La Castagna (The Chestnut) Posted by Serena 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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