Travel to the far north of Italy and the terrain becomes more rugged, the weather colder, and the pasta more rustic. For centuries, buckwheat has been one of the few grains hardy enough to survive in Valtellina, a small valley in the shadow of the Alps, and it shows in the food.
One such beloved tradition is pizzoccheri, a short, ribbon-like buckwheat noodle that’s cooked like a casserole in a meal to stick on the ribs. Loaded with two kinds of cheese, potatoes, cabbage and robust greens, the pizzoccheri is perfect for the last days of winter.
For our take on our “COOKish” book, which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, we’re skipping the casserole and using the dish as inspiration for more typical pasta. The easier-to-find whole-wheat pasta has a nutty taste similar to buckwheat pasta, and it’s the perfect backdrop for the subtle sweetness of lightly sautéed leeks and cabbage, as well as the flavor of Gruyère.
Toasted nuts tangled in the pasta and sprinkled as a topping add a crunchy texture and rich umami notes. And a final sprinkle of chopped fresh sage adds herbal freshness.
Whole wheat fettuccine with leeks, cabbage and Gruyere cheese
Start to finish: 35 minutes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
8 ounces fettuccine OR whole-wheat linguine, broken into coarse 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound leeks, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
12 ounces savoy cabbage, thinly sliced OR 5 ounces kale, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
4 ounces Gruyère cheese, finely grated (1 cup), divided
1⅓ cups chopped walnuts, toasted
Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving the water. In a 12-inch skillet, heat oil until simmering. Add the leeks, 2 teaspoons of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add cabbage; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add pasta, sage and 1½ cups cooking water. Off the heat, gradually stir in ¾ cup of cheese. Stir in more cooking water as needed to form a creamy sauce; stir in 1 cup walnuts. Season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with remaining cheese and nuts.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, visit Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap