Castagnaccio is made with chestnut flour – an ingredient that is easily obtained from stores that sell a large range of Italian produce.
There are other versions 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 cannot see how it can taste the same.
Castagnaccio is a rustic Tuscan dish – it is neither bread not cake and it is eaten as a snack at any time of day. I first ate castagnaccio many years ago when I ventured out of my base in Florence to nearby Pisa, Gubbio and Assissi. It was a particularly cold and wet time of year and in bars I visited in the three locations I consumed slices of panforte and castagnaccio – my excuse was that I was interested to compare how different these tasted in each bar. I remember that I accompanied these Tuscan specialities with cups of thick, hot chocolate and took the opportunity to sample the local amari (liquers- digestives) at the same time.
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 – most have a recipe for castagnaccio on the packet and as we all know there can be many variations for the same recipe in all Italian cuisine .
The recipe is easy and is like making a pancake mixture – it should be as smooth and be as thick (raw mixture above). I do not always add sugar because the raisins and the flour provide some sweetness. Rather than soaking the raisins or good quality sultanas in water I soak them in marsala or port.
chestnut flour, 250 g
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 tablespoon to sprinkle on top at the end of cooking on top
salt, a pinch
lemon peel, 2 tablespoons grated (optional)
cinnamon, 1 teaspoon (optional)
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.
Sprinkle onto the top about 1 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 the castagnaccio out of the oven, I like to sprinkle a few drops of sweet wine (late picked, dessert wine) on top – the crust will soften slightly , 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.
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 freeze dried but is more than twice the price. The 500g packets of Italian imported flour does not contain information about how the flour is made.
Whatever flour you purchase, make a smooth and thick batter and you should be able to pour it into the baking tin.
I am still making castagnaccio as I like to introduce different regional specialties to friends. I also have a friend who is gluten intolerant – perfect.
Mercato in Campbelltown South Australia and Enoteca Sileno sell Cheznuts Australian Chestnut flour.
This flour is made from Australian grown organic chestnuts which have been dried in the traditional Italian way using very low heat over many days. Drying nuts in-shell imparts a nutty roasted chestnut flavour and makes the nuts sweet and delicious. The dried nuts are then peeled and milled to produce a fine flour that is full of flavour. Chestnut flour is gluten free.
Niki Mihas from Mercato has provided some information about the processes used to make Chestnut flour.
Chestnut flour is used in Europe, and especially in Italy for many beautiful cakes and sweets. The traditional method of drying chestnuts is in a small hut with a slat floor. The fresh nuts are placed in the top section on top of the slatted floor and a fire is lit in the lower level to create heat to dry the nuts. Once the chestnuts are dried they are peeled and milled into flour.
Often the Italian chestnut flour will taste slightly smokey due to this process and the flour will be light brown colour which reflects the presence of the inner skin that could not be fully removed prior to milling.
The Australian chestnut flour is tastier because they freeze dry their peeled chestnuts. They take these freeze dried nuts and mill them into chestnut flour. This flour has an intense pure fresh chestnut flavour. As it’s made using peeled chestnuts, there is no contamination form the inner skin of the chestnut & not smokey taste.
Chestnut flour is gluten free! It’s high in Vitamin C as the chestnut isn’t compromised as there is not heat involved during the drying process.
At Mercato we have the Cheznuts Australian Chestnut Flour available in 250g packs.