The Chestnut Flour of Lunigiana, Italy

As you all know by now, I am in Italy for the summer renovating our home here, a 12th century defensive tower (a fortress) that has a vineyard. As I work on the daily tasks of making this a spectacular setting for our family and for our workshops and retreats, I love to discover local artisans and craftsmen and of course small organic food producers. With the help of my lovely friends here, a secret world has opened up to me. I am meeting so many amazing people, and I am so thrilled to be living in such an authentic and undiscovered place as the Lunigiana.

Saturday, along with my son’s girlfriend Sydney, we visited a local bread maker. Fabio Bertolucci is revitalizing Lunigiana’s ancient bread making; he uses chestnut flour. The Lunigiana is filled with chestnut trees, and in ancient times bread makers discovered that the roasted and dried chestnuts could be turned into a useful and nutritional flour for bread making. Sydney is a Nutrition major at University of Texas, studying to be a registered dietitian, so this outing was of particular interest to her. She’s about to take part in a nutrition studies program in Sicily for six weeks (yes, I am jealous). Watching Fabio was exciting and interesting for us both.

High above the mountains in a tiny village, Fabio has his lovely little bakery. He makes about 100 loafs every other day and distributes them himself to local groceries and bakeries. He’s on a mission to bring back this local delicacy. The bread is called, Marocca, and it is made by mixing finely sieved chestnut flour, wheat flour and boiled and mashed potatoes with extra-virgin olive oil, yeast, a piece of sourdough starter and water. The dough is formed into a round loaf, about 20 centimeters in diameter, which is left to rise for over an hour before being baked in a wood-burning oven.

Fabio Bertolucci is revitalizing Lunigiana's ancient bread making; he uses chestnut flour. In ancient times bread makers used chestnuts for flour.

Fabio is a thoughtful and quiet man; he pulls every loaf of bread from the oven himself. He prefers to work alone. It’s a solitary existence, and life of purpose and exquisite simplicity. As he handed me a hot loaf wrapped in a brown paper bag, gratefully I took it in anticipation of sinking my teeth into a warm slice slathered with local butter and chestnut honey from the bees down the road.

Fabio Bertolucci is revitalizing Lunigiana's ancient bread making; he uses chestnut flour. In ancient times bread makers used chestnuts for flour.

This is as local as it gets, and the very reason I have chosen to live here in the Italian countryside half the year. What could be better than breaking scrumptious sweet bread with friends and family?

Thank you, Fabio for welcoming us. For those of your joining our workshops and retreats, you can be sure a warm loaf is in your future.

xx Annette

Il Forno in Canoara di Fabio Bertolucci
Casola in Lunigiana (Ms)
Via Villa di Regnano, 99 a
tel. +39 +39 0585 983017-347 2354711
lamaroccadicasola@email.it|

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Strawberry Crostata, Moving-In Day, and More: It’s the Top 4

On the blog this month, there have been a few recipes, many peeks into the renovation, and a some notes about life in Italy. Enjoy the top 4 from May

May, you’ve been good to me. Despite a few bumps (did I mention we had field mice?), I’ve had a great month in Italy getting settled and preparing for workshop students.

On the blog this month, there have been a few pretty fabulous recipes, many peeks into the renovation, and a few notes about life in Italy. If you missed any of these fun posts, I’ve rounded up my favorites for you below. Enjoy the top 4 from May:

Top 4 from May

Strawberry Crostata with Balsamic Roasted Strawberries and Mascarpone Ice cream 

Moving-In Day

A Word about Flour

Cauliflower Tacos

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A word about flour :: dispatch from Italy

Italian Flour

An essential like flour is something we might take for granted in everyday life.

Even in the age of gluten-free, our daily bread is something most folks partake in.

It occurred to me while shopping for staples when I arrived in Italy last week, that the flour in the everyday grocery here is abundant in choices. I will say that in the US, I really don’t eat that much gluten. But when I am here in Italy for some magical reason, I have no reaction to baked goods: no inflammation, no sluggishness, no reaction whatsoever, so baking here is something I do regularly.

I did stop in my tracks when I saw this amazing flour display and decided to share it on my blog today. In Italy, we bake with many types of flour, and if you’re gluten free, then chestnut flour is the answer for you. In our region, Lunigiana, there’s a basic bread recipe that has been baked for many centuries.

