This dish is like no other pasta dish you've ever tried before. I search for the right words to describe it, the combination of ingredients seems so odd, and yet they work so well together. Sage, butter, garlic, cabbage, potatoes, cheese, and buckwheat. It is earthy, and heavy. Salty, and herby, with the nutty flavor of browned butter and high quality cheeses. You can thank the Italians and the Swiss for this novel combination. Perhaps it isn't so novel to combine such things for them, but for Americans, it's new. New is good!
They eat pizzoccheri in the Alps. After you make it and try it, you can understand why. Food from this area is hearty. It's meant to keep you warm and full. It's not for dieters, or snackers. This food is the pile-it-up-and-lick-your-plate-then-go-back-for-more-before-you-head-back-into-the-blizzard kind of food.
It is possible to find pre-made pizzoccheri noodles in the US. Those of us not living in a major metropolitan area, will have to make them. (I could not find a US source for buying them online.) I read online somewhere that pizzoccheri noodles should be 80% buckwheat and 20% wheat flour, and my recipe is pretty much the opposite of that. No worries. It works. The March 2011 issue of Food Network Magazine, has a recipe for making your very own pizzoccheri noodles. The recipe is as follows:
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
3/4 cups buckwheat flour
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Mix the flours together in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Beat the eggs, olive oil, and 6 tbsp of water in a measuring cup. Pour into the well. Stir with a fork. (Really use a fork.)
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (Don't worry if it looks a little crumbly or uneven) and knead until smooth, 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. (Do let the dough rest. It is very important!)
A very smooth kneaded lump of dough.
Cut the dough into 6 pieces; wrap 5 pieces in plastic. Roll out 1 piece into 12-by-18-inch rectangle on a floured surface. (About 1/8-inch thick.)
Cut crosswise into 1/2 inch wide strips, then cut the strips in half. Toss the pasta with flour on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. (I recommend keeping plastic over the baking sheet so they don't get too dry.)
*Also, please note that the noodle recipe makes too many noodles, unless you are feeding a hungry army, which maybe you are...but I use about 3/4 of the noodles in the dish.
This part of the recipe is all mine, but inspired by online recipes:
1 lb russett potatoes cubed into 1-inch chunks
1 lb cabbage cubed into 1-inch chunks
1/3 cup loosely packed fresh sage, roughly chopped*
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/3 cup butter
3//4 lb fontina cheese, grated
1/4 lb Parmiagiano-Reggiano, grated (use fresh only!)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Fill a large pot with water, salt to taste, and bring to a boil. While the water is heating, in a small skillet, heat the butter over medium low heat. Cook until the butter solids become browned but not burnt. Add garlic slices and sage and cook garlic until soft. Do not let the garlic get very brown or it will be bitter! Remove from heat and let the flavors combine while you cook the noodles.
Add potatoes and cabbage to boiling water and cook for 10 minutes or so until the potatoes are just tender. With the potatoes and cabbage still in the water, add pizzoccheri noodles and cook for 5-6 minutes or until al dente. (Mine were on the thin side so they only took about 5 minutes.) Drain when done. Sprinkle a tiny bit of salt over the noodle mixture.
In a large casserole, put the noodles, cabbage and potatoes. Gently fold in the browned butter sauce and the cheeses. Bake uncovered for about 10 minutes. Serve and enjoy!
*If your sage is super fresh, I would use less. You don't want to overpower the other flavors.