Visitors exploring the northern heights of Italy’s Lombardy and Val d’ Aosta regions – as we will do next winter on our Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine ski adventure in Cervinia with Carrabassett Valley Academy – will discover pizzoccheri, a type of short, flat ribbon pasta made with buckwheat and wheat flour. In these cool, alpine valleys, wheat is difficult to cultivate, but buckwheat flourishes. The Etruscans and Saracens introduced the buckwheat grain to Italy, hence it’s Italian name grano saraceno. It became a staple in the northern regions like Val d’ Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige, appearing in recipes like buckwheat polenta, pizzoccheri, and gnocchi.
Buckwheat is not a wheat, but a grain, and so does not contain gluten. As buckwheat flour is so soft and lacks gluten, it makes a lousy pasta on its own. Gluten is a protein found in wheat that gives pasta and breads their structure, allowing us to roll our pasta into thin sheets that hold together and don’t rip. Pasta made from buckwheat flour alone will tear easily and fall apart, so including a portion of wheat flour will provide the gluten needed to allow for rolling and cutting. Kneading and resting also enhance the development of gluten, so don’t cheat on these steps. After you get the hang of making pasta, this is a great no-fuss recipe, easily done with just a rolling pin and a knife. Perfect for my upcoming class on pasta making.
Pizzoccheri is a recipe from Valtellina, a valley in Lombardy region of Northern Italy. The name refers both to the buckwheat noodles, as well as the traditional recipe with combines the noodles with savory cabbage, potatoes, and the local Casera cheese. A great winter dish, perfect on a ski holiday, but in May I’m looking for something welcoming the flavors of spring. Asparagus and mushrooms fit the bill, and complement the nutty buckwheat pasta. Pair with a great Chambave Muscat white, or a red Torrette from Val d’ Aosta.
Pizzoccheri – Buckwheat Pasta
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/4 cup all purpose or bread flour plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
In a large bowl, or on the counter, mix together the buckwheat flour, wheat flour and salt. Mound the flour mixture and form a well in the center. Add the warm water to the well. Using your hands or a fork, slowly incorporate flour from the inside rim of the well. Continue until the liquid is absorbed – about half the flour will be incorporated. Then knead until the dough forms a complete mass. If using a bowl, transfer the dough to a clean work surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes to form a smooth dough. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes (optional).
Unwrap dough and place in center of a large, clean, preferably wooden work surface lightly dusted with flour. Divide dough into 4 pieces, select one piece to roll, covering the remaining pieces with plastic wrap to avoid drying out. Using a long, straight wooden rolling pin, flatten the dough in the center, then begin rolling out dough using a gentle but firm back-and-forth motion and flattening evenly. Turn dough 90° and repeat. Working to maintain an even thickness, continue to gradually roll and turn pasta sheet until 1/8 inch thick.
Once the desired thickness, fold 2 opposite edges of the dough over 2 or 3 times in toward the center. Turn the dough 90° to cut crosswise, perpendicular to the folds. With a large chefs knife, cut the sheet into ribbons, 1/4 inch wide. Unroll strips and lightly dust with flour, then gently roll noodles into a nest, twisting once. Repeat with remaining pasta sheets.
Pizzoccheri con Asparagi e Funghi
1/2 pound wild mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta)
1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved and sliced 1/8 inch thick
12 stalks asparagus, woody ends removed, peeled if thicker than your finger
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 400°. On a nonstick baking sheet, toss the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes.
In a medium skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the leek and asparagus and cook over moderate heat until just tender. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the mascarpone and cream, then stir in the butter. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
Add the roasted mushrooms and cooked pasta to the skillet and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and mound the pasta into shallow bowls. Sprinkle the pasta with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and serve immediately.