Pizzoccheri: Italian Soba?

Making soba reminded me of another favorite buckwheat noodle: pizzoccheri—a northern Italian buckwheat pasta dish with cabbage, potatoes, and cheese. Though it doesn’t qualify as Japanese cooking, I am including my recipe here because the noodles are much easier to make than soba because the dough is made with eggs. If you have aspirations of making soba, I’d suggest you start with these noodles to get a feel for how buckwheat dough behaves.

Italian buckwheat noodles

Pizzoccheri (I tried a different recipe from my usual one)
serves 2 to 3
The Noodles:

  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 3/4 cup unbleached bread flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten

Combine the flours and salt in a food processor. Use a syringe (or an eyedropper) to add the eggs to the flour; put 6 to 8 drops of egg around the bowl of the processor, pulse, repeat. As you add the drops, you’ll see that at first they sit on the flour like beads, but a little more than halfway through, the egg droplets suddenly begin to sink into the flour. When you can squeeze the dough into a ball (my dough needed about 2 teaspoons of water more), knead for 10 to 15 minutes. I really like putting the dough into a zip-lock and using my feet for kneading, but this dough was much easier to work than the soba!!!
Let the dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour. Roll through a pasta machine as usual. Cut the sheets into noodles 1/2″ by 2 1/2.”

pizzocheri

The Butter:

  • 2 ounces pancetta
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 3-4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed

Chop the pancetta and fry it in a small pan until crisp. Reserve. Melt the butter in the same pan and add the sage and garlic. On low heat, simmer for a few minutes. Warm your oven to 300°F.
The Vegetables:

  • 4 ounces savoy cabbage, cut into 1/2″ shreds
  • 3-4 very small potatoes, or 1 large potato, sliced thin
  • 4 ounces Fontina cheese, grated

Boil the noodles al dente. Remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon (or a wire sieve) to a bowl. Cover and put into the oven to keep warm (turn oven off). Bring the pasta water to a boil again and add the cabbage and potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are soft. Drain.
To serve, layer noodles, vegetables, and cheese in soup bowls. Top each bowl with pancetta. Pour the sage butter over each bowl. I should have added a garnish of a fresh sage leaf.

pizzoccheri

While we were eating, we got to talking about buckwheat. Buckwheat flour is made by grinding the the nuts or groats from a plant that is related to rhubarb (Polygonum fagopyrum). The groats are known in the U.S. as “kasha,” and it’s usually available in the Jewish food section of grocery stores. It is cracked roasted buckwheat “seeds.” I used to cook it quite often as a starch-side dish.
Mr. Tess mentioned that the word “kasha” is a Russian colloquialism referring to “peasant food.” I found an interesting discussion online (read some quotes below) and perhaps he was remembering this Russian proverb:

“Shchi da kasha–pishcha nasha”
—Cabbage soup and kasha is all we need to live on.

…in Russia kasha is the generic term for cooked cereal. Some types of kasha (from”The Russian’s World” by Gerhart) are:
“mannaia kasha” — cream of wheat
“grechnevaia kasha” — buckwheat cereal
“pshennaia kasha ” or “pshenka” — a main dish of millet
“iachnevaia kasha” — fine-grind barley kasha
“perlovaia kasha” — whole-grain barley kasha
“gerkulesovaia kasha” — name-brand cereal similar to oatmeal (“Hercules’s Kasha”)

and this:

…buckwheat is a grain native to Central Asia. Variously, the saracens, the Moors of Spain, the Crusaders and the Turks are credited with spreading buckwheat to Europe. Buckwheat is generally found in places where other grains won’t grow well and where the people eat “robustly”. Brittany, Finland,Northern China, Styria in Austria, central France and the Tyrolian Alps.

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14 thoughts on “Pizzoccheri: Italian Soba?

  1. ahhh, I LOVE buckwheat… have you tried the buckweat “kasha” yet? It’s so damn good, and adding anything to it only makes it better. There were times I used to put some Marmite in…Ah.

