Pasta from Lombardy
Lombardy (Lombardia) is a land-locked region in northern Italy. Milan is the capital of the region and it is
recognized as a world fashion and design capital. The city is home to numerous famous dishes, such as
long and not optimal conditions for growing fruits and vegetables. The fertile soil, sunny days, and cool nights
combine to facilitate the growth of hardy vegetables such as potatoes, cabbage, and radicchio. Rice is very
popular throughout the region, and risottos are often preferred to pasta; although gnocchi are very common in
Lombardy. Single pot dishes, which take less work to prepare, are popular. Farmers raise animals that thrive in
high altitudes and cheese made from their milk is a staple. Each mountain region and often each valley has its
own cheese varieties.
Buckwheat or grano saraceno has always had a place in mountain
cuisine where the land is less fertile. Although buckwheat is
commonly used as a grain, it is actually a fruit seed that is related
to rhubarb making it a suitable substitute for people who are
sensitive to wheat or other grains that contain protein glutens.
Buckwheat is available in 3 forms: groats, flour, and noodles. The
flour adds an earthy flavor to pasta, crepes, and pancakes.
Buckwheat’s hearty nuttiness is especially satisfying in winter.
Pizzoccheri, which is a type of tagliatelle, is a favorite pasta of northern Lombardy. It is made with 2/3 buckwheat flour to 1/3 wheat flour. Since buckwheat flour lacks gluten, the wheat flour is needed to provide gluten which is necessary to hold the dough together. Valtellina, a valley in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, is one of the last remaining places in Italy where buckwheat still grows. An excellent way to enjoy pizzoccheri is in a gratin-style dish with cabbage, potatoes, sage, and an Alpine cheese such as bitto or fontina.
8 ounces buckwheat flour
4 ounces all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup milk
12 ounces savoy or other cabbage, roughly chopped
6 ounces potatoes, cut into small cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
2 garlic cloves, minced
12 ounces bitto, fontina, or telleggio cheese, shredded
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
To make the dough:
Combine the 2 flours in a bowl with salt. Add the egg and mix it into the flour.
Add the milk, mixing until you have a soft dough. You may need more or less
milk depending on the dryness of the flour. Knead the dough a few minutes
until smooth and elastic. Allow to rest for 1 hour. Using a pasta machine or
rolling pin, roll the dough out thinly and cut into noodles 1/4-inch wide. Cut the
noodles into 3 to 4-inch lengths.
To make the sauce:
Cook the cabbage and potatoes in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes, or
until potatoes are tender. Add the pizzoccheri (noodles) and cook 2 more
minutes. Drain and reserve 1 cup of cooking water.
Heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the sage and garlic for 1 minute.
Add the cabbage mixture and shredded cheese; season with salt and pepper.
Gently stir to combine and melt the cheese.
Add reserved pasta water if the mixture is too thick.
Serve with Parmesan sprinkled on top.
NOTE: You can purchase buckwheat flour online or at natural food and
specialty stores. If you don't have the time to made homemade buckwheat
noodles, substitute fresh egg or whole wheat fettuccine. If you use dried pasta,
remember that it needs to be cooked longer than fresh pasta.
'Bitto' is an Alpine cheese used in a lot of dishes, such as Pizzoccheri, in the Valtellina
valley of Lombardy. The cheese is named after the stream Bitto which flows into the Adda
River. It is made from whole cows' milk with a small portion of goat's milk, which makes for
a stronger taste.The curd is cooked, molded, and salted, and then ripened for 3 to 6
months in cool conditions. The ripening time can be an entire year if the cheese is
intended for grating. The texture of a young bitto is fine, but becomes dense and more
crumbly as it ages,intensifying the flavor.
Pasta with Asparagus and a Four Cheese Sauce
Lombardy is the birthplace of mascarpone and gorgonzola. These two rich
cheeses in addition to fontina and Parmigiano provide a creamy pasta dish.
We recommend gemelli pasta but you can substitute penne, farfalle, or rotelli.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
1 pound asparagus, cut diagonally into 2-inch pieces
3/4 cup dry white wine
3 cups heavy cream
Salt and pepper
4 ounces Italian fontina, diced
2 ounces gorgonzola, cut into small pieces
1 pound gemelli
1/2 cup mascarpone
1-1/2 cups grated Parmesan
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and
asparagus; cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Cook until
the wine is evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and a pinch of salt.
Bring to a boil and then reduce to low. Add the fontina and gorgonzola
cheeses. Cook until the sauce is thick, about 5 minutes.
In the meantime, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to
the cheese sauce. Stir in the mascarpone and Parmesan cheeses. Sprinkle
with freshly ground black pepper and serve.
Gorgonzola is a veined Italian blue cheese that can be made from cow's or goat's milk.
Originally made only in the town of Gorgonzola, the cheese is now mainly produced in the
northern Italian regions of Piedmont and Lombardy. During the aging process metal rods
are quickly inserted and removed, creating air channels that allow the mold spores to grow
and cause the cheese's characteristic veining. Gorgonzola is typically aged for three to four
months; the longer the aging the stronger the flavor. Gorgonzola's flavor can range from
very mild (dolce) to extremely strong (piccante).
Butternut Squash Ravioli
Several varieties of winter squash are grown in Italy, especially in Lombardy, the
Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Puglia, and Campania. The squash are used to
make risotto, added to soups, or fried. These slightly sweet ravioli are
accented with the almond flavor of amaretti cookies.
2 pounds butternut squash
1-1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup finely crushed amaretti cookies
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 ounces unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sliced toasted almonds
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a small baking pan. Cut the squash in
half; scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place the halves, cut side down, in the
pan. Bake 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a fork. Cool.
Scrape the flesh from the skin of the sqash. Puree the flesh in a food
processor or blender until smooth. Stir in 3/4 cup of Parmesan, the amaretti,
egg, nutmeg, and season with salt.
Prepare the pasta dough.
While the ravioli are cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
Pour half of the butter into a serving bowl. Add the ravioli and the remaining
butter. Add the almonds and gently toss. Sprinkle the ravioli with the
remaining Parmesan cheese. Serve.
Casoncelli (pronouced ka-ZONE-chelli) are made with fresh pasta dough
that envelopes a slightly sweet meat filling and are typically served with
melted butter flavored with pancetta and sage leaves. They come from
the area in Lombardy called Bergamo. Casoncelli in the style alla
bergamasca are filled with a variety of stuffings. There might be a single
type of meat or a mixture of meat (ground beef, pork, veal, sausage, or
salami) and then a combination of other ingredients may be added, such
as cheese, spinach, raisins, amaretti cookies, pear, or garlic.