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Chestnut Flour Migliaccio, Commonly Known as Castagnaccio

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Until quite recently the chestnut played a central role in the diet of the people of Lunigiana. This recipe isn't exactly Lunigianan, but it is one of the best uses for chestnut flour I know of. It's taken from my translation of Pellegrino Artusi's Art of Eating Well, the first commercially successful Italian cookbook aimed at middle class households. The recipe gives a good idea of why Artusi is still popular 110 years after his book came out.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) Chestnut Flour
  • Pine nuts
  • Water
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh Rosemary (optional)
  • Raisins (optional)

Preparation:

Quoting from Artusi:

"Here again I can't refrain from crying out against the unwillingness to work we Italians suffer from. Chestnut flour is completely unknown in some provinces of Italy, and I doubt that anyone's ever tried to introduce it, despite it's being an inexpensive, healthy, and nutritious food suited for the poor and those unafraid of wind*. I talked to a shopkeeper in Romagna about this, describing migliaccio, and asked why he didn't try to earn some money selling it.

"'Well,' he replied, 'it's too sweet and nobody'd eat it.'

"'The cottarone you all sell are sweet, aren't they?' I countered. 'At least try. Start with children; give them some for free to see if they like it, and pretty soon adults will probably begin to follow them.' I had a lot to say, but it was the same as talking to a wall.

"Cottarone, for those who don't know, are apples and pears, for the most part overripe, sprinkled with water and baked in the oven inside a pot covered with a wet rag. Let's get back to the easy preparation of this migliaccio.

"Take one and an eighth pounds (500 g) of chestnut flour; since it gets lumpy easily, sift it into a bowl. Add a pinch of salt, slowly stir in 4/5 of a quart (800 ml) of cold water, to obtain a liquid batter, and stir in a fist full of pine nuts. Some cooks add chopped walnuts as well as pine nuts, others raisins too, and others also sprinkle in a few leaves of rosemary.

"Now take an oven pan big enough so the migliaccio batter will be about a finger and a half deep in it. Lightly oil the pan, pour in the batter, and sprinkle two tablespoons of oil over it. Bake it in a 375 F (180 C) oven for about 30 minutes, or till it's firm and the top looks as crackled as the bottom of a dried pond.

"You can also make fritters with this batter."

Notes:
Re wind: Chestnuts rival beans in this respect.
More importantly, Migliaccio will only be tasty if the chestnut flour is fresh and of good quality. If it is, it will smell of chestnuts. If it does not, don't buy it.

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