  2. wow, i love what you have done with your page 1tess. i absolutely love japanese food and i already added you on my blogroll. this is the blog that’s going to be fun to visit regularly. hey, put me on your blogroll maybe we can share ideas on japanese food and stuff. loves it (^_^)

  3. Thanks so much for your comments
    corre!
    I tried marmite some years ago, and I’m not remembering what it tastes like. My daughter ate most of it, so it must have been good. I’ve made kasha often, though not so much recently. Excellent. Good plain, great with additions of mushrooms, butter, gravy, vegetables, and eggs.
    and icedlemontea,
    Thanks for your kind comment. I’ll add you to my blogroll soon. There is some stuff I’ll be working on to maintain my blog behind the scenes, including updating my blogroll…
    stay in touch!

  4. I beg your pardon for my english, but I’m Italian.
    I have read the recipe of Pizzoccheri, and, I’m sorry, but it is wrong.
    I don’t know exatly the recipe, because I made them only 2 or 3 times, but I want to give you a suggestion:

    1) The colour of Pizzoccheri is strange. They should be lighter.
    2) Don’t use Fontina but Feta. Feta is the cheese of the place where pizzoccheri were born
    3) Don’t use pancetta! (For us is a heresy)
    4) They also should have a differen form. They should be rectangular.

    I can’t say more.
    Sorry

    • Hi Rainbow238

      Thank you for your comment. I’m not sure where this recipe came from, perhaps a library book. You inspired me to look online for pizzoccheri with pancetta and found that it is indeed unusual to say the least!

      Thanks to you that I found the video about the Moro pasta factory. I hope you enjoy!

      1) The buckwheat flour I used was very dark, so the pasta was dark. I’ve read recently that the brand I used is not milled finely enough for soba, so it’s likely not the best for pizzoccheri either.

      2) I understand about the cheese, but the cheese I think you mean is not available in this country so fontina is named (as a substitute). In France and Spain we tasted many cheeses that we can’t find here in the U.S.
      An authentic recipe? The cheese sounds delicious.
      http://it.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080317111513AAjHlly

      3) The pancetta really wasn’t needed: the dish is certainly rich enough!
      This one looks as if the cook was clever in the use of leftovers:
      http://www.peccatidigolaediamicizia.com/viewtopic.php?f=247&t=937&start=0

      4) My noodles are rectangular, but I cut them too big. LOL I think I was getting impatient to eat and was a bit careless…

    • Dear Rainbow238,
      I am Italian, too. I was actually born a few miles away from Valtellina, Pizzoccheri birthplace…
      Unfortunately neither Tess nor you are correct. Pizzoccheri call for a very specific cheese that has a most unique taste (Casera or Bitto). Alas, neither is available in US, although Fontina would be a much better fit than Feta. Feta cheese is actually from Greece and has absolutely nothing to do with pizzocheri.
      Another cheese that needs to be used is freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano. You waht roughly 50% Casera and 50% Grana.
      Pancetta is definitely wrong.
      Noodles cut is more or less a thick tagliatella. Somewhat close to Thai Pad See Ew or Chinese Chow Fun if that helps.
      You can also use Swiss chard instead of Cabbage or a combination of the two.
      A very important touch is freshy grated black pepper before serving.
      Hope this helps…
      Max

  5. Hello Max. Thank you for your comment reminding me about this wonderful dish—and your advice about how it should traditionally be made.
    Fontina is readily available here in the U.S. but I try to find imported rather than American made. It melts nicely and can have a gentle nutty flavor: it would be lovely to find Casera or Bitto—and perhaps our Zingerman’s might have one or the other for lots of $$$money$$$.
    I would love to visit Italy one day! Perhaps you would invite me to share a meal like this ≥^!^≤!
    I rather enjoy the roughly cut rectangles of noodles: makes it easy to get a bit of potato, cabbage, cheese and pasta all in one compact bite. But I’ll have to try making this with a tagliatella sort of cut. I do love long noodles!
    Chard sounds delicious as well. We have lots of it growing in the garden at our old house so it could be an opportunity to try this.
    You are definitely right: the pancetta is just wrong in this dish: wrong texture, too rich. Better would be some nice Grana Panano: good umami!
    And the black pepper? I’ve only recently come to appreciate it’s dark spark on pasta of all kinds. I am imagining it now, with the bold nutty flavor of buckwheat, and my mouth is watering…
    Tess

