This spell of cold windy weather in Melbourne has encouraged me to make Castagnaccio, made with chestnut flour, raisins, grated lemon peel, fresh rosemary, extra virgin olive oil, a little sugar, pine nuts and walnuts, mixed with water and made into batter, then baked.
The recipe for making castagnaccio is on a blog post I wrote in May 2011 – as you can see I have been making it for a very long time.
I am now using Australian chestnut flour rather than the Italian imported variety.
Ammarsalatu is the Sicilian culinary term meaning with marsala; rosemary particularly compliments the caramel tastes of the marsala.
I really enjoy cooking savoury foods with dry marsala – buy the marsala fina or secca variety from Marsala, in north west Sicily.
I have used Kingfish for this recipe and on this occasion, I have chosen to present the potatoes separately. To decorate the fish I lightly pan fried some spring onions in a little oil.
Kingfish (sometimes called yellow tail) is mostly wild caught by handline, droplines and trawling.
The flesh of kingfish has a pink tinge and has a firm texture – like mackerel it can be a dry tasting fish, so I generally cook it in liquid or with moist ingredients and combine it with strong flavoured ingredients.
Kingfish is also farmed in Port Lincoln South Australia (called Hiramasa). It contains about 12 per cent body fat (compared with the wild version’s 5 per cent), is a superb sushi fish and very succulent when cooked. The company producing the kingfish are keen on maintaining a sustainable environment – a favourable selling point for this product.
The following recipe is for 4 people.
fish, 1 portion per person
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup or more
onion, 2, thickly sliced
rosemary, fresh, small sprigs, both to stuff the fish and for the potatoes
marsala (dry), 1 cup fresh bay leaves, 3-4
salt to taste
lemon, ½, juice only
fresh chillies, 1-2 optional
potatoes, 4-6 peeled, cubed (optional)
Preheat the oven to220C.
Put onion, chilli, potatoes, bay leaves, salt and rosemary in about ½ cup of the extra virgin olive oil in a roasting tray and toss them around until the ingredients are well coated.
Bake on a low oven shelf – they should take about 30-40 minutes to turn crisp and golden.
Sprinkle a little salt on each slice of fish and insert a sprig of rosemary in each portion of fish.
Pan fry the fish in hot extra virgin olive oil – 2-3 minutes per side.
Place the fish on top of the potatoes and pour the marsala, juices and the oil from the fish over all of the contents.
Bake for an extra 5 -10 minutes or until the fish is cooked.
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 panforteand 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.
I want to make the most of the fennel while it is in season and have chosen a very simple fish dish using wild caught barramundi.
Rosemary is one of the few herbs which does well in winter and compliments the sweetness of the fennel.
Those of you who shop at the Queen Victoria Market (Melbourne) may recognise the face of the Happy Tuna vendor where I always buy my fish (see earlier post: Seafood – where I buy my sustainable fish ).
One of my favourite fish is wild caught barramundi, often on sale at this stall.
Barramundi is an Aboriginal word meaning river fish with large scales. It can be a truly wonderful, tasting fish and is extremely versatile (it has medium to firm texture and medium oiliness).
Most of the barramundi in Australia is farmed both in sea aquaculture farms and in fully-closed systems in land-based ponds. Some is imported from fisheries and aquaculture farms in Asia. But there are marked differences in taste between fish that has been wild-caught, grown in sea-cages or in land based systems. Of equal importance to me is whether I am buying a fish that is sustainable. The methods of farming and fishing determine the degree of sustainability and the cost.
The David Suzuki Foundation has adopted the definition of sustainable seafood as:
‘Originating from sources, whether fished or farmed that can maintain or increase production in the long term without jeopardizing the structure or function of affected ecosystems’.
Not all fish vendors label the fish to inform consumers of the sources, and for a clearer conscience and better tasting fish, it is important to ask about its source.
For all barramundi grown in sea-cages or imported from fisheries and aquaculture farms in Asia – say no.
