a life creative
I’ve waxed lyrical about the humble chestnut of Monte Amiata in past posts. I’m probably a little obsessed by them, given that I hail from the antipodes where a good chestnut is few and far between.
With winter already we’re coming out the other side of chestnut season. Gone are those short sweet weeks of autumn collecting and roasting (or boiling with wild fennel seed – MWAH!) fresh nuts.
Anyone who’s travelled to our region will understand we take our chestnuts very seriously, and we consume them by the gross tonnage. We even have the festa della castagna [several of them] dedicated to these starling-coloured baubles. During this time in particular chestnuts find themselves the main ingredient in everything from pasta to polenta, soups to sweets.
After the seasonal excitement gives way, the method by which to ease your shoulder-season chestnut fix until next October is in the form dried nuts, those preserved in alcohol, marrons glacé, a sweet and glorious conserve (crema di marroni), and ground as flour.
Well, it was my husband’s birthday yesterday and guess what his favourite food is? The b-boy’s request this year was that I make the sweet called Castagnaccio (pronounced Cast-ahniyah-cho).
Add the water to the flour, stir until it’s mixed into a smooth consistency, taking care to include those dusty lumps hiding out in air bubbles. Add the olive oil, half of the pine nuts and 3/4 of the sultanas and the small gesture of salt.
Pour into a square or rectangular oven dish that you’ve lined with baking paper, smooth off the surface, give the oven dish a good tap to even out the level [ideally you want the slice to be around 2cm thickness], top with the remaining sultanas, pine nuts and the rosemary leaves. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the top.
Bake in the oven at 200ºC for 40 minutes. Allow to cool and serve at room temperature…
It’s so simple and delicious – probably what we Aussies would liken to a slice. I know it’s a bit odd to add rosemary and olive oil to a sweet, but the combination works so well.
Castagnaccio is completely vegan, free of gluten, egg, dairy, and sugar-free aside from the sultanas, which many of the recipes omit. This time around I added the saved sugar syrup that my marrons glacé bathed in for the better part of a week. It’s optional. I’ll also add more or less water depending on the time of year I’m making castagnaccio and/or the quality and coarseness of the flour as there are no preservatives whatsoever so the flour can lose some of its seasonal oomph and can become a bit starchy.
Next Wednesday: In keeping with the chestnut theme my trial and error recipe Castagne Candite a.k.a marrons glacé [candied chestnuts].
Cheers and ciao,
Writer | Artist
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