Castagnaccio is a very traditional Tuscan recipe that is typically made each autumn. It's particularly associated with Lucca and the rest of Tuscany, but similar autumnal chestnut cakes are also made in other Italian regions such as Ligura, the Piemonte, Veneto, Lombardia, and Emilia-Romagna, in Switzerland, and on the French island of Corsica.
It is a dense, flat, unleavened cake and it is a somewhat unusual dish in that it's a dessert, but not a very sweet one, and made with some ingredients -- such as olive oil and rosemary -- that are more typically associated with savory dishes. It might be better described as a "semi-sweet flatbread," though that doesn't quite nail it down either.
It's very nutritious and simple to make, so give it a try and see how you like it! It's great served after a hearty fall meal with a glass of vin santo, nocino or any other sweet dessert wine. It would make an unusual and seasonally appropriate addition to a Thanksgiving dinner table, and since it just happens to be vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and lactose-free, a great alternative dessert for those with dietary restrictions.
To make it a bit more dessert-like, you can also add cocoa powder and increase the sugar a bit, and/or omit the rosemary. Since, like most traditional Italian dishes, there are endless variations on the recipe, feel free to experiment and add and omit ingredients according to your own personal taste. Some ideas of variations are given below the recipe.
It's important to use fresh and high-quality chestnut flour. If you are unable to find chestnut flour, it's surprisingly simple to make your own from roasted chestnuts, if you have a food processor or mill. Or you can order some chestnut flour online.
- 1 1/2 cups chestnut flour (sifted)
- 3 Tbsp olive oil (extra-virgin)
- 1 Pinch salt (fine sea salt)
- 1/2 cup raisins (soaked in warm water for 10-15 minutes, drained well and squeezed of excess water)
- 1/3 cup walnuts (roughly chopped and toasted)
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 Tbsp rosemary (fresh leaves)
- Preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
- Place the chestnut flour in a large bowl.
- Gradually whisk in 2 cups of warm water to form a thick, smooth batter. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the salt, and the raisins. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Transfer to a greased round cake pan. Sprinkle the walnuts, pine nuts, rosemary and remaining olive oil evenly over the top, pat lightly with a spatula to adhere, and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until firm and lightly browned.
- Omit the walnuts and/or pine nuts
- Omit the rosemary leaves
- Replace the raisins with chopped candied orange peel, chopped dried black cherry, chopped dried fig, chopped apple, or chopped dates (or any combination thereof)
- Add 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder and/or 5 oz of melted dark chocolate, or 1/4 cup of semisweet chocolate chips
My personal favorite version is made with: cocoa and chocolate chips, chopped dried cherries, and topped with walnuts and olive oil (omitting the raisins, pine nuts, and rosemary).