Monday, July 26, 2010

A taste of Valtellina: Pizzoccheri and Polenta taragna o concia. Mountain food not to be taken lightly.

Bresaola, the local cured specialty

We just got back from a week end in the mountains and after a fortnight of scortchingly hot weather it was a relief to have to wear fleeces and socks for two days and still be cold. It also required lots of hearty food and wine, so who's complaining?
The minute we approached C and R's, they started cooking up a feast and the marathon eating began. A real butter, pork and cheese fest, I'm telling you.
For lunch yesterday we sat down to a local dish called pizzoccheri: a delight of melted cheese, brown butter, greens and buckwheat pasta. I snapped a few pictures while C and R were cooking away in the small kitchen.

For dinner R prepared a fantastic platter of polenta taragna, made from a mix of yellow corn meal and buckwheat flour with the addition of cheese, and pork sausage to go with it. And some speck and Reblochon to top it off. Must I add more?

If you are not planning to travel to this part of the world soon, I suggest you take note and make these recipes as soon as the first cold strikes. Specialty stores near you should carry the pizzoccheri and buckwheat flour you will need and you can substituting the cheeses with raw milk, mountain cheeses.

Ingredients for pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese
1 500gr box of pizzoccheri
2 large potatoes
a bunch of chard or savoy cabbage
approx. 300gr mountain raw milk cheese (preferably a mix of casera and bitto or fontina)
2/3 garlic cloves
125gr butter
sage (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Melt butter in a pan with garlic and sage leaves. Let it brown a little. In the meantime, peel and cube (bite size) the potatoes, the cheese and wash and chop the chard/cabbage. When the water is boiling, add a generous pinch of salt and then throw in the potatoes, the leafy greens and the pasta according to their cooking times. You want the pasta to be al dente (check instructions on box), the potatoes to be soft but not overcooked and the chard to be green, not grey. When they are ready drain and layer the cooked vegetables and pasta in a bowl with the cheese. Pour hot butter over it all (discarding the garlic and sage if you prefer; we didn't) and mix. The cheese will melt and become creamy and sinfully good. Serve immediately with a dusting of fresh pepper. Drink with a sturdy bottle of red wine (i.e. Inferno from Valtellina ).

Ingredients for polenta taragna
500 gr polenta taragna
300gr mountain cheese (preferably casera, bitto, fontina)
150gr butter
a pinch of salt

For 500gr of polenta bring approx. 1.5l water to a boil.Traditionally polenta is cooked in copper pots, but you can use a heavy-based pot. Start dicing the cheese and butter. When the water is boiling throw in a pinch of salt and slowly sprinkle in the polenta while mixing with a wooden spoon to avoid lumps. Stir for about 40 minutes, until the polenta becomes thick but not too dry. Take off the stove and mix in the cheese and butter, until it has melted. Serve immediately. Great with pork, stews, mushrooms.

The bakery on the main street


  1. Funny you mention adding greens to the buckwheat. I made my pasta dish a second time since making it for the blog and decided to add baby arugula - so fantastic (but, then, the Montenegrin dish is served chilled). I wonder if our family (from near Genoa) ever ate buckwheat. If they did, it's a long lost tradition now... too bad because, by the looks of your ooey, gooey comfort-food-style dishes I would have gobbled it up as a child :)

  2. I think the greens are essential to balance out the richness... and I am a sucker for greens. My kids really like this pasta and they seem to not even notice the green bits... which can sometimes cause abit of a problem.


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