My Castagnaccio ricco – chestnut pudding

castagnaccio

 

Castagnaccio is one of the oldest sweet dishes in the Italian repertoire: chestnut flour whisked with water and a little olive oil, a few needles of rosemary for perfume, then baked until it turns into a sort of cake, a true poor people’s dessert in this most basic version. Chestnut flour is sweet and this makes adding sugar to the batter unnecessary. For greater extravagance, you could add pinenuts, walnuts and sultanas.
In Italy, well until the second world war, chestnuts were regarded as an important, cheap but nutritious food for a large section of the population – if you were poor,  meat was an occasional luxury and  beans and chestnuts were more likely to be part of your diet.

Truth be told, the castagnaccio you see in most bakeries now can be the stuff of nightmares: stodgy, to say the least, Continue reading

Pan di mort (All Souls spiced chocolate biscuits from Lombardy)

Italian spiced chocolate biscuits
Italian spiced chocolate biscuits

Here’s another traditional recipe from Lombardy that honours I morti, All Souls. Pan di mort (literally “dead people’s bread”) are quintessential Lombardy biscuits that are sold in bakeries between the end of October and the first week in November. They are diamond-shaped, chocolatey, spicy biscuits, full of nuts and candied citrus peels, quite chewy but not crunchy. Continue reading

L’insalata di pomodoro perfetta – the perfect tomato salad

tomato salad

 

The perfect tomato salad does not exist, of course. It is one of those highly personal things even if there are a few unbreakable rules. However, I thought it would be a nice idea to share with you what the great Neapolitan food writer Jeanne Carola Francesconi, the author of one of the grandest Italian cookery books La Cucina Napoletana (1963), says about tomato salad.This is my translation.

“Fresh, dewy, savoury, tomato salad is the symbol of summer. One likes it at first sight, with its warm colours that speak of the sun and with its juices that speak of the richness of the earth.

You must know how to make it properly though: the tomatoes will be more or less green, according to taste, or almost as ripe as those used to make tomato sauce. And, again according to taste, they will be large and round, with or without seeds, or pear shaped. They will always be delicious, but they must be dressed judiciously: plenty of salt,  a lot of oil and no vinegar, god forbid – you would spoil them.

From this fresh base, you will always be able to vary flavours, starting from garlic, almost de rigueur, onion and parsley (only if you do not have other herbs). Basil will add freshness, with its tender, young leaves; origano will accentuate the flavour; a few celery stalks, with their leaves, will make a nice contrast. Black olives from Gaeta,  capers and anchovies will make it piquant, tuna preserved in oil will marry with it beautifully and freselle (hard rusks) from a dark country bread will absorb the juices and will make it more substantial. You can add one, two or three of these ingredients or even all of them – the salad will become a real meal, nourishing and tantalising.

On summer evenings, when the heat is oppressive and you are happily tired, drunk from a day of sea and sun, still immersed in that magic enchantment to where nature has transported you, a tomato salad, with its ingenuity, its juices, its fragrance, will be the natural quiet epilogue to those most recent sensations.”