…so. Your friend comes back from the low mountains. You’ve been there, to his old mountain-top home. You know that wonderful food store next to the river in the valley below, heard the crackling of its wood burning fireplace on the left as step inside, gazed wide-eyed at all those locally made products it sells, the best aged and fresh meats and polenta and pasta and cheese, tasted a small sample of tidbits, wild boar salami, grilled pig arm, sharp sheep cheese, other flavors. He brings you… some lovely, fatty, fresh Casera – a mountain cow’s milk cheese that tastes of spring flowers, clean water, mixed grasses and plants and all that hay-sweetness in the mountain plains. Each milking farm will bring a little bit of its own places, where the cows graze during the summer, subtle differences that can’t be reproduced in any frickin’ metal-lined factory. No Kraft crap here. Products that satisfy deeper parts of you than any…Philadelphia. Stuff to respect both while eating and preparing.
But… two pounds of it, a full kilo. And like I said, not the aged kind – where time in rock and wood cellars tease away the summer scents and leave the essence of flavors more room to roam, condensed into the salty rounds. Nope, this is the kind of cheese that will last a little while in the fridge, a few days fully, maybe 7-10 days before it begins to turn an oddish green-milky color as the mold whittles its way into the solidified milk interior from the golden yellow crust around. So after… cheese and honey, cheese sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese and fruit, a cheese and sweet onion frittata you weigh the now changing-hued chunk remaining… and see on the scale that there’s still well over a pound remaining. You need to make a dish that will made strong headway in a hurry, something good though. Genuine. Then you recall… that you, to, had been to that mountain valley food shop and bought another of the local delicacies: artisan made buckwheat pasta. Pizzoccheri.
Now, this later dish was made by the hardest-working people you could have ever met, real mountain people, ‘montanari’, who used to spend more calories on physical labor and keeping warm in winter than, say, an average tour de france rider uses on a hard, multiple houte-categorie stage day. Lots, I mean looooots, of calories, through what they had and have on hand – cheese. On the Swiss side of the alps… well, they’re swiss, so they take their cheese and basically melt it, then either eat the stuff with boiled potatoes or smothered over bread. Which is fine, of course, and if the main part of those dishes are genuine… very satisfying. But in italy, well, you know, they have this thing about flavor, refining it, mixing it together with other local ingredients mostly until it, well, tastes Italian. So on the Italian side though they melt the cheese as well they mix it with other stuff, and here the grain part of the dish is of course, pasta noodles. From buckwheat flour. Pizzoccheri.
They look a little like that – sorry, the immage came out blurred – if you buy them pre-made. You can of course do them yourself simply with flour and water but I never have as yet, so I’ll say for the dry stuff use about 60 grams per normal person, less if they don’t eat much, 80 grams if you’re famished, more if you’re a montanaro. Or if you just road the Alpe d’huez climb. 3 times. In a row. That’s because you add these as well:
…potatoes, not the floury kind, the freshest the better, about 1 small-medium per 80 grams but adjust as you will. That’s the thing about local cooking – the quantity of ingredients is based on the moment, personal taste, adjusting according to what you smell or see or sample. Anyway, the cubed potato mound should be about the same size as the pasta mound. Here, remember, we’re using dried noodles so prep them size-wise for a 12-14 minute boil. But before you do, slice up about the same amount of cheese, in weight, as the noodles you’ll be using.
….and in volume, fresh vegetables. In winter it almost has to be cabbage of one kind or another.
Drop in the potatoes first into a big pot of boiling salted water. As soon as the water starts boiling again, add the cabbage, maybe make sure it starts to wilt with a strainer or something to weigh it down into the water, then finally the pasta.
In the meantime, get a garlic clove, maybe two, red is better here than white (and do NOT EVER use chinese garlic, I don’t care if they try giving it to you. Spend the extra few cents.) Grab a leaf or two of sage and on the lowest of heat on the back burner let a few pats of butter melt with the flavoring in the pan:
….and grate some aged cheese, not too sharp, some gentle pecorino or of corse parmiggiano reggiano. Grab a caseurole and put some of the cheese in the bottom. Maybe start the melting by placing it on the pot like this:
…and turn on the oven. Once the pasta is ready – taste for salt with a few minutes to go if you want but it’s kind of hard to adjust – take a hand strainer, drain the mix well and once it stops dripping, layer some over the cheese. (In case it isn’t clear, yes, the noodles, potato and vegetable are boiled together in the same pot. Adds flavoring to the pasta.) Then more cheese, then the rest of the noodles and finally the rest of the cheese. Once that’s done, sprinkle some aged cheese over the whole and the melted, flavored butter, which by now should be a nutty-hued golden color. Shove it in the heated oven, 150, 180, whatever as log as it’s hot, for maybe 8 minutes or so then switch on the grill and grill it until the cheese begins to brown. Remove, maybe bring the caseurole into the main room to show off, then plate. You get something like this:
…it is…. awfully tasty even though it’s not a well-known dish outside the north of Italy. But it should be. After dinner…. you can go hibernate until spring, when you might crawl outside and go back to the food store in the valley and start all over again… ingredients for 4: 200 grams of buckwheat noodles (pizzoccheri) 2 medium potatoes in cubes to cook in 12 minutes 200 grams or so of fatty, fresh cow cheese in half-dollar width slices cabbage or other seasonal vegetable sliced into ribbons (or in half, as in string beans) salt and pepper butter, unsalted 1 clove of garlic 1 sage leaf a handful of grated aged cheese like Parmiggiano Reggiano water. Fill the opt with water, salt to taste, once boiling add first the potatoes, then the veggy, finally the noodles. On the back burner, 3-4 pats of butter on lowest heat along with the garlic clove lightly crushed and the sage. Once the noodles are ready, first on the bottom of a caseurole about 1 third of the cheese, then half the noodle mix well drained, then another third the cheese, the rest of the noodles and finally the last of the cheese. Pour in the melted, flavored butter, loosely cover with the grated aged cheese, into the hot oven for about 5-10 minutes then under the grill until browned. Serve with a structured white or well hopped beer. Then sleep for a week. link- in pictures and in italian, but it’s an easy dish to
show: http://www.buonissimo.org/lericette/4372_Pizzoccheri_alla_valtellinese/view/fotogallery/slide/3-Step and link, the place where the cheese comes from: https://www.paesionline.it/guida-valtellina …feel like a cheap recipe book might be the right stocking stuffer? Check these out, each on sale for about the same price of as… a forkful of pizzoccheri…