Autumn means chestnuts to me, well other things as well but food wise chestnuts are one of the first of them that comes into my mind. In this period of the year, we usually take a couple of chestnut gathering trips into the woods and then we go home and roast the chestnuts that we have found. This year there are really a lot of them but some years they are sparse or it rains all the time so they get too soggy to eat. And it is now that you can buy chestnut flour in the shops as it is a product that doesn’t keep fresh that long. I usually buy it and put it into the freezer so that I can make Castagnaccio all year round if I want!
Castagnaccio is an ancient cake, it is first mentioned in print in the sixteenth century, and it has survived more or less in its original form. Tuscany claims to be the birthplace of the Castagnaccio but the truth is that it exists in many regions where you find mountains like the Alps and the Apennines. It used to be food for the poor as it did not cost anything to go out in the woods and gather chestnuts but nowadays it has become something you find in restaurants. Chestnut flour is very sweet and has a slightly smoky flavour that you either like or you dislike. I am somewhere in between, I like it in certain versions of the cake but in some the smoky taste gets too dominant. In the traditional version you use water, flour, raisins, pine nuts and rosemary but I have changed it a bit, taking the fennel seeds from a Ligurian recipe and changing the raisins (I don’t like them cooked) into prunes. Obviously I think this is the best version but it is up to you to make them both and decide for yourself!
250 g/8,8 oz chestnut flour
400 ml/1,7 cup milk
75 g/2,6 oz pine nuts
8-10 chopped prunes
1 tblsp fennel seeds
A small sprig of rosemary
1 pinch of salt
extra-virgin olive oil
– Pour some olive oil in a baking pan and ‘spread’ it out well.
– Mix the chest nut flour with the tepid milk, be careful to stir it well. If it is very thick you can add some water.
– Now you add nuts, prunes, fennel seeds, rosemary and salt and continue to stir.
– Pour it into the baking pan and coil some olive oil on top of it.
– Bake it in a pre-heated oven (175°C/350°F) for 30 minutes. Do not worry if it has cracked up-it is supposed to look like that!