Italian sound like /k/). The heartiness of the buckwheat pasta perfectly mingled with the softness of the vegetables and the lusciousness of the butter and cheese will make you feel like you've been snuggled in a blanket.
The buckwheat noodles
Tajarid (how they're called in the local dialect) is the noodles that are part of the Pizzoccheri dish. An eggless fresh pasta, made with a combination of buckwheat and white flour (4 parts of buckwheat and 1 part of white flour), and water. They are an IGP Italian product, meaning that their quality and other characteristics are linked to their geographical origin. Their full name is in fact 'Pizzocccheri della Valtellina' because that is the area of origin, a mountainous region that is known for its plethora of buckwheat fields. In fact, buckwheat is a staple of the local cuisine.
Making the homemade pasta
- Mix the flours and add to a large bowl, make a well in the center and add the water. Slowly incorporate the water into the flour, mixing with a fork or your hands until a dough starts to come together. After, transfer the dough onto a lightly floured wood board and knead until you get an elastic and smooth dough, adding flour if sticking, or drops of water if too dry.
Rolling and cutting
- Divide the dough into pieces. Then, with a rolling pin, roll out each piece of dough to a rectangle about 2-3 mm thick and cut into strips of about 7-8 cm. Overlap 2 strips at a time and cut them lengthwise, obtaining about 5mm-wide noodles. Sprinkle them with a little flour and place on a floured baking sheet. Repeat until all dough is finished.
Normally, egg pasta dough is rolled quite thin, these buckwheat noodles, on the contrary, must be a little thicker, about 3 mm; the lack of gluten in the buckwheat flour means that if they are too thin, they will easily break up.
Co-stars to the buckwheat noodles
In essence, this dish requires a great accompaniment to the noodles that is composed of:
- Savoy cabbage
- Parmigiano or Grana Padano
- Fontina cheese (traditionally a local cheese is used, called Casera)
- butter, garlic, and sage leaves
One pot cooks it all
- Cook the diced potatoes in salted water for 5 minutes. Then, add the Savoy cabbage and cook for 3 minutes. Next, add the noodles to the same pot and cook for about 10 more minutes. In the meantime, have ready a pan with butter, garlic, and sage leaves. The sage leaves are not in the traditional recipe, although they add a great flavor.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and place an oven-safe dish in the oven to warm it up. Then, when the noodles are cooked, drain them well with a skimmer together with the vegetables.
- Place a layer of the mixed noodles/vegetables in the warm dish, add some of the diced cheese and grated Parmigiano. Repeat layering until you finish all the ingredients.
- Next, place the dish in the oven and bake for a few minutes just until the cheese melts and creates a lovely crispy top.
- In the meantime, heat up the butter with the garlic and sage leaves on medium/high until it gets golden brown. Remove the garlic.
- Finally, take the dish out of the oven and pour the brown butter over the Pizzoccheri.
Brown butter, hazelnut butter, beurre noisette
A very important ingredient in the dish is brown butter (or beurre noisette, hazelnut butter) which is nothing more than butter, cooked in a pan until it turns golden brown and results in a delightful (hazel)nutty flavor. Specifically, the copious amount of brown butter used for this dish is flavored with garlic and sage and it is poured over the final dish. TIP: It is best to use a European-style butter with higher fat content.
After a gentle toss, we are ready to serve this Pizzoccheri.
In detail, pizzoccheri is the name of the finished dish, but even in Italy, many tend to use the word pizzoccheri for both the finished dish and the pasta itself.
Italian comfort food at its best!
When we say Italian comfort food we mostly think of Pasta al Forno, Lasagna, etc. But I bet you never would have thought of this Buckwheat Pasta with Cabbage and Potatoes (Pizzoccheri). Your first bite in is going to reveal the wonderful texture of the pasta that has a beautiful nuttiness to it.
The supporting ingredients come to really highlight this pasta with the cabbage offering that sweet earthy smoothness and the potatoes the luxury of fluffiness and starch. More so the brown butter sauce with the garlic and sage is the icing on the cake that brings everything together in such a rich and balanced affair! Even the next day warmed up in a pan gave us an end result of incredible flavor and texture, furthermore, adding in those crispy bits, that I know we all so love!