In my last blog post, I talked about the castagnaccio cake Susan Andrews and I made for our Vegano group’s dessert one night. Regional versions of the cake are found in Tuscany, where I first ate it, and Liguria and Emilia-Romania too, but not Cilento where we were staying. Still, when I saw the chestnut flour in the pantry, and knowing we had great olive oil, and lots of fresh rosemary, which are the basic ingredients for the cake, I wanted to see if we could make one that was tasty. Depending where it is made, pine nuts, walnuts and/sor raisins might be included, but the basic recipe for what is considered a poor man’s cake is unsweetened.
Some years ago when Alessadra Felice was my culinary intern in New York, her mother sent her some fresh chestnut flour from Italy. Alex used some of this precious flour to make castagnaccio for her classmates at the Natural Gourmet Institute. Alex was disspointed that no one liked the cake. I reminded her that it’s rather austere, remembering that I’d had to fairly beg a waiter in Tuscany to let me have a piece. He said, “American’s don’t like it.” (I did.)
For our group of North Americans in Cilento, I used oat milk instead of water, and added some sugar and walnuts to the batter. I oiled the pan heavily too, and that resulted in a pleasantly chewy crust on the thin cake. Susan created a delicious sauce to serve as an accompaniment. Both recipes follows.
See if you can find good quality chestnut flour and make this fall dessert. You might like it. We all did! By the way, it is vegan, gluten-free and paleo. Maybe we’ll be seeing more castagnaccio!
- 2 cups chestnut flour, you really want the freshest you can get outside of Italy
- 1/4 cup organic sugar
- 2 cups oat or almond milk (we used oat)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 6 tablespoons walnuts, coarsely chopped or broken, divided, more or less
- 1 1/2 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh rosemary (Branches for garnish)
- Susan’s Plum Sauce (recipe follows)
- Preheat oven to 400F. Grease an ovenproof pan with 2 tablespoon of oil. I can’t tell you exactly the size of the pan. You want something that allows the batter to be poured to a depth of 1 1/2 to 2 inches. I’d say, 8-inch square round or square but don’t stress.
- Whisk the chestnut flour and sugar in a large bowl and whisk. Add the milk and 1 tablespoon of the oil slowly, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. The batter will be thin.
- Stir half the walnuts and the rosemary into the batter. Pour the batter into the pan. Sprinkle the rest of the walnuts over the top. (Likely, they’ll sink in).
- Put the cake in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 375°F. Bake 45 minutes, or until the top is cracked and the cake has pulled away from the sides. It won’t look pretty. You can cover the top with walnuts, or pine nuts and lots of rosemary branches.
- Make the plum sauce while the cake is baking.
Susan’s Plum Sauce
We used small prune plums, and syrup from breakfast poached pears. Susan worked hard to negate the heavy dose of clove in the syrup. We added finely chopped rosemary, starting with 2 teaspoons, adding more and more. You can cook the plums (or any stone fruit or grapes) with sugar syrup, fruit juice, or the vegan honey in my book Vegan Chocolate. The idea is just to cook down some fruit in a sweetened syrup flavored with rosemary.
- 2 cups quartered fresh plums, more or less
- 1 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh rosemary, more to taste
- 1/2 cup sugar or maple syrup and rice syrups (we used orange/clove syrup that our resident chef Renata made)
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
- Good size pinch salt
- Combine all of the ingredients in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Cook until quite soft and bubbly, about 10 minutes. The time will depend on how firm or soft the fruit.
- Serve pieces of castagnaccio warm or at room temperature with a portion of the plum sauce.
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