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,especially those made by the parsimonious – not much oil, just a few sultanas and pinenuts. It’s almost inedible. This mean approach is justified in the name of “tradition”, that much abused concept. However, if made with generosity of spirit, castagnaccio can be delicious. The way to go is to make a castagnaccio ricco, a rich castagnaccio and one not too thick. In my version the batter is made with milk, not just water; then I add walnuts, sultanas, cooked chopped apples or quinces, orange zest, a little cinnamon and vanilla; the top is covered with apple slices and showered with pine nuts. It is a thin castagnaccio, with a crisp edge, oily and caramelised.

Is this betraying the spirit of such a “poor” dish?  Food, to survive, has to stay relevant: we cannot pretend we eat in the way our great-great grandparents used to do. I don’t think I’m disrespecting the original framework by introducing ingredients that are foreign to the culture this dish came from: I am just being generous and treat castagnaccio as the wonderful pudding it can be.

 

Castagnaccio ricco
6-8
a 28 cm non stick frying pan that can go in the oven

For the batter
100 g new season chestnut flour, sifted (check the dates and buy chestnut flour from this year; once opened keep it, sealed, in the fridge and use within one year)
150 ml milk
150 ml water
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch cinnamon
1 TBSP sugar
1 apple, cooked and mashed up
30 g sultanas, chopped
30 g toasted walnuts, chopped
the grated zest of half an orange
5 TBSP extra virgin olive oil + extra for drizzling
¼ tsp chopped rosemary

for the topping:
1 apple, sliced (peeled or not)
25 g pine nuts
1 tbsp sugar

Whisk the milk and liquid into the chestnut flour, slowly and avoiding lumps. Let it rest for 30 minutes. Add the rest of the batter ingredients.
Pre heat the oven to 180 C.
Pour the batter into the pan.
Top with the sliced apples and the pinenuts. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Drizzle a little oil all over.
Bake for about 45 minutes. Flash under the grill for the last few minutes. Serve warm, with ice cream, ricotta or creme fraiche

5 thoughts on “My Castagnaccio ricco – chestnut pudding

  1. I made castagnaccio once, and it was awful. I think it was one of the “traditional“ recipes you were talking about… I love all the additions you have made – I imagine the cooked apple alone makes a huge difference! As soon as I started reading the recipe, I thought “I have chestnut flour in the freezer… I’ll use that.” Then I read your warning about the age of the flour, and realized I need to buy new. Upon your recommendation, I will try this again!

    What are you cooking for the holidays?

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    1. I made it again yesterday and I really like it: this is almost frittata thick, a ¼ inch sort of thing – thin!
      before buying new flour u can taste it: if it was in the freezer (well done!) it might be ok (unless it is really yrs old): dilute a tiny bit with of water of milk and cook it and taste it
      we r here for natale… cooking wise: it s gonna be vegetarian… possibly some polenta with mushrooms, or a gratin… or maybe pasta al forno… u??

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      1. Actually, we were talking about a vegetarian Christmas, too… or seafood at the most. I will check the flour – it’s triple bagged so is probably okay. Buon Natale!

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