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.

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