Ingredients: Per 4 servings
- 3 cups + 2 tbsp chestnut flour
- 1 oz pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pinch salt
- ½ cup water
- 2 ½ oz sultanas
- fennel seeds to taste
Soak the raisins in hot water for 15 minutes. Strain them, squeeze them and let them dry. Put the chestnut flour in a bowl with a pinch of salt and slowly temper it with water, whisking continuously, until a smooth and semi-liquid batter forms.
Use some of the oil to grease a cake pan and pour the batter inside. Sprinkle the batter with raisins, pine nuts and a pinch of fennel seeds. Drizzle the remaining olive oil on top. Bake the cake in a preheated oven at 350° F (180° C) for about 40 minutes.
Chesnut Culture: Many classical writers – Homer, Theophrastus, Columella, Strabo, Pliny – mention chestnuts and their gastronomic versatility, documenting different techniques for cultivating them and further confirming the practices involved in this agronomic activity. In his De Re Coquinaria, Apicio provides us with what is probably the oldest recipe for chestnuts. Through the shep- herd Tityrus, the great Virgil suggests combining this nut (probably after boiling it in milk for some time) with ripe fruit and fresh cheese.
It’s a decidedly simple meal, but it’s also complete from a nutritional perspective, as evidenced by the fundamental role chestnuts have always played in everyday life in areas with a subsistence economy. In The Georgics, Virgil advises grafting chestnuts with beeches to make them more resistant. This is another important con- firmation of the close ties between humans and chestnuts, a plant that was avidly domesticat- ed, modified, and manipulated.
There are so many variants (dozens for every area where they grow) that it’s difficult to give them a scientific classification, though they are generally divid- ed into two comprehensive groups: wild and cultivated. The first are smaller, less valuable, and have harder shells. The second are of a higher caliber, sweeter, and have softer shells that are lighter in color. The Roman poet Martial (1st century AD) mentions the Neapolitans’ great skill in roasting chestnuts, proving that humble foods aren’t always (almost never, really, unless one is “condemned” to them) lacking in flavor or characterized by unpleasant tastes.
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