Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese (baked buckwheat pasta)
Baked pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese is an unusual but delicious vegetarian buckwheat pasta dish from the town of Teglio in the Valtellina, a very beautiful and fertile valley in the Italian Alps. This is typical hearty and warming mountain fare, perfect for the cold season!
Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese is a healthy pasta bake.
I think pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese is unusual for two reasons. Firstly, the pasta, pizzoccheri, is traditionally prepared with two-thirds buckwheat flour and a third durum wheat flour. The buckwheat is what gives it its grey/brown colour. Buckwheat is very healthy and rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Industrially produce pizzoccheri may not have the same amount of buckwheat flour as tradition dictates. However, even twenty-five percent buckwheat produces a pasta which is not only healthier than other types but very flavourful.
The other reason this dish is unusual is the inclusion of potatoes. Although there are a number of Italian pasta dishes with potatoes as an ingredient, they are more likely to be cooked at home than to be found on restaurant menus. Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese, on the other hand, is the signature dish of traditional Valtellinese cuisine and is commonly on offer in trattorias and restaurants in the area.
A warming winter dish.
I think of baked pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese as an Italian version of Swiss raclette because the recipe includes quite a lot of cheese. In fact, the predominant flavours, apart from the pasta itself, are cheese and potatoes. It’s also a winter mountain dish like raclette, which is normally eaten with potatoes.
Although the seemingly simple ingredients of this pasta recipe may have you thinking it is a bland dish. You would be much mistaken. Actually it is really really good! The addition of lots of cheese and a good dose of butter, melted to a glorious frothy, golden garlicky brown, make this a tasty and satisfying dish. You won’t even want dessert!
What kind of cheese?
The cheese traditionally used in pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese is either casera or bitto. Casera is a cow’s milk cheese produced from milk that comes from herds in the Valtellina valley. It’s produced according to a tradition that is hundreds of years old! Bitto is made from summer milk from herds grazing on the hills of the valley plus a small percentage of goat’s milk. Both casera and bitto can be hard to find outside of Lombardy, the region where the Valtillena valley is located. However, you can replace them with fontina or gruyere. For my baked pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese, I used fontina.
Some changes to the original recipe!
I must confess I made a couple of changes to the official pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese recipe. Yes, there’s an official recipe published by an organization called L’Accademia di Pizzoccheri di Teglio! My changes were based on other recipes I found and my husband’s partiality for pancetta! You can watch pizzoccheri being made in the Valtellina in this video from Pasta Grannies.
Firstly, I reduced the amount of butter and I added some sage to it because I love that salvia e burro combination. Plus, I baked the dish rather than serving it unbaked. Actually, I made two dishes. In one, I put pancetta at my husband’s request (not traditional and not vegetarian!)
The other, I left without (more traditional and vegetarian). The pancetta certainly gave it a different flavour, but I have to say I preferred the recipe without pancetta and more or less as it is intended to be. If you cannot find pizzoccheri, this recipe can also be made with other types of buckwheat or whole wheat pasta, short pasta or flat ribbons cut into pieces.
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This recipe was originally published in 2017 but has been updated.
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Baked Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese
- 300 g pizzoccheri or buckwheat pasta (10-11oz) if you want to make your own pizzoccheri see my post about pizzoccheri
- 200 g savoy cabbage or Swiss chard (7oz) cut into small pieces with any tough stalks removed.
- 250 g potatoes (9oz) peeled and cut into smallish cubes
- 100 g unsalted butter (3.5OZ)
- 250 g Valtellina Casera DOP or Bitto, Gruyere or Fontina cheese (9oz) cut into cubes
- 150 g Parmesan or Grana Padano (5oz) grated or hard vegetarian cheese without rennet.
- 4-5 sage leaves torn in half
- 1 garlic clove peeled
- Freshly ground pepper
- salt for cooking and to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and start cooking the potatoes and the greens in it.
- After 5 minutes, add the pasta and let it cook for a further 10 minutes ( the pasta needs to be very slightly less than al dente).
- In the meantime, in a small frying pan, melt the butter with the clove of garlic and cook until both the butter and the garlic are golden
- Add the sage leaves just before the garlic is ready.
- Remove the garlic clove and set aside until the pasta is ready.
- Drain the pizzoccheri and vegetables and place half or one third of the mixture into an oven dish (depending on the size and depth of your dish)
- Scatter a handful of the chopped cheese over the top and sprinkle with some of the grated cheese,
- Add more pizzoccheri and scatter again with the chopped and grated cheese
- Repeat until you have used all the vegetables and pizzoccheri and the cheese is uniformly distributed through and on top of the dish.
- Pour over the frothy, browned butter with sage.
- Sprinkle with a bit more parmesan and grind some pepper on the top
- Bake in a preheated oven (180° or 350F) until the cheese on the top starts to turn golden.(about 5-10 mins)
- Serve immediately
If you want to add pancetta as I did for one dish. I fried 100g (3.5oz) of pancetta cubes in a little oil separately and added them to the pizzoccheri when I added the cheese to the dish.
Other warming pasta recipes here on The Pasta Project.
- Gnocchi alla Bava recipe from the Val d’Aosta
- Baked ziti or zitoni with spicy sausage recipe from Naples
- Cheesy baked pasta shells
- Baked Tuscan gnudi with tomato sauce