Chestnuts

Today I’m sharing my Focaccia recipe from my upcoming book Cocktail Italiano. This book will not only be filled with wonderful cocktails, but the nibbles that accompany the cocktails served all over Italy.

focaccia

Focaccia
Serves 4

You will need:
– 3 cups double zero flour or bread flour (super fine flour)
– 1 package dry yeast
– 1/3 cup warm water
– 1 cup water
– ½ cup extra virgin olive oil + 1 teaspoon for the cookie sheet + 3 tablespoons for finishing before baking, 1 tablespoon to finish after baking
– 2 tablespoons coarse salt + 1 teaspoon for finishing

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Place the yeast in a small bowl with 1/3 cups water and let proof in a large bowl, once proofed add flour and oil and salt and water, combine until it forms a sticky dough, it should be very sticky. Flour your surface and turn the dough onto floured surface. knead gently for a minute until dough forms a soft dough.
2. On an oiled 10”x14” cookie sheet with a lip, spread the dough out to fit the cookie sheet. With your index fingers poke dimples into the top of the dough .* note you can use parchment paper to line the cookie sheet but I like to oil the paper.
3. Let rest for 30 minutes, then repeat by poking dimples into the risen dough, and let rest for 30 minutes.
4. Before placing in the oven, drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse salt.
5. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Remove sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil cool and eat warm or at room temperature. The key is to let the oil soak in as the focaccia cools. Can be stored sealed for up to 3 days.

Serving suggestions: I love to use focaccia as an appetizer with olive spread, Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, and a summer crisp rose wine. This makes the perfect start to a perfect evening.

Since I am raving about Italian flour, I wanted to give you a great resource for flour in the US.

Carolina Ground Flour

Recently my friend sent me a sampling of this incredible artisan flour Carolina Ground. It’s the closest I have found to the flour I use here in Italy.

Happy baking xx

 

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Strawberry Crostata with Balsamic Roasted Strawberries and savory Mascarpone Ice cream

Corstata One of the things I love about Italian desserts is that they are not too sweet. In fact, Italians often have cake or sweet breads and crostata for breakfast.

This recipe for strawberry crostata is a variation of a recipe in my upcoming book, Cocktail Italiano. The recipe in the book is savory mascarpone ice cream with balsamic roasted grapes. It is a savory version of ice cream, and it works great with a sweet fruit topping for dessert or for aperitivo.

I had leftover strawberries from the book photo-shoot and thought roasting them with balsamic vinegar would be terrific. I decided that the mascarpone ice cream would be the perfect complement, and I baked a crostata with some homemade strawberry jam I found in the pantry.

Here’s the recipe; its a great dessert even without the addition of the Strawberry Crostata.

Strawberry Crostata
Serves 8

You will need:
– 1 1/2 cups pastry flour
– 1/4 cup sugar
– 1 1/2 cups cold butter cut into slices
– 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup strawberry jam

To prepare: 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

In the bowl of a standing mixer, place flour and butter combine on low speed until crumbs form.

Add sugar, salt, and eggs. When combined about 3 minutes, place in plastic wrap and into the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Cut the dough in 1/2, roll 1/2 the dough out on a floured surface into a round disk. Place disk into the bottom of a fluted 11″ tart pan.  Roll the other half and with a pinked pie cutter cut 1″ strips.

Spread the strawberry jam on top of the crust, then lay the 1 ” strips in a lattice pattern on top of the jam.

Place in the oven for 30 minutes. Until golden brown. Cool and serve at room temperature.

Balsamic Roasted Strawberries

Balsamic Roasted Strawberries
Serves 8

You will need:
– 4 cups cleaned strawberries
– 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
– 1/4 cup sugar

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

In a bowl toss strawberries, vinegar and sugar. On a parchment lined lipped cookie sheet, place balsamic soaked strawberries. Roast for 30 minutes, then place in a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. This can be served warm over the ice cream.

Mascarpone Ice Cream

Savory Mascarpone Ice Cream
Serves 8

You will need:
– 2 cups whole milk
– 1 tsp. unflavored powdered gelatin
– 2 cups mascarpone
– Finely grated zest of 1 orange
– ½ teaspoon salt

*note if you wish to make this a sweet ice cream add 1/4 cup of sugar to the milk

To prepare:

In a small saucepan, whisk the milk and gelatin and let stand for 5 minutes. Warm the milk over medium heat, whisking until gelatin dissolves. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the mascarpone and orange zest until smooth. Pour the ice cream base into a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Pour the base into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Scrape the ice cream into a container and freeze.

