By the time my great-grandfather disembarked in Melbourne in 1882, the allure of the gold that had attracted so many Swiss Italians to Australia had moved well beyond Victoria, all the way to the goldfields in Far North Queensland in his case.
Domenico Strambini came from Grosio, in the Valtellina, just a few kilometres south of the Swiss border. The Valtellina is home to ski resorts and mineral springs and spas. The region is known for its Nebbiolo wines grown on impossibly-steep slopes, and for alpine cows-milk cheeses, bresaola (beef, deer and horse) and pizzoccheri, all of which I have sampled in abundance on my two visits to Grosio.
Pizzoccheri, pronounced pitz-okkeri, is popular on both sides of the border. It is a hearty pasta dish made from humble local ingredients – grano saraceno (buckwheat flour), potato, Savoy cabbage, Casera cheese and butter. Stick to the traditional recipe, and you’ll discover a rich and satisfying dish, particularly good for winter, and one that is better suited to secondi than primi.
2020 Swiss Italian Festa Committee
PIZZOCCHERI della VALTELLINA
For the pasta:
200g fine buckwheat flour
50g plain flour (ideally Italian-type 00)
pinch of salt
For the pizzoccheri:
50g unsalted butter
125g Valtellina Casera cheese (or Fontina or Gruyere), sliced
50g Grana Padano, grated
150g Savoy cabbage (or Swiss Chard)
1-2 cloves garlic
freshly ground pepper
Combine the two flours and salt in a bowl and gradually add the water, mixing until well incorporated. Knead the dough on a floured bench/board for a few minutes till smooth and compact, but not dry and crumbly nor sticking to your hands. If too dry, add a little more water till smooth. Wrap in a damp tea towel and rest for at least 30 minutes.
Roughly chop the cabbage (or silverbeet) after removing the stalks. Peel and roughly chop the potato. Peel and slice the garlic.
Roll the dough out with a rolling pin to a thickness of 2-3cm (or cut dough into 4 pieces, flatten, and roll in pasta machine twice on highest setting). With a large sharp knife, cut the rolled dough into large strips about 8cm wide, then cut these across into short strips about 1cm wide.
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil. Add the potatoes and boil for 2 minutes, then add the greens. After 5 minutes, add the pasta and cook for a further 8-10 minutes (till potato is quite soft and pasta is al dente).
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter and garlic till butter is browned.
Remove the pasta pot from the heat. With a slotted spoon, begin transferring layers of the pasta and vegetable mix to a warmed serving platter. Scatter over a handful of the sliced cheese, and sprinkle on a little parmigiana. Continue layering pasta and cheese till finished, retaining about half the parmigiana to sprinkle on top. Pour over the melted butter and sprinkle generously with pepper (do not mix the layers). Serve immediately.