I grew up in a household that was very Italian. Tuscan to be precise. My mother's parents had been in the United States since around 1818, and there wasn't a lot of Italian culture going on there. My mother could speak, read, and write Italian, but she studied that at school. My father's parents however, were right off the boat. My father was the first generation born here and Italian was his first language. He learned English mixing it up with the other kids on his street. Whole parts of his family never spoke English, and since they wanted me to speak only English, I never had a real conversation with most of them. I remember sitting by the wood burning stove in the warm kitchen of the big Victorian house on Sacramento Street while the adults spoke Italian, sipped tiny cups of string coffee, or glasses of Vin Santo, and enjoyed slices of Castagnaccio aka Tuscan Chestnut Cake.
Castagnaccio was a winter tradition in Northern Italy, that goes way back in time (they say) to the Ancient Romans. It's a simple cake, containing no sugar, baking powder, or dairy, so it's vegan. Because it only is made of chestnut flour, it's also totally gluten free. Even though I spend most of my time cooking Indian food, when this time of year rolls around and family and friends gather, I am always pulled back to my roots and the foods I grew up on.
Even though this is a cake, it's not sweet. Castragnaccio is definitely an adult food best enjoyed with a sweet dessert wine or a cup of espresso. It's also super easy to make as long as one can find chestnut flour. I purchased some Italian chestnut flour via Amazon and I was in business.
So grab your pine nuts, fire up the espresso machine, and let's make skillet cake.
Here's What You Need:
1 1/2 cups chestnut flour1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup Vin Santo or good quality Sauterene
3 Tbs olive oil
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 orange, zested
1 long sprig rosemary, leaves stripped (optional)
Here's What To Do:Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Pour 1/3 cup of Vin Santo or Sauterene into a measuring cup.
Add in the golden raisins and the dark raisins.
Place the measuring cup in the microwave and cook for 30 seconds.
Drain the raisins. Save the wine, you'll be using it in a minute.
In a large bowl mix the chestnut flour, salt, and sugar.
Add in 1 cup of water...
...and the reserved raisin soaking liquid...aka wine.
Whisk everything together well.
Add the pine nuts to the bowl of drained raisins.
Zest 1/2 orange into the bowl.
Add in the chopped rosemary if you are using it.
When the oven is up to 400 degrees, pour 3 Tbs of olive oil into a 10 inch cast iron pan.
Swirl the pan around so the oil is evenly distributed.
Pop the oiled pan into the 400 degree oven for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes take it out and pour the batter into the hot cast iron pan.
Scatter the raisins, pine nuts, orange zest, and rosemary on top of the batter.
Pop the whole thing into the oven for about 15 minutes. When it's firm and the surface is lightly cracked, it's done.
Serve it up.
You can serve it right out of the pan or using a spatula, un-mold it and put it on a cake plate.
All you need now is a roaring blaze in the fireplace and some Puccini on Pandora or watch Fellinis great film Amarcord.
Coming up next, a very simple dish perfect for your holiday table, vegan and glultenfree! Follow along on Twitter @kathygori