Friday, February 02, 2007

Buckwheat noodles

(More Friday food blogging).


Pizzoccheri (flat buckwheat pasta), a green (I've used either savoy cabbage or swiss chard) sliced in slender strips, and cubed potatoes are boiled together, drained, and served with garlic, butter, fontina cheese, and a bit of sage. Salt and black pepper to taste.

(Here's a detailed recipe with video).


This is winter food, made from the products of a marginal agricultural zone. It's homeplace is in the case, the mountains and valleys of Northern Italy, especially Valtellina. But I will always associate with Bregaglia, in Switzerland.

I was introduced to Pizzoccheri by pianist Hildegard Kleeb and composer/trombonist Roland Dahinden in Bregaglia (also known as the Bergell). Hildegard and Roland had invited my wife and I to go hiking with them down the steep and narrow valley which stretches from St. Moritz all the way down to Chiavenna in Lombardy. Bregaglia is a protestant, Italian- and Rhaeto-Romanche-speaking niche in the generally Catholic and German-speaking Canton of Graubunden. It's perhaps best-known as the home of the Giacometti family of artists, and one can detect, in the dark and narrow valley, the origins of Alberto Giacometti's craggy and elongated figures.



As in the far north of Italy, the Japanese have made a virtue out of farming on marginal soils, and the poorman's buckwheat has become a real luxury. The word soba is either the grain buckwheat, or thin noodles made from buckwheat flour with some binder, usually wheat flour. The best soba noodles are usually considered to be those with the most buckwheat. Look for ni-hachi on the label, indicating two parts wheat to eight parts buckwheat. Some sobas are flavored: yam, seaweek, green tea, mugwort.

(Here's a great page on making your own soba: Watch for the punchline: "You are very good sobatician.").

Boil according to the label. Serve either cold, with toppings (nori seaweed, soy sauce, mirin, grated daikon radish, fresh okra, tororo (yam-paste), wasabi) , or hot in a miso broth, plain or with toppings (green onions, vegetable or shrimp tempura, fried tofu, fish-cake, or maybe a raw egg).

Taking the license awarded to any Californian, I like cold soba with sliced avocado. But everything else I know about soba, I owe to Alvin Lucier.

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