Sciatt are cheese-filled buckwheat fritters from the Valtellina, the same region where the buckwheat pasta pizzocheri come from. The cheese used for sciatt, Valtellina Casera, is also typical for dressing pizzocheri. Although they share the same basic ingredients, the two dishes could hardly be more different, a wonderful example of how method can create incredible variety. The name sciatt is local dialect for ‘toad’, which these rather dark, irregularly shaped fritters are said to resemble. They make for an unusual antipasto served over a bed of well-dressed salad, or by themselves as a snack.
- 300g (10 oz) buckwheat flour
- 150g (5 oz) all purpose flour
- About 2 bottles of beer or 700ml (24 fl oz) mineral water
- A pinch of salt
- 200g (7 oz) casera or other semi-soft Alpine cheese (see Notes)
- A drizzle of grappa
- Vegetable oil for deep frying (and/or lard)
Mix the flours and salt together in a large bowl. Add beer or mineral water in a steady stream, mixing as you go, until you get a smooth but rather thick batter. (The amounts given above worked well for me, but let the consistency be your guide.) Cover and let the batter rest for at least an hour.
Cut the cheese into 2cm (1/2 inch) cubes. Drizzle with a bit of grappa.
When you are ready to cook, heat the oil until it is quite hot but not smoking. Toss a few cheese cubes into the batter, turn them around until they are well covered in the batter. Then using a spoon, take one cheese cube at a time along with a good helping of batter. Drop it into the hot oil with the help of a second spoon. Make sure you keep your fritters well spaced as they fry; you will probably need to proceed in batches. Turn them in the oil so they cook well on both sides, for no more than a few minutes total. Remove them as they cook with a slotted spoon and let them drain well on a platter lined with paper towels, or a baking rack.
Serve your sciatt while still hot over a bed of well-dressed chicory or other green salad, or by themselves.
Notes on Sciatt
As mentioned, the classic cheese for making sciatt is called casera, a semi-soft cheese of the Alpine type made from winter milk. I’ve never found casera Stateside, so another Alpine-type cheese will have to do; fontina would probably be the closest substitute, although any similar Swiss-type cheese—Emmental, gruyère, even Jarlsberg or generic ‘Swiss cheese’ would make an acceptable substitute.
The batter should rest at least one hour, most recipes call for a rest of at least two, and I’ve heard that the batter is even better if left overnight. The 2:1 ratio of buckwheat to white flour given here produces a rather dark fritter; you can alter that ratio if you like to include more white flour, up to 1:1, which produces a lighter, arguably more attractive if perhaps less characteristic, result. Some recipes call for a bit of baking soda or whipped egg whites to give the batter some lift. In many recipes, the batter (rather than the cheese) includes a drizzle of the grappa.
The cooking medium in modern recipes is invariably vegetable oil, but one of my favorite cookbooks on the cooking of Lombardy, La cucina lombarda by Alessandro Molinari Pradelli, calls for lard, which I suspect was the original. I like to compromise and add just a few spoonfuls of lard to cooking oil to lend some savor.
For the bed of lettuce, the official website of the Valtellina region recommends chicory, although frisée or indeed any good lettuce would, to my mind, do just fine.
Sciatt should be eaten hot, as soon as it emerges from the fryer, with its cheesy center fully melted and oozing deliciousness. I’ve tried making it ahead and gently warming it in the oven, but while the fritter itself comes out acceptably crisp, the cheese filling somehow disappears.