Cold weather was a long time coming this year, but now it’s settled in. Thinking through recipes that warmth the spirit as well as the body, I’m recalling a snowy day in Valtellina, the magical valley in the Lombardian Alps. There, on a tour through Lombardy’s fabled wine regions, along its lakes and through fascinating cities such as Brescia, Bergamo, and Mantova, we happened upon the perfect dish to chase the chill.
There in a winery that had once been a monastery, a small and very precise woman made pizzocheri, the region’s famous buckwheat pasta famed for its wholesome heartiness. First she measured out the flour, called “black flour,” added white flour to give the pizzoccheri enough body to roll out, and then water. As she kneaded the dough on a wooden board, she explained that most of the work in pizzoccheri is in this step of forming the soft buckwheat flour by hand. Eventually, she rolled the dough out and cut into wide and irregular strips. Pizzoccheri is usually served as a casserole, layered with Swiss chard or other dark greens, potatoes, and plenty of cheese plus garlic and sage. The resulting dish is hearty, just right for skiier, vineyard workers, or even travelers weary from searching out Lombardy’s very diverse landscapes.
We ate the pizzoccheri along with bresaola and other regional treats in a long room flanked by tall windows looking out into the snowy landscape. The mood seemed hushed as we savored the robust goodness of pizzoccheri. For a little while, the world and the winter paused, made warm by pizzoccheri.