Buckwheat was introduced into Italy in the late 14th century. It grows well in the cold mountain regions of the north and is easy to grow on poor land. As such, it has been a fixture of the Italian culinary landscape for centuries.
Buckwheat is treated as a grain but it’s actually a seed. Hulled buckwheat seeds are called groats; or if roasted, kasha, which is also the name for cooked buckwheat groats. Buckwheat has a bitter, earthy flavor that works well in breads, pastas and a version of polenta. (soba noodles popular in Japan are also made using buckwheat flour.)
In the Valtellina Valley near the Swiss border originates a homemade pasta called pizzoccheri, made from a combination of white wheat and buckwheat flours. Pizzoccheri are traditionally cooked in a broth of sliced potatoes and sliced cabbage which is finished with onion and cheese.