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.
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
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.
According to market research, many people prefer recipes that take 27 minutes or less to make.¹ I think my patience level runs very close to this figure. A comforting risotto just fits it into this time frame, so long as you prep most of the ingredients as you go, which to me makes sense; it gives you something else to do while you are stuck beside that pan for 20 minutes or more, stirring, watching, and knocking back the wine you opened to make it.
Risotto is my favourite winter food, especially when the garden provides winter loving treasure such as Cavolo Nero, the dark green Tuscan king of kale, and ruby coloured radicchio, a bitter leafed vegetable that adds colour and crunch to winter meals. As the morning temperatures drop below zero and the ground turns crunchy with white frost, these two plants come into their own. They love a cold snap.
The other ingredients are fridge and pantry staples. Butter, olive oil, onion, good Italian rice and Parmigiano Grano Padano. Which rice is best for this task? I generally find that the cheaper brands of arborio produce a less appetising result. Although I do enjoy frugality, some cheaper ingredients make for false economy. One kilo of good quality Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice goes a long way.
Risotto Invernale con Radicchio. Winter Radicchio Risotto. A step by step recipe. Ingredients for two large serves.
1 cup good quality risotto rice ( Carnaroli or Vialone Nano)
1 tablespoon EV olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 small red onion, very finely chopped
1/2 small carrot, very finely chopped( optional)
vegetable stock, homemade or made with a stock cube, around 3 cups or more
dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio
a small head of radicchio, finely sliced
grated parmesan cheese, Reggiano or Grano Padano
more butter, a good knob
Chop half an onion into tiny dice and add it to a wide pan with a generous slurp of olive oil and butter. Although a diced carrot isn’t generally added to the base of a risotto, a little carrot adds some sweet notes, since radicchio can be quite bitter. As the onion gently cooks, bring a pot of vegetable stock to the boil and let it simmer next to your risotto pan. I like to have more stock than most recipes suggest, just in case it’s needed. This can be either home-made or made from a stock cube. Open the white wine. Measure the rice. Cut a small head of radicchio into fine strips. Find a small butt of Parmesan cheese and ask someone to finely grate it.
Add the rice. One cup of rice makes a generous meal for two people. Adjust the recipe for more people. Stir the rice to coat the grains- the rice will turn opaque – then add a big slurp of white wine, ( at least a quarter of a cup, though I never measure it) and stir well. At this point, you are allowed to begin drinking, to fortify you for the task ahead.
Once the wine has evaporated, begin adding the hot stock, one ladle full at a time. There’s no need to stir too vigorously or continually. The heat should be on medium to high, though I generally adjust this up and down as I go. When the stock evaporates, add another ladle, and continue this activity for around 20 minutes or so.
Add the radicchio and the last ladle of stock and stir vigorously for around 5 minutes. The leaves will soften and the dish will become more creamy. Add a grinding of pepper.
The final and most important step. Add a good amount of parmesan and butter, la mantecatura, thencover and turn off the heat. Let it sit for 2 minutes.
Take off the lid and stir through the butter and cheese vigorously. The dish will become creamy and smooth. Shake the pan backwards and forwards to observe a wave movement ( all’onda) in the mixture. If you think that the risotto is a little dry, add a small amount of hot stock and stir through well. You are aiming for a soft, creamy and well united dish that has a little wetness.
I know what you’re thinking, not another zucchini recipe from Casa Morgana. The zucchini in our garden don’t look like they’re slowing down soon- in fact, they are gaining momentum, so my zucchini repertoire continues to expand. This recipe is based on the famous Melanzane Parmigiana but is made with fresh zucchini instead of eggplant, along with a sauce from their garden team-mate, fresh tomatoes. It is, for me, Italian comfort food at its best, and good when I feel tired. If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, use a large can of tomatoes instead. Start the prep early, given the stages to this homely dish.
Zucchini Parmigiana (Serves 4-6 with salad and a side dish)
one kilo medium-sized zucchini
a little olive oil
salt and pepper
4-5 garlic cloves, crushed then chopped
one kilo of fresh vine ripened tomato
herbs, either fresh basil or fried oregano
1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste
grated grana padano parmigiano cheese.
Choose a kilo of medium-sized zucchini. Cut the ends off and slice them vertically. Don’t cut these too finely as they need to stand up to some intense cooking and hold their shape in the final layering.
Choose a gratin baking dish, either oval or oblong. Butter or oil base and sides.
Grill the sliced zucchini on a stove top ridged griller. When all done, keep aside and season lightly as you go.
Skin the tomatoes, then chop them, removing most of the seed.
Add some olive oil to a saucepan, cook the garlic briefly, then throw in the tomatoes and herbs. Let the sauce simmer and cook down slowly for 30 minutes or more. Add tomato paste to thicken. The sauce should still have some texture, unlike tomato passata.
Begin layering the dish, starting with a little sauce, followed by the zucchini (cut these to size as you go to match your serving dish). Then some mozzarella, then some grated parmesan.
Continue layering in this way until the ingredients are used, finishing with a cheese layer.
Bake in a medium oven, 180c FF for around 20 minutes or until the top has coloured.
Serve with a side dish that will soak up the juices. I chose some orecchiette with a little butter, pepper and fresh basil leaves. Mash is also good or just crusty bread.
When Leah nominated Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook for this month’s Cookbook Guru title, I was in two minds. Don’t get me wrong. I went through a Marcella Hazan stage from the late 80s and I believe she has influenced my cooking profoundly. I was studying Italian at the time and her discussion of things like the importance of ‘soffritto’ and ‘salt’ changed my cooking style. At the time, Marcella became my cooking mentor,- I loved the sound of the Italian titles; the two obsessions in my life, Italian language and cooking, complemented each other so well.
In those days I owned two other cookbooks written by Marcella. They preceded her The Classic Italian Cookbook which I don’t enjoy as much. So I am sure you won’t mind if I share my favourite soup recipe, taken from her earlier work. This recipe is a family favourite: we have adapted it along the way but it is still close enough to the original. Marcella, I recall, flavours the oil with whole garlic cloves and then discards them. I chop it and keep it all- it flavours the stock beautifully. It has become our ‘chicken soup’, a pick me up. I have attempted to list quantities here: normally it’s a handful of this, a bunch of that and a couple of cups of beans. The beauty of the soup relies on fresh ingredients and it costs almost nothing to make. The costly items are the Parmigiano cheese and good quality oil.
Zuppa di Bietola e Fagioli Bianchi.
(or less romantically, Silverbeet and White Bean Soup)
one small branch of fresh rosemary, stripped, chopped.
5 Tbles EV olive oil
4 cloves garlic or more, finely chopped.
6 fillets anchovies
Make a soffritto with these ingredients in a large pot. Melt the anchovies down in the oil, stirring well, being careful not to over colour the garlic.
one large bunch silverbeet
500 gr cooked cannellini /great northern beans ( from 300 dried)
two small handfuls of macaroni/digitali/small shaped pasta
grana padano/reggiano parmigiano cheese
best EV olive oil for serving.
Wash and trim the silver beet. Finely slice, including the stems, and add to the soffritto, stir around and coat with oil till they wilt.
Add beans. Add enough water to barely cover ingredients. Cook on a steady heat for around 5 minutes. Add pasta, some salt, and cook until the pasta is al dente.
Adjust salt, stir some grated parmigiano through the soup. Serve with a little stream of fine oil and extra parmigiano.
This is a piatto unico, a one course meal, with good bread. Serves 4-6.