Lombardy’s favorite winter dish — Buckwheat pasta with potatoes and Swiss chard ala Chef Alessio Mecozzi
Not far from Lake Como are the steep valleys and mountains of the Valtellina. Lombardy, to the north of Milan and south of Switzerland. It’s a beautiful, mountainous area, where the food is hearty and strictly local.
Take the cheese, for example. Used in many dishes, but especially essential for this pasta dish, Casera is a cow’s milk cheese produced from milk that comes from herds in the Valtellina valley, specifically in the province of Sondrio. It’s made according to a tradition that goes back to the 1500s. Bitto, the area’s other important cheese, is only produced from summertime milk from herds roaming the hills of the Valtellina valley. This, along with the small percentage of goat’s milk added to the cheese, lends it its unique flavor. It’s the only cheese in the world, apparently, that can be successfully aged more than 10 years.
We meet Chef Alessio Mecozzi from CastaDiva, who has come down to The Ambassador Hotel, Mumbai for a promotional event who gets us close and kicked about Lombardy’s favourite- Pizzoccheri from Valtellina.
The seemingly humble ingredients of this pasta dish — handmade pasta that resembles short tagliatelle made of buckwheat flour and water, plus sturdy winter vegetables, might deceive you into thinking this is a plain dish. Chef Mecozzi infact said, “It’s a poor man’s dish.” But I guess it was his discomfort and language barrier that got him saying that. All he meant was it is a hearty farmer’s meal and low on ingredient cost!
I assure that because when you add several huge handfuls of cheese and a good dose of Alpine butter, melted to a glorious frothy, golden brown hue with slivers of crisp garlic and the woodiness of sage, you have a rich, satisfying dish that will leave you wanting for nothing else, but that.
The combination of potatoes and savoy cabbage is the most classic way to serve pizzoccheri, but depending on the season and availability, either Swiss chard can be used instead, Like chef uses in his demonstration at The Ambassador, Mumbai. “Apart from this one variation of the vegetables, the recipe and the locals are proudly, vehemently opposed to any changes”, informs Chef Alessio.
The pasta is usually handmade, hand rolled, and hand cut. It’s quick to make. Chef adds, “No need to set up the pasta rolling machine, just a simple rolling pin and a sharp knife will do and it’s surprisingly easy to handle” The use of buckwheat flour for the also reflects some ancient traditions of the area; buckwheat is featured in many dishes from mountainous regions where wheat doesn’t grow locally.
While the traditional cheeses used in this dish are either Valtellina Casera or Bitto, it may be difficult to find these unique cheeses outside of the region. A close, if unorthodox, substitute would be gruyere, medium-aged fontina or assiago!
Chef Alessio carries a recipe, so that all ‘pizza-crazy’ can savour the taste of Lombardy’s favourite winter specialty, too.
Pizzocheri from Valtellina
Cooking time: 100 min
Preparation time: 30 min
Serves: 4 people
Ingredients for “Pizzocheri” Pasta
Water – 250 ml
Buckwheat flour – 400g
2 pinches salt
White flour – 100 gr.
Ingredients for the sauce
Butter – 100 gr
Grana Padano – 150g
Potatoes – 350 g
1 clove of garlic
Pepper to taste
Assiago cheese – 250 gr
Chard or cabbage – 250 g
First, to prepare pizzocheri pasta: in a bowl, mix the flours, add water and knead until dough is compact. Then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for atleast thirty minutes.
Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, up to a thickness of 2-3 mm. form strips of 7-8 cm in width Overlap the strips obtained, dust with flour to make so they do not stick together, and cut along the length of the resulting wide sheet (about 5 millimeters). Let them rest.
Cut the stems into 1 cm sticks. Cut the leaves in small strips. Peel and cut the potatoes into cubes At this point, boil the vegetables in boiling salted water, cook for 5 minutes.
Put together with the vegetables to cook the pasta. After 10 minutes of cooking, drain the pizzocheri and vegetables. Mixed in a hot pan with the vegetables and the pizzocheri, assiago cheese , grated parmesan cheese.Melt the butter with the sage leaves and garlic until nutty and golden.Remove the garlic. Pouring the melted butter on pizzocheri, serve hot with a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper and garlic chips.