Sunday, 22 February 2009

Pizzoccheri alla Valtellina

Pizzoccheri alla Valtellina (Lombardia)

Pizzoccheri is a very special type of pasta made with buckwheat flour, a specialty of Valtelline, the alpine region of Lombardia, north of Italy. Buckwheat gives an earthy nutty flavour to the pasta, making this recipe truly unique. It is so tasty, you may explore many possibilities using different ingredients, apart from this well preserved traditional recipe!

Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese

Ingredients for 4 (approx):

-250g of buckwheat flour
-100g of regular flour + extra for dusting the board
-pinch of salt
-200g potatoes, peeled and diced in small cubes (1 large or 2-3 smaller ones)
-600g of shredded vegetable – the traditional recipe calls for cabbage, but I find chopped broccoli, halved brussel sprouts or spinach tastier.
-1 Onion, finely chopped
-150g of cheese, alpine cheeses from northern Italy, such as casera, bitto, fontina would be ideal, also gouda, edam, emmental or any kind that melts well with heat can be used. A few different kind of cheeses can be mixed as well, a little gorgonzola (about 50g of it) will add a lovely flavour!
-100g of grated parmigiano or grana padano
-2-3 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
(if available) A few leaves of fresh sage, finely shredded
-100g butter
-dash of white pepper

-knead vigorously together the flours with a pinch of salt, adding just enough water. You need to play around the amount of water, adding little by little for a right consistency taking care not to get it too soggy. The consistency should be on the firm side. Keep on kneading well for at least 15 minutes until it attains a smooth somewhat elastic texture (but not as elastic as the egg based pasta).

-roll out the dough on a flat surface well dusted with flour (keep more flour handy as you work!), stretch it out with a rolling pin to about 3mm thickness (a bit thicker than regular fresh pasta) then cut into short strips about 1cm x 6-8cm (1/3 inch x 2-3 inch).

-cut the cheeses in either small cubes or slices.

-Steam the vegetable to a desired doneness (I prefer them on the al dente side, with the bright colour still intact!)

-In a skillet melt the butter, and gently sautè the chopped onion, minced garlic and sage. When the onion softens and become semi transparent, add the steamed vegetable and mix them well. Turn off the heat and cover and keep warm (if the pasta is not ready at the time).

-Meanwhile boil plenty of water in a large pot, add a pinch of salt then the pasta and potatoes, bring it back to boil and continue to cook for 5 minutes (or until the pasta is cooked al dente, taste a piece before draining).

-drain the pasta+potatoes well, then quickly toss them in a big bowl with the garlic/veg/butter mixture, cheeses and dash of pepper until cheeses are melted and well blended in.

-serve it piping hot.

Note 1: You may be able to find a ready made pasta dried and prepackaged (called pizzoccheri) in a specialty food store or large supermarkets which stock imported items. This will save some work but it will take longer cooking time (anywhere from 10-15minutes, consult with the instruction on the package).

Note 2: Modification from the above recipe, instead of the steamed cabbage/broccoli etc., I also like sautéed radicchio or mushrooms, which can be cooked with onion, garlic and butter. With radicchio, sometimes I may add shredded speck for additional flavour.

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