Some fully-closed systems (land-based ponds and small-scale tank or pond aquaculture), are sustainable (better choice) but unfortunately I find the fish from land-based aquaculture lacking in character and in texture, and I never buy it.
A small proportion of barramundi are wild-caught and as you’d expect, it is the most expensive, but in my opinion this is by far the better tasting fish. I particularly like the gelatinous skin, which is very distinctive in the wild-caught fish. The wild caught barramundi are from Queensland and the Northern Territory and legislation in each state imposes closures during certain seasons.
Wild-caught barramundi, especially in small-scale operations, is a better alternative, but in the Australian Marine Conservation Society publication it is (think twice). Some accredited, line wild-caught barramundi is available and is (better choice).
My fish vendor told me that unlike the species grown in cages, the wild caught barramundi has a yellowish tail (look at the photo).
PESCE CON FINOCCHI
I never go to the market to buy one specific type of fish and for this particular dish there are other fish apart from burramundi which can be used.
Use small whole fish or fillets of the following fish: garfish, whiting and flathead, bream, trevally and Murray cod (great if you can get it) are (better choice).
Blue-eye trevalla, snapper and mackerel (think twice) are also suitable. Blue-eye travella and snapper are (better choice) if line caught.
Fillets of fish benefit from scoring (as do whole fish) – slash the side of the fish that formerly had the skin – a thin layer of membrane remains, and unless it is scored, it can curl during cooking.
fish, (estimate 1-1.2 kg for 6 people)
fennel, 2 large
water or white wine, 1 cup
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and freshly ground pepper,
rosemary, fresh sprigs
Clean the fish: scale, gut and wipe dry (my fish vendor always does this for me). Use a sharp knife to make shallow cuts in the outside of the whole fish – slash the fish but leave whole This helps the seasonings and flavours of marinade (herbs, oil etc.) to penetrate the flesh. The only time I do not score the skin is when I bake a fish in salt crust because I do not want the salt to enter into the flesh.
Insert little sprigs of rosemary in the slashes, pour on a little oil, cover and set aside.
Prepare the fennel:
Remove the fennel tops from the bulbs and discard. Trim away any bruised or discoloured portion of the bulbs. Cut the bulbs length-wise (vertically) into thin slices less than 1cm thick.
Add the sliced fennel to a pan with hot olive oil and sauté for 5-10 minutes before adding seasoning and about a cup of water or wine.
Cover the pan and cook on a low to medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the fennel is wilted and soft. You may need to add a little more liquid as it cooks.
Increase the heat to evaporate any liquid left in the pan – this will result with the fennel cooking in the left over oil and turning a deep gold colour.
Add freshly ground pepper, turn the heat down to medium and push the fennel to one side to make room for the fish in the pan.
Put the fish in the pan, sprinkle with a little more salt and freshly ground pepper, and spoon some of the oil in the pan over it (or add a splash of fresh, extra virgin olive oil).
Add more rosemary, cover and cook for 6-7 minutes, turn the fish once and baste again. Cook for another few minutes or so, depending on the thickness of the fish.
Transfer the fish to a serving dish, remove the rosemary and place the fennel and juices over the fish and serve.
The barramundi – a highly prized source of food for Aboriginal Australians – plays a large part in Dreamtime mythology. There are several Aboriginal legends about barramundi as told by the different tribes in the Northern Territory. This is one of them.
How the barramundi came to have spines on its back.
This is a very moving legend and tells of two young lovers. The girl was betrothed to an older man (according to traditional law) and so they escaped while the tribe was engaged in a corroboree. The young couple took many spears to use on their pursuers while they ran through the countryside to the sea and succeeded in eluding them for a long time, but eventually ran out of spears. Knowing that their followers would spear them, they threw themselves into the sea, where they turned themselves into barramundi. Some of the spears, however, struck them as they fell, and that is how the barramundi comes to have spines on its back.