Eastside Road, March 4, 2015—A ONE-COURSE MEAL is always welcome as far as I'm concerned: fewer dishes to wash up, and no need to make the evening vinaigrette. And this was a hearty and resonant dish, "resonant" because it recalled me to the Alps, which I love, and the mysteries of the Valtellina, where this dish originates, as described in the estimable Marcella Hazan's "green book," More Classic Italian Cooking.
It's not a colorful dish — which suits its mountain origin, I think, and its affinity, I would say, for cold weather. I'll let la Hazan describe it:
Pizzoccheri are beautiful brown-gray, broad. short noodles. They are cooked with potatoes and some vegetable, such as Swiss chard or Savoy cabbage, tossed with the soft local cheese and garlic-scented butter, and then run briefly into the oven. In place of Vattellina's good cheese, which is unavailable here, one can use fontina, which comes from another of Italy's Alpine valleys, the Val d'Aosta. It is a perfect substitute.I don't know Lombardy well at all, apart from Bellagio and, of course, Milan; last year's read of I promessi sposi has made me want to investigate the area up between Como and Bergamo. The taste and texture and aroma of tonight's pizzoccheri made me think of a weekend we spent in the Carnatic Alps a couple of years ago, up north of Venice. There's Austria in this food, and Austria brings in the East.
The startling color of the pasta comes from the buckwheat flour which is its principal constituent. Buckwheat, called grano saraceno in Italy — Saracen wheat — because it arrived from Asia Minor, grows well in hilly, cool country. An excellent gray polenta is made from it. Those familiar with Central European cooking know the hulled kernels of buckwheat, called kasha.
Cook made it with Savoy cabbage; Swiss chard is also a possibility. Also buckwheat noodles, eggs, milk, potatoes, garlic, and of course the cheese — tonight, Fontina and Parmesan. (Unlike Marcella, I insist on capitalizing these cheeses; it's the respectful thing to do.)
As I say, one course. No salad; no dessert. The recipe is on page 200 of More Classic Italian Cooking.
Cheap Nero d'Avola☛Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants
Also now available, as a bit of an experiment: an e-book version of eating in Rome, downloadable here.