Tuscans have a very simple and rustic cuisine, characterized by hearty stews, soups, baked goods, and beans. Tuscan bread is the one that's famous for being made without salt. Outside of Tuscany, many people are unfamiliar with the traditional foods, namely sweets. But there's one dessert that's particularly popular around this time of year in Tuscany.
Castagnaccio is traditionally made in the fall and winter months, and is often served during the holidays. It's like a cake but it doesn't rise. It's made from chestnut flour since chestnuts (castagna) are abundant in Tuscany. The cake is not so much sweet as it is earthy. The only ingredients it needs are water and oil. The toppings are what make it special—wine-soaked raisins, pine nuts, orange zest, and rosemary. It's really a cake that's meant to be paired with a glass of Vin Santo and slowly savored at the end of an evening.
The texture of the cake is unique, maybe a little thick and even fudge like, but only in appearance. You'll need a large shallow pan, like a paella, to make it. The chestnut flour can easily be sourced in Italian markets. If you prefer, you could substitute the pine nuts with chopped walnuts and the raisins with other chopped dried fruit. The rosemary adds a nice aromatic touch, but if you don't like herbs on your dessert, you can omit it. You'll really like castagnaccio this Christmas!
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup Vin Santo or rum
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound chestnut flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 orange, zested
1 long sprig rosemary, leaves stripped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine raisins in a small bowl and pour over with wine. Microwave for 30 seconds or until raisins are soft. Strain raisins, reserving liquid.
In a large bowl, whisk together chestnut flour, sugar, and salt to aerate. Make a well. Add water and reserved liquid from raisins. Stir with a spoon until a smooth batter forms.
Drizzle a 14-inch wide paella pan with olive oil. Place in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and pour in batter, spreading until evenly distributed. Scatter over with raisins, pine nuts, orange zest, and rosemary leaves. Bake until brown and set, about 10 to 15 minutes. Yield: 14 slices.