I imagine most of my readers aren’t familiar with Castagnaccio. I certainly wasn’t until a couple of years ago. It’s a traditional Italian dessert/snack, common in Liguria and Tuscany. It’s made from chestnut flour and olive oil and has no raising agents so is dense and rich, rather than fluffy like the cakes you’re probably used to. It’s also very subtly sweet with most of the sweetness coming from the nuts and dried fruit added to it.
I was introduced to Castagnaccio by a lovely friend, Giovanni: a charming seventy-something year old Italian who lives very near our family home. As a retired psychologist he spends most of his time reading and cooking, and his great joy is feeding people delicious food! He started bringing us little food parcels- coffee-soaked dates and Italian chocolate cake, a divine Caponata along with a white bean dish (fagioli all’uccelletto), sesame snaps, crunchy cookies (whose name I’ve forgotten), and of course Castagnaccio. I fell in love with this naturally-vegan treat and wanted to learn to make it myself.
With being rather busy studying for my finals earlier this year I didn’t have a lot of time for cooking (Giovanni provided me with snacks hand-delivered to my university pigeon hole!) but took a couple of welcome study breaks to spend some time with my friend and cook with him at his house. As a typical Italian, his approach to cooking is rather laid-back, sort of a “little of this, a little of that” kind of affair. I did make a mental note of everything though and now have the details perfected so I can pass the recipe on to you.
I decided to make two small cakes this time- one the traditional way with rosemary, walnuts and raisins, and one my own way replacing the walnuts and raisins with hazelnuts and chocolate chips.
- 1-1/2 C Chestnut flour
- 1 Tbsp Coconut sugar (or other granulated sweetener)
- Pinch of salt
- 1-1/2 C Water
- 2 Tbsp Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 C Raisins OR Chocolate chips
- 1/4 C Walnuts OR Toasted, peeled hazelnuts (I made two small ones so used half the amounts of dried fruit and nuts in each)
- 1 Large sprig of rosemary, leaves removed from stem
- Preheat oven to 200C/400F, lightly oil the edges of a pie dish (or 2 small ones)
- Whisk together chestnut flour, sugar, salt and water until smooth and runny.
- Add the olive oil to the prepared dish/dishes and place in the oven to warm up for a minute. Remove from oven, pour in the Castagnaccio batter, swirl the olive oil through the mixture and scatter with the dried fruit/choc chips, nuts and rosemary. Return to oven and cook for 15-25 minutes until the surface is dry and cracked. Cooking time will depend on the size of dish you used.
- Enjoy warm or cold. I like it as is but it’s sometimes served with ricotta and a drizzle of honey, so for a vegan version you could try non-dairy yogurt or cashew cream, and a drizzle of maple syrup or agave nectar.
Now, I know chestnut flour isn’t exactly something you see everywhere but it can sometimes by found in health food stores amongst the other gluten-free flours.
I’ve used it in the crust of my Herby Courgette Galette for a pleasant nutty flavour and think it would make a batch of rather special cookies. I also have a very vivid memory of a delicious chocolate brownie I had in a restaurant in Paris, which I was told was made with chestnut flour too. Lots of room for experimentation!
Have you had Castagnaccio before? Or other dishes made using chestnut flour?
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