Serve a slice of the crostata with a scoop of ice cream and warmed strawberries.

Enjoy xx

Top photo credit : Bill Addison

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Spring Recipes for a Crowd- Passover or Easter

Our family celebrates the holiday of Passover which is on Monday April 10th. Passover has a very specific menu. We are not allowed to eat leavened bread, we eat Matzoh. The story of Passover is an interesting one, and one that we recall at our dinner table on the night of Passover. Here’s a great dessert to make for your gathering this year… and it involves chocolate!

PotsDeCreme

Salted Chocolate Pots de Crème
Serves 6-8

You will need:
1 ½ cup whole milk
– 1/2 cup whipping cream
– 5 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
– 1 teaspoon sea salt, or flake salt
– 6 large egg yolks
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1 cup whipped cream for topping

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Bring milk and cream just to simmer in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and salt; whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk yolks and sugar in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot chocolate mixture. Strain mixture into another bowl. Cool 10 minutes, skimming any foam from surface.

Divide custard mixture among six 3/4-cup custard cups or soufflé dishes. Cover each with foil. Place cups in large baking pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of cups. Bake until custards are set but centers still move slightly when gently shaken, about 55 minutes. Remove from water. Remove foil. Chill custards until cold, about 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.) Top with whip cream, and serve.

Photo by Sarah Dorio

Styled by Moi

One of my favorite entertaining stories was for Atlanta Magazine’s Home. It was a Greek Easter party thrown by good friends every year, a party we always look forward to. Greek tradition calls for this sweet bread which makes a lovely and festive presentation. Imagine taking it somewhere for your Easter feast. Get all the recipes and the full feature here.

Passover begins on Monday and last through the following Monday (the day after Easter), and I have two great spring recipes for a crowd to share with you.

TSOUREKI (Easter Sweet Bread)
Serves 4 loaves

You will need:

– 7 cups Flour
– 3 quick rise yeast packets
– ½ cup warm water
– 1¾ cup sugar
– ½ teaspoon salt
– 1 Tablespoon mahlepi
– 1 teaspoon mastic
– 1 teaspoon vanilla
– 2 teaspoon lemon & orange zest (mixed)
– 5 eggs (room temperature)
– ½ cup hot milk
– 1 cup melted butter

Note : All ingredients should be warm or at the very least room temperature to help the dough rise faster.

Egg Wash for bread:
– 1 egg
– a few drops of vanilla
– 1 Tablespoon water
– ½ cup of sliced almonds

To Prepare:

  1. Mix warm water and yeast, set aside.
  2. In a large bowl put flour, make a whole with your hands in the center of the flour to put the sugar, zest, salt, spices and mix that your hands. Add hot milk and mix again with your hands. Once the dough is incorporated add eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Then add the yeast water mixture, your dough should be stringy when pulled apart.
  3. Next pour melted butter into the bowl one handful at a time and fold the dough (do not knead the dough). Pull and fold and pour in melted butter, repeat until you’ve used all the butter. Don’t worry if you see butter puddle around the edges, it will absorb as the dough rises.
  4. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap that it tucked down inside the bowl touching the dough. Then wrap the entire bowl in towels and place in a warm place for the dough to rise for about 2 hours. Once dough has risen, separate into 4 equal parts. Then separate each of the four parts into three pieces and roll the dough with your hands into approximately 14 inch long and about finger thickness.
  5. Braid the three long cylinder pieces just like you would braid hair. You will have 4 braids.
  6. Place each braid in a 12” round pan that has been lined with parchment paper and cover with towel, place in a warm spot for 30-45 minutes for dough to rise again.
  7. Once each of the braids have risen, prepare the egg wash. Beat the egg with water and vanilla then brush each of the braids, this will give the bread a beautiful shine.
  8. Place pans into a preheated 350° oven (2 at a time) and bake for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the dough, if you see it getting too brown, cover with foil until baked through.
  9. Once bread has cooled, cut out the center and place a hard boiled egg that has been dyed red sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Photo by: PATRICK HEAGNEY

Styled by Moi

xx Annette

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