Articolo disponibile anche in: Italian
I’m a bread lover, and this time I’d like to talk about a very special kind of bread, one made with chestnut flour, typical of Italy’s mountainous areas.
Near Florence there’re the beautiful mountains of the Mugello. Here for centuries expert woodcutters have been selecting chestnut trees, to produce a slightly different kind of chestnut, with a rectangular base and only 3 fruits inside the husk instead of 5 or 7. This delicious fruit is called ‘Marrone Fiorentino’.
Its popularity soared thanks the railway system, at the end of the 18th century, at the time when the railway connected the Mugello to Florence and from there to the world.
The English were big fans of the Marradi Chestnut. They bought huge quantities of this product, helping the price to rise considerably. At first chestnuts were much cheaper than wheat, later prices rose until chestnuts were fifteen times the price of wheat.
During the war this process came to a halt, and many chestnut trees got cut down to get their precious wood. People left the mountains, and the Mugello Chestnut seemed doomed.
But in the ‘80s these chestnuts reached a new prosperity, together with other Tuscan products such as zolfino beans and lardo (cured pork fat) that entered the world of high gastronomy.
The chestnut production cycle begins in spring, when in April they germinate and release their pollen. After the flowering a small husk is born.
It protects the fruits until October, when it opens and let them fall. The harvest lasts two months, from morning till evening, because the fruits are very delicate and spoil quite quickly, despite the appearance.
The Tuscan marrone is considered to be fresh for a period of four months, and it’s perfect when roasted (in Italian they’re called “caldarroste”).
Most of the fruits are dried in the traditional “caldana”, where the live fire is covered with the shells of the previous year’s chestnuts. This process gives the fruits a special taste and smell. And the delicious chestnut flour is produced.
This is the way I like eating the marroni: I take 250 grams of chestnut flour and slowly add 150 grams of milk (or water, but I prefer to use milk) then add a little sugar (not more than 30 grams), and 50 grams of very good olive oil! Mix well and put the dough in a baking tray with baking paper – I like it quite thick, so I use a small baking tray, if you prefer it crispy, use a low baking tray.
I add the raisins and the pine nuts, which get nicely toasted during the baking process. Put a few sprigs of rosemary (not too much) and bake it in the oven at 170 degrees for about one hour.
I like it lukewarm, a couple of centimetres thick, served with some grated dark chocolate and maybe a grappa flavoured ice cream. Till next time!
Matia Barciulli, chef, Technical coordinator Antinori’s restaurants… and father of Brando