Have you ever heard of pizzoccheri? Possibly not, until now, that is. Pizzoccheri is a hearty Italian winter pasta dish. Ideal for vegetarians, it uses a special type of pasta, from which it takes its name. Read on for a pizzoccheri recipe.
A very tasty and filling dish, it’s ideal for the cold winter weather, as the inhabitants of Valtellina, a mountainous area in northern Italy, well know. I’m a very big pizzoccheri fan. If you have just spent the day skiing in Italy’s north, look out for pizzoccheri on hotel and restaurant menus. A plate of this high calorie Italian dish will supercharge you for the next day’s downhilling, probably.
Reputedly, pizzoccheri was created in Italy’s Valtellina area, though the residents of the Canton of Graubünden (or Grisons) in Switzerland may dispute this claim. The recipe in this post is the one which is cooked up in Valtellina.
The ingredients of pizzoccheri are:
- Pizzoccheri pasta – you can buy it in fresh or dried forms, or make it.
- Butter – unsalted butter tends to be the norm in Italy.
- Valtellina Casera or Fontina cheese – fontina may be easier to find outside of Italy. As an alternatives to Italian cheeses, you could use Gruyère, Emmental, Beaufort, Edam, or Gouda. A full flavoured Gruyère is probably the best alternative, though try to find Casera or Fontina cheese for a more authentic taste.
- Grana cheese – Grana is similar to parmesan cheese and parmesan can be used as a substitute. Parmesan is also much easier to find outside of Italy. Fresh parmesan or grana cheese is best.
- Cabbage – Savoy cabbage is what is often used in Italy. As alternatives to Savoy cabbage, Swiss chard can be used, as can French beans or spinach.
- Potatoes – more or less any potatoes (except new potatoes) will do.
- Garlic – if you are not a garlic lover, or if garlic does not love you, then could could use chives instead, though this may lead to quite a different flavour. Then again, you could simply leave out the garlic.
- Pepper – and maybe a little salt, though grana or parmesan cheeses are quite salty.
As you might have noted from the ingredients, pizzoccheri is an ideal dish for vegetarians or anyone else who’s not a meat eater. It’s quite quick to prepare and only takes around 30 minutes to rustle up.
The recipe recommended by the Valtellina Pizzoccheri Academy is as follows.
An Authentic Italian Pizzoccheri Recipe
Serves 2 – double the quantities if you have four or more mouths to feed.
What You’ll Need and How Much
First of all, you’ll need to chop the potatoes (250 grams/half a pound) into either small cubes or relatively thin rectangular slices (2.5 cm by 1 cm – 1 inch by half and inch).
Next, cook the vegetables (cabbage (200 grams (7 ounces – but half a pound would be OK – and potatoes) in boiling salted water for 5 minutes or so.
Add the fresh pizzoccheri pasta (500 grams or just over a pound) to the vegetables.
Note: If you use dried pizzoccheri pasta, you’ll need to pre-cook it briefly in boiling water. The dried version should be cooked until it’s more al dente (in other words, uncooked) than you would cook normal dried pasta. In fact, this type of pasta should be cooked until it is at a kind of pre al dente stage.
The pizzoccheri and vegetable mix then need to be cooked for 10 minutes or so. Try to ensure the potatoes don’t dissolve!
After that, drain the water off the pizzoccheri and vegetables. A portion of the pizzoccheri and vegetable mix should then be laid on the base of an earthenware dish (the same dish you use for lasagne would be fine provided it’s not huge).
Onto the layer of pasta and vegetables place some of the grated parmesan or grana and flaked pieces of the Casera cheese or fontina. The add a new layer of pasta and more cheese. Continue until you’ve used up all the pasta and cheese.
Once you’ve finished, melt the butter and fry a clove of garlic in it until the garlic is reasonably brown. Pour the by now garlicky melted butter over the pizzoccheri, vegetables and cheese. Sprinkle on a little pepper. Without mixing, serve immediately.
Using different vegetables and cheeses can produce different results. Why not experiment a little to find your favorite cheese and vegetable combinations?
Wash it Down with Wine
You could wash your pizzoccheri down with a good Valtellina red wine, such as one produced by Valtellina-based wine maker, Mamete Prevostini, for example. Prevostini’s Valtellina Superiore Sassella 2009 was recently rated No.1 and Best Value by the New York Times.
Enjoy or buon appetito as Italians would say.
If you have trouble finding the type of pasta you need, and you might, let me know and I’ll explain how it can be made.
Alternatively, if you are in Italy, you’ll find the pizzoccheri pasta in supermarkets. One brand of pizzocheri pasta to look out for is Moro, an Italian company based in Valtellina – the heart of pizzoccheri territory in Italy.
How Do You Pronounce “Pizzocheri“?
In case you were wondering, the pronunciation of pizzoccheri is ‘pizz’ as in pizza, “occh”, as in the “ock” part of “clock”, “er”, as in ‘to err’, and “i”, as in the “i” in “indicate”. Put that all together and you have pizz-occh-er-i.
Photo credit: “Esno4Wkmana jul 2014 Cassnam 066” by Cassinam – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.