  6. Ahh Sage…
    This is a very interesting topic. You see, family recipes positively call for fried sage. (I am a firm believer, too). On the other hand, “The Official, ultra blessed, trademark, academy of pizzocheri” :-) recipe denies it. I’ll say go for it! One not so small detail: leave the sage in but plese take the garlic out as son as it start browning or it wil get bitter. Having said that, it is very important to get a “brownish” butter. Be very careful, the borderline between brown and burnt is very thin but it make a big difference in the final result. One last remark, try experimenting with any aged cheese. The only caveat is that you wil need a good semi-fat/fat cheese but aged at the same time. Stay away from goat/sheep. Stick with cow milk cheeses. I will take a look around next time I go shopping and post a few US pizzocheri cheese suggestions on this thread.
    PS
    Love your blog !!!!

    • You now, I don’t even like sage: it’s often used in pork sausage here, or in dressings for turkey at Thanksgiving, and I find makes a discordant note. But in this dish, it seems perfect. I think the buckwheat noodles have enough flavor to meet it, you know?

      Yes, garlic is surprisingly delicate, and goes through several stages as it fries: soft and fragrant but not yet flavoring the oil, just before it burns it flavors the oil, and finally burned bitter and hard like gravel in your sauce…

      Brown butter is delicious: sort of caramelized, sort of sweet but still savory. Take your eyes away and it becomes black butter. Not good. To tell the truth, I’ve thrown away a lot of potential brown butter and had to wash my nice seasoned cast iron pan in order to start again. Just me: I get distracted easily.

      Do you think salted butter browns faster than sweet butter? I ask because adding salt when caramelizing onions, it pulls out the excess water and makes them brown/caramelize/sweeten more efficiently?

      Re: the cheese, lots of aged cheeses here don’t melt very well, but to me, the melted texture seems to be an important part of the dish? Or is it related to the amount of fat in a cheese? no I think…

      Hey!
      Thanks again for reminding me of this recipe and how much I enjoyed it. I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, so to speak, (bad pun) so my cooking time is cut down. But the weather is getting cold again and this is now certainly on my list of meals to cook.
      Soon.

      I’d be very interested in cheeses I might find here in the U.S. for this dish. It’s well worth developing into something I could cook for my friends… (and post about)

      Tess

    • Dear Max,
      I didn’t mean the Greek Feta but the Feta chees that you can find in those places near Teglio, were my grandma lives (the birthplace of Pizzoccheri).
      Bitto is not used by the most important restaurants that make Pizzoccheri, such as “Combolo”.
      But surely it’s impossible to find the correct cheese in America!XD
      Tess, yesterday my father did them and they were terrible! You must pay attention not putting too many Pizzoccheri in the pot.
      Bye :)

      p.s. I apologise for my english one time more!

      • HI Rainbow,
        I did not know that there is “un formaggio d’alpe” (mountain cheese) called feta. This is very interesting.
        All I knew when I grew up were different combos of local cheeses ranging from “bitto”, “casera”, “latteria”, “scimudin” with different aging levels.
        Of all things, cheese are definitely one of the foods that I miss the most since I moved to USA.
        Thanks for bringing back good (and tasty) memories!!

  7. Hi Rainbow 238,

    I know there is a sort of home-made cheese my Finnish grandmother used to make. But I’ve never seen it for sale.
    Perhaps the feta you are talking about is only made very locally?
    I can find feta here in the U.S. and it seems there are many different kinds: none of it melts very well though. Some is very smooth and almost hard, as if it were closely pressed, and not especially salty. Some is rough, as if the curds were only loosely drained. Usually that sort is very salty, and a little sour.
    To tell the truth, I don’t know much about cheese-making.

    Rainbow, I’m sorry that your father tried the noodles and they were terrible. The buckwheat flour I used did absorb lots of water and expanded more than one would expect. I have a very large pasta pot so there was plenty of room in it.

    By the way, your English is very good: you have no need to apologize!

    Best regards,
    Tess

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