Pizzocheri are a well kept secret of northern Italian cuisine, from the part of Italy at the northern border where they speak Italian with a German accent and make smelly fontina cheese. But a secret that has not escaped Marcella or the pasta cookbook author whose book we grabbed in Pier I Imports when we spotted the authentic looking recipe.

The dr bob team had been introduced to pizzoccheri, long buckwheat pasta noodles about fettuccine size but shorter, by Piero, who brought them to us from Italy and showed us how to make the traditional recipe. We forgot to take notes at the time. Years later we had one box left and managed to find a one time buy of another box at our local authentic Italian products store. But we were saving them for a special occasion which never seemed to come. When we discovered them in our local supermarket, we finally decided to buy the smelly cheese and do up a box for no special occasion at all. But the Savoy cabbage took some time to locate. It finally showed up at the same supermarket and the dish was immediately green-lighted. By this time the smelly cheese was also seriously moldy, so it had to be trimmed down a bit. To our chagrin, the expiration dates were respectively 2 and 3 years earlier than the current year. Although we had a brand new box in our hands and several more boxes in stock waiting in the supermarket (not moving fast, as you might imagine), it seemed a shame to waste such a great product. We went with the two year expired box to see what would happen.

Without Piero nearby, we went with the cookbooks and our better judgment. One said half a pound of Savoy cabbage, the other 3 1/2 cups. The cabbage head we had seemed like it was heavier but we didn't stop to weigh it. Once cut up it seemed like more than 3 1/2 cups too but what the hey. We through it all in anyway. The recipes weren't very clear about how the potatoes should be cut up either. Between the two cookbooks and the 3 different brand box abbreviated recipes, we went with the "small cubes" suggestion on one. About 1 cm or 3/8 in on a side, on the average. [Note that since potatoes are not rectangular, this is only a rule of thumb.]


1 lb pizzoccheri della Valtellina
1 T salt
3 - 4 medium potatoes, cut into small cubes
1 small head Savoy cabbage (1/2 lb?, 3 1/2 c?), cut roughly into strips 1/2 in by 2 1/2 in
2 T unsalted butter
2 T olive oil
1 garlic clove, sliced
6 fresh sage leaves, chopped [or 1/2 t dried]
1 leek, chopped [optional, if unavailable]
1/4 t salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 - 2/3 c grated parmigiano
1/4 -1/3 lb fontina valle d'aosta


  1. Start the pasta water boiling.
  2. Ready the potatoes. Peel if you must, then cube.
  3. Wash the cabbage and cut into strips.
  4. Cut the cheese into thin slivers.
  5. When the water is boiling seriously, dump in the potatoes and salt, cover, return to a boil, and continue uncovered for about 4 minutes.
  6. Add the cabbage, cover and bring to a boil again, then continue uncovered for 5 minutes.
  7. Add the noodles, cover and bring to a boil yet again and cook 8 - 12 minutes until the pasta is not quite al dente.
  8. Meanwhile sauté the garlic, sage and leek in butter and oil until softened up a bit.
  9. When the pasta is ready, drain briefly but don't shake out the liquid.
  10. Return the pasta to its pot and mix in the sauté mixture, parmigiano, salt and pepper.
  11. Put half the mixture in a large enough casserole dish (or a large one and a small one) and cover with half the fontina slivers. Repeat.
  12. Put on the top rack of a 400° F preheated oven for 5 minutes to melt the cheese.
  13. Then remove and let sit a couple minutes and serve. This is a hearty meal.


  1. Marcella actually prefers Swiss chard stalks (leafy parts removed) to savoy cabbage, but if necessary, one can use whole Swiss chard or even under desperate circumstances spinach according to the more flexible alternatives. However, we don't think it will be the same.
  2. If the stinky fontina valle d'aosta is out of the question, regular Italian fontina or even Bel Paese may be substituted perhaps. We've never betrayed our valle d'aosta. [Although its from the Valle d'Aosta region and not the Valtellina region to the east, where they may use caseri cheese instead.]
  3. Not only did we survive the 2 year outdated box, but the 3 year one as well.
  4. If pizzoccheri are just a pipe dream where you live, both our cookbook references have slightly differing recipes for the fresh pasta, one with eggs, one without. But without trying it first, you'll never be curious enough to go to all that trouble, will you?
  5. Illustrations available.
  6. After trying the new pizzoccheri recipe with sausage a few times, we have been adding 4 links of sweet fennel Italian sausage, skins removed, diced, sautéed with the garlic and sage to add an extra kick to this dish. Increasing the comfort food index a few notches. [Later we returned to the classic recipe consistently, but once we were forced to make the pasta ourselves. Since then we bring a few boxes back from Italy each summer.]
  7. 2002 update. This recipe is bullet proof. We find ourselves stretching it a lot each time we do it. Besides the sausage. Extra garlic, pressed into the leek sage butter oil mixture instead of just sliced. Extra sage which we always keep in the freezer ready for this dish. Maybe 12 leaves chopped. Oops, we found ourselves out of leeks when we tried this with some buckwheat gnocchetti della Valtellina we found next to the pizzoccheri on the supermarket shelf in Rome this summer. (Bosco brand from Cepina Valdisotto, usual pizzoccheri recipe on the 500g package.) So two yellow onions finely chopped stood in for them (minus the sausage, which turned out not to be left waiting in the freezer as we had thought). And instead of the broiling routine, we put the whole thing in the oven at 350º for a while waiting for some in-laws who then did not even show up. Still great for just the two of us. With lots of leftovers. Refrigerates well. Freezes well.
pizzocri.htm: 5-oct-2009 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]