Thursday, October 22, 2015

Castagnaccio: Tuscany's traditional chestnut cake recipe

One of Tuscany’s autumn specialties is Castagnaccio, a chestnut flour cake (castagna in Italian means chestnut). The traditional version has no sugar and no yeast - so if you see a recipe with either of these ingredients, it might be very good, but it’s not authentic. The cake’s delicate sweetness comes from the chestnut flour itself and from adding raisins. Other essentials are pine nuts, (sometimes walnuts) and rosemary. As with all the seasonal dishes in Tuscany, they are only made when the ingredients are available fresh. So castagnaccio can be found from October until early December - during the chestnut harvest when the flour is milled (since it does not keep very well).

It’s like the schiacciata con l’uva - the flat bread made with the wine grapes during harvest. After the fresh grapes are gone that’s the end of the season and you must wait until the following September. But luckily, you can move right on to castagnaccio! 

Here is the simple recipe for Castagnaccio:

Ingredients (for 8 people): 

250g (½ lb.) chestnut flour
2-3 cups of water (500-700ml) - the exact amount will be determined by the consistency of the batter.
75g (⅓ cup) of raisins
50g (¼ cup) pine nuts
(optional) 5 walnuts peeled and coarsely ground 
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
20-30 needles of fresh rosemary

Put the raisins in some water to soak (for about 10 minutes). Remove and lightly squeeze out excess water and pat dry, then set aside. 
Sift the chestnut flour into a bowl. 
Slowly add water to flour while mixing with a whisk. Batter should be soft enough to fall from the spoon, but not too liquid. 
Add the olive oil, pine nuts, walnuts, raisins and combine well. 
Oil a pan large enough so that the poured batter is 1cm thick (approx. 7 inch diameter).
Pour in the batter and sprinkle the rosemary needles on top.
Bake at 200°C (400°F) for 30-40 minutes. 
The castagnaccio is not ready until cracks appear on the surface.
Remove from oven, let it cool and enjoy - either on its own, or with a teaspoon of ricotta cheese. 
Stored in plastic wrap, it will last about 4 days.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Movies filmed in Italy - to help you get a dose of the Bel Paese!

If you have been to Italy and are feeling nostalgic, or if you dream of going some day, a good way to get a dose of the Bel Paese is to watch a movie that was filmed on location. Considering the country’s scenic beauty, art, history and stunning architecture, it’s no small wonder there are so many to choose from. While not all are masterpieces, plenty are worth watching. 

Here are some suggestions for your Italy fix:

Suspense/Action/Adventure:



  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella) 1999 -  starring Jude Law and Matt Damon - filmed in Naples, Rome, Amalfi Coast and Venice
  • Angels and Demons (Ron Howard) 2009 - filmed in Rome 
  • The Tourist (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) 2010 - starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp - filmed in Venice
  • Hannibal (Ridley Scott) 2000 - filmed in Florence
  • The Gladiator (Ridley Scott) 2000 - filmed in Val d’Orcia and Siena (Tuscany)
  • 007 Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster) 2008 - filmed in Siena, Carrara, Italian Alps and Lake Garda
  • The American (Anton Corbikn) 2010-  starring George Clooney - filmed in Abruzzo


Comedy:




  • Tea with Mussolini (Franco Zeffirelli) - starring Cher, Maggie Smith, Judy Dench - filmed in Florence
  • Midsummer Night’s Dream (Michael Hoffman) - filmed in Pienza and Siena
  • Much Ado About Nothing (Kenneth Branaugh) 1993 - filmed in Chianti (Tuscany)
  • When in Rome (Mark Steven Johnson) - 2010 - filmed in Rome

Drama:



  • Life is Beautiful (Roberto Benigni) 1997 - Oscar-winner, not to be missed! - filmed in Arezzo
  • The English Patient (Anthony Minghella) 1996 -  filmed in Arezzo and Siena
  • The Portrait of a Lady (Jane Campion) 1996 - filmed in Lucca
  • Stealing Beauty (Bernardo Bertolucci) 1996 - starring Liv Tyler - filmed in Tuscany
  • Miracle at St. Anna (Spike Lee) 2008 - filmed in Stazzema (near Lucca) - Versilia (Tuscany)
  • Shadows in the Sun (Brad Mirman) 2005 - Val d’Orcia and Siena
  • Il Postino: The Postman (Michael Radford) 1994 - filmed in Sicily
  • Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore) 1988 - filmed in Sicily
  • Under the Tuscan Sun (Audrey Wells) 2003 - Cortona, Amalfi Coast
  • Enchanted April (Mike Newell) 1992 - filmed in Portofino (Liguria)
  • A Good Woman (Mike Barker) 2006 - starring Scarlett Johansson and Helen Hunt - filmed on the  Amalfi Coast
  • Eat Pray and Love (Ryan Murphy) 2010 - filmed in Rome and Naples
  • To Rome with Love (Woody Allen) 2012 - filmed in Rome
  • The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Chris Weitz) 2010 - Montepulciano
  • The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino) 2013 - Oscar-winner filmed in Rome
  • Malèna (Giuseppe Tornatore) 2000 - filmed in Sicily
  • Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica) 1948 - a masterpiece of Italian Neorealism, filmed in Rome

Romance:

  • Roman Holiday (William Wyler) 1953 - the classic starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck - filmed in Rome, of course! 
  • A Room with a View (James Ivory) 1985 - filmed in Florence
  • La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini) 1960 - filmed in Rome
  • Only You (Norma Jewison) 1994 - filmed in Rome, Venice, Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast
  • Letters to Juliet (Gary Winick) 2010 - Verona and Tuscany

Buona visione! 

Hopefully there is enough here to keep you busy until you come visit Italy (again)!