Travel to the far north of Italy and the terrain gets rougher, the weather colder, and the pastas more rustic.
Travel to the far north of Italy and the terrain gets rougher, the weather colder, and the pastas more rustic. For centuries, buckwheat was one of the few grains hardy enough to survive in Valtellina, a small valley in the shadow of the Alps, and it shows in the food.
One such beloved tradition is pizzoccheri, a short, ribbon-shaped buckwheat noodle that’s baked like a casserole into a stick-to-your-ribs meal. Loaded with two kinds of cheese, potatoes, cabbage and sturdy greens, pizzoccheri feels like a perfect fit for the waning days of winter.
For our take in our book “COOKish,” which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, we skip the casserole and use the dish as inspiration for a more typical pasta. Easier-to-find whole-wheat pasta has a nuttiness similar to buckwheat pasta, and it’s the perfect backdrop for the subtle sweetness of gently sautéed leeks and cabbage, as well as the savoriness of Gruyère.
Toasted walnuts tangled into the pasta and sprinkled as a garnish add crisp texture and rich umami notes. And a final sprinkle of chopped fresh sage adds herbal freshness.
Start to finish: 35 minutes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
8 ounces whole-wheat fettuccine OR linguine, broken into rough 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound leeks, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
12 ounces savoy cabbage, thinly sliced OR 5-ounce container baby kale, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
4 ounces Gruyère cheese, finely shredded (1 cup), divided
1⅓ cups chopped walnuts, toasted
Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving the water. In a 12-inch skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the leeks, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the cabbage; re-cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the pasta, sage and 1 1/2 cups cooking water. Off heat, gradually stir in ¾ cup of the cheese. Stir in more cooking water as needed to form a creamy sauce; stir in 1 cup of nuts. Season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with remaining cheese and nuts.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap
Christopher Kimball, The Associated Press