Autumn is chestnut time and the Italian word for chestnuts is castagne. Castagnaccio is made with chestnut flour – an ingredient that is easily obtained from stores that sell a large range of Italian produce.
It can also be made with fresh chestnuts, but they have to be boiled first, removed from their shells, mashed and then combined with the ingredients in the recipe. I have never bothered to do this (and I cannot see how it can taste the same).
Castagnaccio is not Sicilian, it is a rustic Tuscan dish – neither bread not cake and eaten as a snack. I first ate it many years ago in Pisa and on that particular journey I ventured out from my base in Florence, and I also went to Gubbio and Assissi. It was a particularly cold and wet autumn season in most of Italy at that time of my visit and in each of the bars I visited I also consumed as many slices of panforte and of castagnaccio – my excuse was that I was interested to compare how different these tasted in each bar. As well as I can remember, I accompanied these Tuscan specialities with cups of thick, hot chocolate. My companion sampled the local amari (liquers- digestives).
Chestnut flour is not uncommon; it has been/is still used to make bread and pasta in various parts of Italy, and in fact I ate some excellent bread made with chestnut flour last time I visited Calabria. In Adelaide and in Melbourne I have purchased chestnut flour that has been packed by different Italian companies – each has a recipe for castagnaccio on the packet and all are different, but then again as we all know there can be many variations for the same recipe in all Italian cuisine .
Chestnuts and my brother’s photo from Pisa reminded me of this particular visit. As expected, I had spent time in Sicily before this.
It is like making a pancake mixture – it should be smooth and be as thick (raw mixture above).
water, 2 cups and perhaps a little more
sugar, 1-2 tbsp
pine nuts,100 g
raisins,100 g (pre-softened in a little water) walnuts, 50 g
rosemary, fresh, sprigs
extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbs for the mixture and an extra 2 tablespoons for on top salt, a pinch
lemon peel, 2 tablespoons grated (optional) cinnamon, 1 teaspoon (optional) PROCESSES Mix the chestnut flour with a little water. Add the salt and sugar and more water. Do this gradually to form a smooth paste (I begin with a spoon and continue with a whisk and a spoon). Add 2 tbs olive oil. Mix until smooth. Add to it the lemon peel, cinnamon and raisins and half of the pine nuts and walnuts. Pour mixture into a large oven pan into which you have poured about 2 tbs of olive oil (the mixture should not be more than 2cm high). Spread it evenly. Sprinkle with the rest of the pine nuts and walnuts and the rosemary leaves. Pour onto the top about 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Place into a pre- warmed oven (180C). Cook until a thin crust forms on top and there are cracks throughout the surface (about 30-40 minutes). The inside should be soft and moist.
When I take it out of the oven, I like to sprinkle a few drops of sweet wine (late picked, dessert wine) on top – the crust will slightly soften, but the aroma and flavours will be worth it.
Eat warm. A bit of whipped cream on top does turn it into a very pleasant dessert.
Just recently I bought some chestnut flour made from 100% Australian chestnuts (from Mornington Peninsula, Victoria).
The local flour is a little darker, seems to absorb much more liquid and tastes sweeter than the imported flour.
It comes in 250gm packets, is more than twice the price and it is freeze dried. The 500g packets of imported flour that I had been buying do not contain much information.
Whatever flour you purchase, the mixture should be a smooth and thick batter and you should be able to pour it into the baking tin.