Pasta of the week: Pizzoccheri della Valtellina

One of my favourite winter pasta dishes is Pizzoccheri della Valtellina. The combination of buckwheat pasta, savoy cabbage or other greens, with fontina cheese and a buttery garlic sauce is so comforting and nourishing on a cold day. I bought some buckwheat flour recently, fully intending to make my own buckwheat tagliatelle but then I heard a little voice whisper, ”Don’t create a rod for your own back.” My home-made version will have to wait. Meanwhile, a timely box of Pizzoccheri turned up in that famous pasta aisle of Melbourne’s Mediterranean wholesaler. Organic, made in Valtellina in Lombardy, and labelled I.G.P ( Indicazione Geografica Protetta), who could resist the real thing.

Pizzoccheri della Valtellina

Pizzoccheri della Valtellina.

Recipe for 6 people. Adjust quantities accordingly, but I usually measure around 175g of pasta for 2 people and keep the whole garlic clove.

  • 500 g Pizzoccheri della Valtellina
  • 250 g potatoes peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 200 g Savoy cabbage, silver beet or Cavolo Nero ( I like to mix these for colour and use those that are growing in my garden )
  • 160 g Fontina cheese
  • 160 g grated parmesan
  • 200 g butter
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • salt/pepper

Method

Cook the potatoes in a large pot of salted water for 5 minutes. Add the Pizzoccheri pasta and the roughly chopped greens and boil for 12-15 minutes. Meanwhile melt the butter and cook the finely chopped garlic gently. Slice the fontina cheese and grate the parmesan. Heat a large serving plate and your pasta bowls. Once the pasta and vegetables are cooked, strain them and layer into a large serving bowl, along with the cheeses, alternating until the ingredients are used. Pour over the garlic butter and season. Serve.

The cheeses melt once layered through the hot pasta while the garlicky butter adds another tasty layer to the sauce. Simple and sustaining. Fontina cheese is a must in this recipe.

 

 

Gnocchetti Sardi. Pasta of the week number 2.

The pasta variety, Gnocchetti Sardi, or little Sardinian gnocchi, is a small ridged pasta around two centimetres long. It’s a great shape to use when you want an amalgam of pasta, vegetables and protein, blending nicely into one comforting bowl.

Close up of Gnocchetti Sardi or Malloreddus

Malloreddus, the Sardinian name for these little gnocchi shapes, means small calves. They have been prepared since ancient times, often for festivals and weddings and are usually combined with sausage, or meat and saffron. Traditionally they were made from semolina flour and water and hand rolled into long strips of dough, then shaped into cubes and crushed against a straw basket (a ciuliri or straw sieve) to make the textured stripes. They were meant to resemble vitellini, ( the Italian translation of Malloreddus ) meaning small calves. As you can see in the photo above, they do look a lot like gnocchi, the striped pattern designed to hold a good sauce

This vegetarian dish combines shredded silverbeet (chard) with a little gorgonzola dolce, thin cream and toasted walnuts to create a wholesome dish. The recipe is deliberately imprecise. Combine the ingredients listed to suit your taste, keeping a fine balance as you go. This dish is an Almost Italian original and one inspired by the return of chard to my garden.

Gnocchetti Sardi con Bietola, Gorgonzola e Noci/ Sardinian gnocchi with Silverbeet, Gorgonzola and Walnuts

Ingredients in sequence of use.

  • 100 gr pasta Gnocchetti Sardi per person
  • salt
  • EV olive oil
  • one garlic clove
  • some small silverbeet leaves, finely shredded
  • a small chunk of gorgonzola dolce, {DOP is you can find it/flash but so good}
  • some fresh walnuts, toasted in oven, then chopped into small pieces.
  • pouring cream
  • ground black pepper
  • Parmigiano cheese shavings for serving, optional.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Meanwhile in a wide and deep frying pan, heat the olive oil and gently saute the garlic clove. Remove the clove after it has flavoured the oil. Add the shredded silverbeet and toss around for a minute or so until wilted. Tear the gorgonzola into small clumps and add to the pan. As it begins to melt, add some pouring cream to the pan and a few grinds of black pepper. Don’t swamp the dish with cream. Reduce the cream and cheese mixture a little. When the pasta is ready, drain it then add to the pan, tossing through the sauce. Add the nuts, toss once more. Serve with shaved parmigiano.

About draining pasta. I rarely drain pasta in a colander over a sink, preferring to keep a small amount of residual pasta water to add to the secondary cooking which happens in a deep wide frying pan. With long pasta shapes, I lift them from the boiling pot to the pan with tongs or a claw pasta lifter: with short shapes I scoop them out with a wire sieve and shake a little. In this way, a small amount of the starchy, salty water helps to loosen the sauce.

Last weeks pasta of the week: Ditalini con Cacio e Uova

Easy Green Soup

This is an old stand- by soup, made when I need to charge my batteries. It requires minimal thought and is adaptable, relying on 3 basic elements: onion, potato and a pile of greens. This week’s green soup was made from zucchini, silver beet ( chard), parsley and basil. In winter, I make it with half a bunch of celery and add a few dark leaves for colour. The outside, often discarded, green leaves of an iceberg lettuce make an excellent addition. Peas go well. Any soft, non- bitter leaves will do. I don’t usually use a recipe but today, I am attempting to add quantities. It’s a great recipe for beginners in the kitchen as well as worn out cooks too.

