Cooking Wisdom: The ancient flavor of Chestnuts

Cooking to combine old wisdom and new inspiration.

While the Autumn days are fading, and slowly melt into the mellower and more subdued moods of Winter, cold air starts to regularly visit from the north, while dense morning fogs cover the meadows. “As the sun withdraws toward its Winter home in the south, I feel my inner light stirring, calling up forces of strength and courage. The playful wind in the Fall whirled the glowing leaves around before dropping them to the ground. Piled on top of each other they create a colorful blanket to cover and protect the life beneath”.

Cooking in the Fall: let nature’s wisdom inspire you.

These are the beautiful words by Anne-Marie Fryer Wiboltt extracted from her inspirational book called Cooking for the Love of the World. I eagerly read her sentences and they sound like music to my ears. The way in which she describes the seasons is so poetic that I cannot refrain myself from sharing it with you all. As she goes on talking about the arrival of Winter she writes: “The trees, getting ready for a deep winter rest, stand majestic and strong as they let go of what is needed no longer. Their bare branches reach to the lowering golden sun. Each branch, holding buds containing every tiny leaf for next year’s growth, assures me that there is no end without a new beginning”.

Cooking wisdom: a tool for better living.

Observing nature we can learn so much about life, about how easy and simple living could be if only we would slow down and pay attention to our inner wisdom. If we were to silence all the outside noise of our every day life and we were to use the cold season as a chance to reflect, take it easy and draw in to start to listen more to our inner  voice. As we start to master the ability to get in contact with our ancestral wisdom, we learn to recognize the messages that guide us towards the right direction, the direction we are meant to follow. As things start to make sense we develop a sense of serenity, as opposed to stress and anxiety, a sense of peace and well-being, as opposed to uncertainty and precariousness, we start to live in a state of mind. When this happens we become the instruments of positive energy and this allows to our lives to turn for the better.Good and positive thoughts start to inhabit your mind, and this will start to reflect on who you are. The inside light will be visible on the outside and you will manifest what Dr. Wayne Dyer said: “As you think, you shall be”. Once you have become the creator of your life, through your thoughts, you acquire a sense of certainty and balance, and certainty clears the path for what you desire. As Gabby Bernstein points out in her book A Course in Miracles; “Those who are certain of the outcome can afford to wait and wait and wait without anxiety”, but instead surrender to the conviction that things are going to go exactly as they should with the timing that is needed. Allowing in this way, the creative flow of love to move through us, which is ultimately the feeling we long for, rid of fear and uncertainty, and anxiety.

Cooking with chestnuts: the rediscovery of an ancient staple food.

As I observe nature in all its magnificence and stand in owe, I draw inspiration. Ancient wisdom is to be discovered for living a more fulfilling life altogether, for feeling better in all the spectrums of our existence. Going to visit the small villages on the mountains around Tuscany reminds me to strive to be authentic and humble. Just like the food from this area. The staple food of Lunigiana, situated next to Garfagnana, is simple and poor. In the Fall, in the past, the people from Lunigiana used to gather all the chestnuts from the trees and transform them into flour and this made it possible for most people to survive the cold snowy winters.

 

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Cooking, eating, walking.

Last Sunday we took a hike in the woods of Fivizzano in the heart of Lunigiana. We took part to the event called Mangialonga, which consists in walking in the woods for miles until you find a shelter where you can rest and eat and then set off to hiking again, and so on for a total of five pit stops, for almost 10 km. It was a very nice experience to feel the brisk cold air on my cheeks during the walk, admiring the beautifully colorful foliage, the mist in the air, the persimmon trees, with their bare branches and round orange fruit, piercing the grey and cloudy sky. The torrents gurgling through the trails reminded me of my childhood. The warmth of the shelters, the good smells, the chestnuts prepared and cooked in all ways possible, the big fire place ready for roasting and putting out that heat that is such a blessing on cold winter days.

 

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Cooking chestnuts: the many ways to prepare them.

At the first stop we were served chestnuts boiled in milk for two hours with two special ingredients: cinnamon and bay leaf. In order to have clean chestnuts with no shells, they have to be preciously boiled, after being rinsed, in salty water for a half hour. Once they are soft they are ready to be eaten, most people eat them just like that, and they are called castagne ballocciore, putting them in milk with cinnamon and bay leaf, boil them for another couple hours makes them even softer and tastier.

 

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Another delicious way to enjoy the rich flavor of chestnuts is by grinding them into flour. Once you transformed the chestnuts into flour, or better yet you bought some chestnut flour, it can be used for making polenta, chestnut polenta, which is super easy to make: just add water and stir constantly until you have a thich and silky batter, add salt to taste.

 

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The polenta is delicious eaten along with ricotta cheese. The two textures and flovors marry exquisitly. This way of enjoying chestnuts is very common, just as much as the other very popular way to prepare chestnut flour, this time baking it into Castagnaccio with pine nuts, rosemary, walnuts and orange zest.

 

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Castagnaccio  (Chestnut Flour Cake)

 

This is a tradional Tuscan “poor man’s” dessert. This gluten free dish made from mainly foraged and also seasonal ingredients, such as rosemary, pine nuts, grapes, walnuts, would be a meal for poor people in pre-war Tuscany. The chestnut flour gives an earthy flavor and dense, puddingy consistency that for many people can be an acquired taste. After a few times, you will start to get the essence of the flovor, and then on it will become addictive! This is a perfect dessert for those who don’t like their sweets too sweet. about this dish, people say, it  warms the heart and fingers (since you don’t need a fork but just your hands to eat castagnaccio). It makes a perfect ending for your meal matched with a sweet liquory wine.

 

INGREDIENTS

    • 3 T sultana raisins (Optional)
    • 3 T walnuts
    • 1 T orange zest
    • 1/2 lb chestnut flour
    • 2 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for oiling the pan and drizzling on top
    • pinch of salt
    • 4 t sugar
    • 2 to 2 1/2 c cold water
    • 3 T pine nuts (pignoli)
    • a few sprigs of rosemary

PREPARATION

    1. 1. Soak the raisins for a few minutes in a small bowl with warm water. 2. Mix the chestnut flour, oil, salt, sugar, and water. 3. Drain the raisins and mix them into the batter, along with the pine nuts, and walnuts, and the orange zest. 4. Pour the batter into a greased 9″ diameter pan, 2″ deep. The batter will not rise during baking, so if you have a slightly different size pan on hand, that is fine too. 5. Sprinkle the rosemary sprigs over the top of the batter and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil. 6. Bake at 400 F for 1 hour. You’ll know it is ready when the surface is covered with little cracks. Cool, turn out onto a plate, and voila’!

 

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Written by Barbara
I am a mother, a cooking goddess, an entrepreneur, and a photography lover. Beauty is my passion, in everything that surrounds me: travel, food, relationship, lifestyle, photography. Join me in my joyful tribe! Simone, the eye behind the camera of most of my shots on this blog. His sensitivity towards art and beauty allow him to see things hidden to most. His motto is: "Enjoy life now!"