pizzoccheri mano a mano

Mano a mano. Hand to hand, as in combat. We admit it. If we can buy pasta in a box we'll do it. Or fresh pasta done by someone else's hand, that too. But when push comes to shove, and the market fails to supply our demand, we can rise to the task of—homemade pasta in our own kitchen, with handmade dough beaten into noodles by the infamous lasagna noodle story voltage transformer aided Italian electric motor powered pasta roller machine.

We surfed the net looking for pizzoccheri suppliers. We called the phone number of the NYC importers of our last US purchased box. We'd asked our local exceptional Italian food store for help. Zip.

Since our cooking library had two very different buckwheat pasta recipes, we tried to find more on the web for help in choosing. Only a single hit and it was way off base. Let's face it: pizzoccheri are still a low profile food item. Meanwhile our cooking library coughed up a third recipe averaging out the previous two on the day of the big test. Our first attempt at pizzoccheri done the way generations of Italian moms must have done them at one time.

The big question here is the ratio of buckwheat to ordinary flour in the dough. Buckwheat by itself doesn't have the gluten or something. So it has to be mixed. Our newcomer Biba gives us a democratic ratio: one to one, while Marcella gives the buckwheat a 7/3 edge and Julia inverts the ratio. Hmm.

In the end we had to trust Marcella based on past experience. However, it was not a piece of cake.

ingredients

marcella biba julia  
1 1/4 c 1 c 3/5 c (fine grained) buckwheat flour
1/2 c + 1 T 1 c 1 1/2 c unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 t 1/2 t 1/4 t salt
3 3 3 eggs
1 T 2 T 1 4/5 milk
1 T 0 0 water
0 0 0 olive oil
7/3 1 2/5 ratio buckwheat / white flour

instructions

  1. You should first read the hand made pasta section of any good Italian cookbook. We just give the Cliff Notes-like version here.
  2. Mix well the two flours and put the result in a mound on your working surface. Ours was the inside of a big mixing bowl, convenient since that is where we mixed the flours. Make a little well in the middle of the mound to put the remaining ingredients.
  3. With a fork gradually incorporate those ingredients into the flour so that it eventually becomes a big mass of dough, at which point you really want to get your bare hands into it, squishing it smoother and working it a bit, adding some additional flour a tablespoon at a time if it is too sticky, or possibly additional water/milk if it is too dry. First we added a bit of water since it seemed too dry, but once that was really worked in, it was too wet and we had to add flour a bit at a time to compensate.
  4. Soon this formally becomes the kneading process where the pasta dough is now a big blob and you repeat the process of folding it in half and pushing it down repeatedly (kneading) with the palms of your hands, then rotating it by 90 degrees, and repeating, for long enough that the dough seems to have a good consistency. This is all very vague. Practice makes perfect.
  5. Now divide it into 2 blobs and set up your pasta roller machine. Ours was a gift from Italy, so we have this big old transformer to fix the incompatible voltage standards. It is essential to have the electric motor attachment to make this all work smoothly without too much pain.
  6. Flatten one blob and press it into the widest setting for your roller separation, with the electric motor on the slow or fast speed. We always used the slow speed ignoring the instructions to use the fast speed for rolling and the slow one for cutting. It comes out long and rather flat. Fold it in thirds lengthwise and repeat a few times, more than 5, and when it seems right (?), lay out on a kitchen towel. You will need at least 2 towels for 8 pasta strips before this is over.
  7. Then repeat for blob 2. I think we cut each of these in half lengthwise to be more manageable at the thinning stage.
  8. Now for each one of the 4 pasta rectangles, run it through each of the increasingly thinner roller separation settings once, stopping at the next to the last. Halfway through the thinning process we again cut the pasta strips in half to manage them since they keep getting longer.
  9. We also had some complications with some strips which were a bit too sticky still, so we dusted them with flour and worked them through a few times at an intermediate separation. Fake it.
  10. Finally all the pasta strips are successfully thinned. Now you run them through the fettuccine cut, about 4 inches at a time. Namely, take a knife and cut them crosswise into 4 inch pieces on the towels. Then run each cut edge into the cutter rollers and pick up the output in a waiting hand and return to the towel.
  11. Let them dry.

notes

  1. You can use them soon after or save them at room temperature a few days or freeze them. Ours fit nicely into a large square Rubbermaid container. We waited two days to make our latest pizzoccheri recipe.
  2. Illustrations available. You can see how dark the noodles come out compared to the noodles from a box. Marcella's buckwheat to wheat flour ratio must not be the standard one, but they tasted real good.
  3. Sometime during Y2K a woman with a food business in Manhattan (NYC), also an expatriate Swede looking for pizzoccheri recipes on the web, somehow found us through a Swedish search engine (?), and casually mentioned she had seen pizzoccheri that very morning in a gourmet food market named Agata & Valentina on the Upper East Side, namely 1505 First Avenue at 79th Street, 212-452-0690 [open 8am - 8:30pm, 7 days a week]. When we were later contacted by another fellow American from nearby New Jersey who'd once tasted pizzoccheri while hiking in the mountains north of Milano (nothing like working up an appetite first), fond memories of which sent him hunting on the web tossing him straight to us again, it seemed time to plug the store, which is easily found on the web even if it doesn't have its own website yet. Apparently they ship! We'll keep that in mind. [A month later the NYC based The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana shared a tidbit of information with their readers about pizzoccheri, naming A&V as well as the Todaro Brothers as local suppliers: "Pass the buckwheat" (tidbits, p.14, Jan/Feb 2001).]

    And websurfers, if you find this page, don't miss our two pizzoccheri recipes: traditional and a modern twist, or the food pilgrimage on the road tale to almost pizzoccheri country.
  4. Every trip to Italy, we haul back a stash of this pasta.
pizzocmm.htm: 8-aug-2001 [what, ME cook? 1984 dr bob enterprises]