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La Castagna (The Chestnut) Posted by on Nov 20, 2008 in Culture

November. It’s time to sit around a log fire and savor a handful of hot caldarroste (roasted chestnuts) with a glass of vino novello (new wine). What more could you ask for?

Large parts of central and northern Italy are covered with castagneti (chestnut woods) and for centuries chestnuts were the main source of food for the winter. This is reflected in the variety of chestnut dishes, both sweet and savory, which are still popular today.

Chestnuts can be eaten fresh, either roasted or boiled. Try the following recipe for boiled chestnuts: remove the outer hard skin and put them in a saucepan with enough water to cover, add a bay leaf and a sprig of green fennel and boil them for about forty minutes. Leave them to cool, peel off the soft skin and enjoy! If you omit the herbs you can then mash the boiled chestnuts to make chestnut purée to for desserts or to make gnocchi di castagne (chestnut dumplings).

But in order to preserve them for the whole winter the chestnuts must be dried first. After having removed the two layers of skin, the dried chestnuts are then cooked in soups or soaked in hot milk for breakfast. I love putting a small piece of dry chestnut in my mouth and chewing it slowly, like a sweet.

Dry chestnuts are also used to make farina di castagne (chestnut flour). In the past each village had its own mulino (mill) powered by water. The flour is used to make a sort of pancake called Pattona in Northern Tuscany, Castagnaccio in the area between Lucca and Firenze, and Torta di Neccio in the area near Siena. There are minor variations between these recipes, and my favorite is certainly the Pattona because it is so simple and wholesome. To make Pattona first prepare a fairly runny batter with chestnut flour, water, and a pinch of salt. Leave it to rest for half an hour. In the mean time soak some chestnut leaves in hot water (these should be collected at the end of the summer and stored for the winter). Pat them dry and use them to line a shallow backing tray (yes, we invented greaseproof paper a long time ago! and a very natural ecologically friendly one). Pour the chestnut batter on the top of the leaves (about 1 cm thick) and cook in a very hot oven for 10-15 minutes until the surface starts cracking. Enjoy the Pattona warm with some fresh ricotta (fresh curd cheese); I love the smell of the roasted chestnut leaves but don’t forget to peel them off before eating it!

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Comments:

  1. Lisa Olko:

    Thank you for this great article on chestnuts….What can be used if you don’t have chestnut leaves
    to line the pan?

  2. Serena:

    Ciao Lisa!
    If you can’t get hold of sweet chestnut leaves, you can use greaseproof paper to line the pan, but of course you won’t get the nice flavor of chestnut leaves. Are there any sweet chestnut trees near where you live? If yes try to pick some leaves next summer, thread them through with some thick cotton thread and hang them in a dry dark place.

    Auguri, Serena

  3. Tony (Melbourne, Aus:

    Great article about chestnuts!
    In Melbourne, it’s coming in to summer now but we have these really cool street vendors that roast chestnuts over a gas cooker on the street corner. You can buy them in a paper bag straight off the cooker. Just beautiful!

  4. Lorena Caterina:

    My parents came from the area surrounding Lucca in Tuscany and they recall anticipating the fall chestnut season. On trips to Lucca they made a beeline to the stalls selling chestnut treats such as the “castagnaccio.”

    For some reason my parents developed a Christmas Eve tradition in our family of boiling a big pot of chestnuts and our stuffing ouselves with them.

    My mother recounted that in Italy her family would eat boiled chestnuts with plenty of homemade Concord grape wine. This American grape produced a heavy crop of grapes and I guess that is why it was grown for wine. Indeed the boiled chestnuts a very good match with red wine.

  5. Carolyn:

    Ciao!

    Grazie per il post. Per favore, mi puoi dire qual è il nome latino dei castagni crescono in Italia? Non trovo dolce di castagne “marmellata” da Asiago a New York. Io compro sempre, ma non ora. Inoltre, non so se le castagne che compriamo qui sono l’italiano o cinese. Mi dispiace per il mio povero italiano 🙁 Grazie mille!

    • Serena:

      @Carolyn Salve Carolyn! Non ti preoccupare per il tuo italiano, si capisce molto bene.
      Allora, non sono un’esperta di arboricoltura, ma da una veloce ricerca sull’internet ho trovato questo: Castanea sativa Mill., o castagno europeo, e’ originario dell’Europa meridionale, Nord Africa e Asia occidentale.
      In genere la marmellata di castagne si chiama ‘confettura di marroni’ perché è fatta con la qualità marroni, come i marron glacè. Di più non so dirti, ma ti mando il link di questo sito che penso sia molto interessante, forse unpo’ troppo tecnico: http://www.agraria.org/coltivazioniarboree/castagno.htm
      Saluti da Serena


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