Super Green Soup

  • 400 gr potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 200 gr onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 kilogram of greens, such as, zucchini, silver beet leaves and stems, outside leaves of an iceberg lettuce, young Cos lettuce leaves, parsley, celery, basil etc, roughly chopped or torn.
  • 1 vegetable stock cube

Optional. Cream

Add the chopped potato and onion to a pot. Add a good pinch of salt and cover with water. Cook for 10 minutes, then add all the greens. After another 10 minutes, check that everything is soft. Don’t overcook or you will lose the bright green colour. Puree with a stick blender, return to pot. Add the stock cube. Add some cream if you don’t feel too purist. Serve with chopped chives and ground pepper.

It is easy being green.

 

Silver Beet Paneer: Curry for a Cold Snap

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have been forced back indoors. Today, at the height of Spring, a cold front blew in and the temperature plummeted to 8.5 celsius. That’s Melbourne for you.

Yesterday afternoon was a different story. I felt like Mortisha in my Melbourne black: the hot sun beat down on my layered clothing, making the post- prandial walk quite uncomfortable. For those readers who live anywhere in the world but Melbourne, I should mention that Melbournians favour black dressing.

We had lunched at the Woodlands Hotel, a quirky hotel with an unusual menu, in Sydney Road, Coburg. We were merrily celebrating a birthday and enjoying a post- Bali get together when I noticed Madame Rosalie’s curry, a play on that Indian classic, Muttar Paneer, only substituting silverbeet and broad beans for the peas. What a brilliant idea! These seasonal vegetables have reached plague proportions in my garden. Today I’m making a silver beet Paneer curry, then next week, the Muttar Paneer, substituting broad beans for regular peas, using the same curry base as below.

Silverbeet Paneer

Ingredients.

  • A big bunch of young silver beet
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or ghee
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 120 ml thickened cream, (or whey from paneer or yoghurt making, as well as some cream)
  • 200gr paneer, cut into 2cm square cubes, either purchased or homemade.

Method.

Strip leaves from silver beet and add to a large pan, and add a little water. (Use stalks for another recipe). Cook quickly until the leaves are wilted but still vibrant looking. Drain, and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meanwhile in a heavy based pot, heat oil or ghee, then add onion, garlic and ginger and cook until the onion has softened. Add the chopped tomato, and spices (except garam masala) . Stir for 30 seconds, then add a little whey or cream to loosen. Add the silver beet leaves, salt and sugar, and the rest of the cream.  Cook on low heat for a few minutes, stirring. When cooler, use an immersion blender and puree the mixture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReturn to the stove, heat gently, then add the chopped paneer and the garam masala. Swirl through a little more cream when serving.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This dish is ample for four, with rice, assuming that there is another dish, such as dhal or another curry, and raita.

Just like the cucina povera of Italy, Indian food costs little to make. The ingredients came from the garden or the pantry.  The blow out was the purchased paneer.  Next time, I’ll make my own.

Footnote: this tastes even better the next day!

 

Hunza Pie to the Rescue. Silverbeet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring the 70s, a little paperback vegetarian cookbook – Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé – was all the rage.  It was a political book, the first to argue an environmental approach to vegetarianism, that ‘world hunger is not caused by a lack of food but by ineffective food policy.’  As a cookbook, it took a rather scientific approach to food, and emphasised combining grains and nuts with sesame seeds and so on, to provide sufficient protein. It was hugely popular at the time and marked a shift in my cooking, from the earlier influence of Elizabeth David, to a wholefood approach. Since then, my cooking has acquired many layers of influence, all coming together in the food of today, but a little of that simple wholesomeness remains.

some simple ingredients
some simple ingredients

As I consider the rampant forest of silverbeet/chard/bietola in the vegetable garden, a classic dish from this era springs back to mind, the Hunza Pie, along with faded memories of our old Kombi van heading towards the then undeveloped hippy havens of Byron Bay and Mullumbimby, and us, dressed in flared jeans with something to smoke.

pie asssembled
pie asssembled

If you also are inundated with silverbeet, I recommend this wholesome classic to you. It might be a tad hippified, but it’s still good.

25 minutes in the oven
25 minutes in the oven

Hunza Pie, the old way.

The Pastry

  • 150 gr wholemeal plain flour
  • 75 gr butter
  • pinch of salt
  • one egg yolk
  • two tablespoons of icy cold water.

The filling

  • 6 or so large stems of silver beet, stems and leaves cut up separately
  • half a small red onion, chopped finely
  • 100g cooked brown rice ( do this as you make the pastry)
  • 130 gr tasty cheddar cheese
  • one egg
  • pepper

Make the pastry by whizzing the flour and butter in a processor, then adding the egg yolk, process, then add a bit of the water until the pastry comes together in a ball. Pat out flat, and wrap in cling wrap to rest in the fridge for an hour.

Remove pastry. Prepare and grease an 8-9 inch pie dish or quiche tin, roll out the pastry and lay it in the tin. Trim the edges. As this is a simple rustic dish, there is no need to blind bake the pastry. The filling is fairly dry so the case is able to cook crisply
in one go.

Cook the chopped silver beet stems in ample salted water for 8 minutes, then add the chopped leaves for another two minutes. Drain well and squeeze dry. Mix the silver beet in a bowl with the remaining filling ingredients, holding back some of the cheese. Fill the pastry shell, smooth the top, then sprinkle the reserved cheese on the top.

Preheat oven to 220c. Add the pie and turn down oven to 175c ( fan on) and bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve with a salad. Serves four. Leftovers make great work and school lunches.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA