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Castagnaccio – an Italian Chestnut Cake

the surface of a Castagnaccio - an Italian Chestnut Cake, decorated with pine nuts, sultanas and rosemary

Castagnaccio – an Italian Chestnut Cake, is a recipe I had heard and read of, but never had the opportunity to try. It appears regularly in classic Italian recipe books and like many Cucina Povera recipes, it happens to be simple and delicious, but also traditionally vegan.

Considered a humble dish, Castagnaccio is traditionally made from easily available, affordable and local ingredients. Particularly associated with the autumn and early winter, aligning with the chestnut harvest season. The essence of the Castagnaccio recipe is fairly consistent, it uses chestnut flour, has a dense, rich texture, flavoured with rosemary, raisins, pine nuts, sometimes walnuts, and is occasionally flavoured with orange. I blended and adapted recipes to make a Castagnaccio that is my own. Half the recipes I read were sugar free, so it is optional as the raisins and chestnut flour are naturally sweet.

You might think making a traditional Italian recipe doesn’t align with my love of all things local, but it does. We recently moved to an area with an abundance of chestnut trees. When autumn came I was so excited to find so many chestnut trees. But my enthusiasm for foraging chestnuts out weighed my knowledge of how to use them. Some I froze whole, others I ground and portioned bags, perfect for making homemade chestnut flour, which is not readily in New Zealand. The other ingredients are either home grown or locally sourced which is perfect for this dish with also was part of the cucina povera ethos.

Castagnaccio – an Italian Chestnut Cake

Ingredients

  • 400g chestnut flour
  • 550-650ml water
  • 40g pine nuts
  • 30g of chopped walnuts
  • 40g raisins
  • 4 tbsp sugar – optional
  • a sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 45ml tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • Zest of an orange or lemon

Method

Soak the raisins in warm water for about 10 minutes to plump them up, then drain and set them aside.

In a large mixing bowl, sift the chestnut flour. Whisking while gradually adding the water. Use enough to make a smooth, thick pancake-like batter. Add a pinch of salt and stir in the olive oil – or leave out for an oil-free cake.

Or put the flour into a high speed blender and slowly add enough water to make a thick batter.

Mix in half of the pine nuts and half of the raisins into the batter. If you’re using walnuts, add them now as well.

Pour the batter into a greased 30cm shallow frying pan or 20 x 30cm baking dish, the batter (traditionally) should be about a centimetre deep. For a Castagnaccio that’s more like a cake use 23cm cake tin. Sprinkle the top with the remaining pine nuts and raisins. Place the rosemary sprigs on top and drizzle with a bit more olive oil.

a slice of Castagnaccio drizzled with vegan dandelion honey in front of a cut Castagnaccio - an Italian chestnut flour cake

Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for about 30-40 minutes or until the top is firm and slightly cracked, and the edges are golden brown. For a deeper cake you may need to bake longer.

Cool before removing from baking dish. Serve with a drizzle Dandelion honey or a dollop of soy yoghurt for dessert or afternoon tea.

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