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 →
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 →
Focaccia (or schiacciata) con l’uva (with grapes) is an autumn sweet treat that you can find in many parts of Italy: where there are grapes, there is some sort of (more or less enriched) bread dough topped with black grapes and sugar. Continue reading →
It took a leap of faith and my avid curiosity to try this cake: could a basic sweet batter and some grated courgettes make a good cake? No nuts, no sultanas, no spices…really? A resolute “yes!” is the answer.
This is a most unusual and excellent cake come dessert: delicate, plain and light, but not at all boring, with a delicious custardy quality. Burnished golden outside, yellow with specks of green inside, it is also pretty. Scarpaccia means “nasty/old shoe” and no one really knows why such an uninspiring name; it is possibly something to do with the appearance of this dessert: a genuine scarpaccia should be a fairly thin and crusty affair – like an old, over-worn shoe. It is the contrast between the sugary and crusty exterior (due to a good drizzle of olive oil) and the custardy, vanilla scented interior that make this unposessing looking dessert sing.
It is a Tuscan speciality and you will not find anywhere else in Italy – Continue reading →
Out of curiosity, I have been experimenting with vegan baking lately. Most efforts went into the bin, lacking any real good flavour and/or texture. I then had a eureka moment when I remembered the traditional ciambelline al vino from Rome. They are sweet, crunchy, little pastry rings, made with whine (red or white, it does not matter), olive oil and anicini (aniseed seeds) – here a good version I tried. They are really moorish and una tira l’altra, as we say: you cannot stop eating them. I decided to play around that theme, Continue reading →