WHAT IS PIZZOCCHERI?
If buckwheat pasta had a name, it would be called, well, buckwheat pasta. But the most famous among them would be pizzoccheri! This flat ribbon cut is in the tagliatelle family. The name comes from pinzochero or “bigot”. No, pizzoccheri isn’t racist or anti-Semitic. Back then use of the word bigot had a rural or “not the big city” connotation. Pizzoccheri’s wide shape makes them easier to make by hand if you’re just slicing dough with a knife at home. This pasta is made with mostly buckwheat flour. While buckwheat is gluten free (being a seed not a grain), a small percentage of flour is added to the dough (since gluten is what gives pasta its’ structural integrity). Some critics argue that adding flour to this recipe is unnecessary and any issues with buckwheat pasta holding form are due to your lack of skill. These people also did not do well in chemistry class.
WHERE IS PIZZOCCHERI MADE?
This cut was invented in Lombardy in the area of Valtellina. One of the most northern regions, its mountains and valleys are located in the heart of the Alps. Valtellina’s long winters and cool nights force farmers to plant hardier types of crops. Root vegetables like potatoes or cabbage, or rice feature prominently in local cuisine here. Buckwheat is a very popular staple here. Also, a dish of Pizzoccheri alla Valtellina (basically pasta, butter, cheese, potatoes and cabbage) is loaded with the extra calories that world class skiers (and tiny island or even atoll-class skiers such as myself) love to have after a long day on the slopes.
FOR POOR ITALIANS IN THE 16TH CENTURY, EATING OUT WASN’T AS POPULAR AS EATING?
Diets of poor people historically involved inexpensive foods like whole wheat bread or grinding cheap, tough meat into flavorful sausages. Known as peasant foods, for the Italians in northern Lombardy it was pizzoccheri. It was easy to make with buckwheat seeds that were plentiful in this mountain region. Furthermore, during the 1590s northern Italy experienced a famine unprecedented in the region. Several years of lousy weather (heavy rainfall coupled with various blights) had destroyed many crops in the area. An inefficient feudal system of agriculture didn’t help. And what was the result? Well, if your family is starving and you see some buckwheat growing in the mountains, pizzoccheri pasta for dinner with a nice side of water! Considered one of the worst famines in Italy, click here to read more about it.
WHAT SAUCES GO WELL WITH PIZZOCCHERI?
For a hearty, winter pasta go with mountain-style sauces! The classic recipe for this cut is Pizzoccheri alla Valtellina. It features hearty ingredients like potatoes, thinly sliced Savoy cabbage or Swiss chard. Or go with a more popular recipe like our Grana Padano sauce will work. You can even substitute cheeses like Fontina Valle d’Aosta! Or if you want something a bit lighter, you can just go with melted butter and a mix of vegetables (like Swiss chard) and spices (garlic). Furthermore you can make this at home and not need a bronze extruder to give it that classic, rough surface!