It hasn’t exactly been chilly beans the past weeks, temperatures were good and the winter is treating us nicely. Ski fanatics may object, but I can’t say I have missed the icy roads and the masses of snow we got buried under last year. Although last years conditions gave us plenty of excuses to indulge in comfort food, I noticed I don’t need sub zero temperatures to get excited about down to earth, hearty food. Substantial meals like lasagna al forno or macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes, pumpkin soup, potato fritters, chocolate pudding or Tiramisu, apple pancakes with cinnamon… woooow can someone please stop me?! I’m just about to realize, that many of my favorites dishes probably are comfort food. Wait, here is one more, make some room guys for the new kid on the block: Pizzoccheri della Valtellina!
Last year our dear friend Hande introduced us to this tagliatelle-shaped buckwheat pasta specialty. Dinner nights at Hande’s place are not just great they’re the best! Especially when she returns from her trips with lots of new cooking ideas and inspirations and uses us as guinea pigs. No we don’t mind. Never. The pasta’s origin lies in Valtellina, a part of the Lombardy region in northern Italy and while some people may immediately be intimidated by this recipe’s amount of butter and cheese, don’t be, it’s worth every bit of it: love at first sight
A word on the used ingredients. The traditional recipe calls for buckwheat pasta, which provides a completely different mouth feel than the conventional pasta we normally use and therefor is key for this dish. It wasn’t easy to track down here in Munich, where I eventually found a package of Moro Pizzoccheri at Viktualienmarkt (Hammer Feinkost, specialized in Italian food, near Kustermann), otherwise I would have tried my luck at Spina. If push had come to shove, with a little extra effort, I would have probably tried this recipe by Giorgio Locatelli for homemade buckwheat pasta.
Cheese-wise there is a broader repertoire suitable for this pasta dish, most recipes ask for a mix of grated Bitto, Fontina, Parmesan or mountain cheese, key however, is that the cheese melts quite easily under the hot butter in the final step. The dish is best presented in a huge serving bowl, from which everyone helps themselves, adding to the dish’s character of a rustic cottage meal.
In a small pan, melt the butter together with the cloves of garlic and the sage leaves. Keep on low heat while continuing with the next steps. The butter will have plenty of time to simmer and get infused with garlic and sage, but keep an eye on it, to avoid burning it (it should not get dark!). Crush or slice the cloves if you’re in for an extra garlic kick.
Meanwhile turn to the other ingredients: Wash, peel and cube (about thumb size) the two raw potatoes, wash the chard and grate the cheese (I used Parmegiano Reggiano and Fontina).
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous pinch of salt. The only possibly tricky thing about this recipe is the cooking process as such, as it is done in one single pot. Depending on the ingredients you use (fresh pasta versus dried pasta, chard versus baby chard versus savoy cabbage, big potato cubes versus thin slices) you should spend a thought or two about the order you add them to the boiling water. In the end, everything should be cooked to the point without any ingredient overcooked.
Since it wasn’t my first Pizzoccheri attempt, I already knew that the buckwheat pasta takes a bit longer (15 to 17 minutes) than the packaging instruction suggests (12 to 15 minutes). So I started off by adding the potato cubes to the boiling water, shortly followed by the pasta itself. Occasionally stirring, I waited until the pasta was almost done before I threw in the chard – baby chard is so delicate, it only needs to be cooked a very short amount of time (1 to 2 minutes).
Drain the cooked vegetables and pasta and layer them with the mixed grated cheese in a huge serving bowl, ending with a layer of sprinkled cheese.
Discard the garlic and sage from the hot butter and – now this is my favorite part – pour this sinfully rich concoction over the layers and see everything melt together under the butter’s heat.
Add some freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg (if desired) – serve immediately and get some comfort!
Pizzoccheri della Valtellina
Recipe source: adaptation of Hande's recipe
Required time: 20-30min.
Ingredients (serves 3-4 comfort seekers):
5 large leaves of fresh sage
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 mid-sized potatoes, peeled, cut in cubes (~thumb size)
300g Pizzoccheri (dried buckwheat pasta)
2 handful of baby chard, washed (or regular chard, savoy cabbage)
200-250g freshly grated cheese, mix 2 different ones (Bitto, Fontina, Parmesan or mountain cheese)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
optional: a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg