The Tale of Ancient Bread of the Lunigiana

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Once upon a time, there was a region in Italy far to the north of Tuscany called Lunigiana. This beautiful place of rolling hills, green land, of olive groves and chestnut forests was remote and magical. The folks living in the region were very creative and clever with what the land provided.

They harvested and sold olives and the oil extracted from the olives. They kept the chestnuts for themselves to live off of and use in many incarnations. The chestnuts were fired on a low burning fire dried to be milled into flour. The leaves used in the kitchen as parchment.

The low constant fire also gave way to utility by way of cooking on low fire. Large covered cast iron pans called “testa” were put on the low fire and used to cook many staples like bread while the chestnuts dried.

Last week our workshop chef, Philip, and I went to observe a loaf of local bread being baked in this cast iron vessel over the open fire. My friend Cornelia, invited us; she and her family own Podere Conti an Agriturismo in Flatteria about 45 mintues from our place. Cornelia is passionate about food and very passionate about local food. She was preparing to be part of the regional slow food competition presented in Parma at the famous cooking school, ALMA

We were lucky enough to watch her practice with her assistant at her beautiful location. The process is very specific. They had been testing variations on proportions of wet the dry ingredients for weeks. Finally, after several attempts, they came up with the perfect ratio for a moist and light bread. Careful not to give away too many secrets, she simply had us watch as they heated the testa pans in the open fire and then gently placed damp chestnut leaves onto round wooden boards. While the bread rose, we enjoyed the beautiful grounds and talked about her sheep and the olive harvest last season.

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Cornelia dampens and then presses the leaves between heavy boards to flatten, before using it as natural parchment for baking the bread.

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Dried Chestnut leaves, picked at the waning of the moon. Cornelia believes in Luna harvesting technique. https://www.gardeningbythemoon.com/

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I’ll let you know how they did at the competition, but after tasting everything, I think we have a winner. Their entry for the competition: bread baked in the testa with chestnut leaves toasted and rubbed with sweet garlic, local head cheese, local Pecorino cheese, homemade persimmon jam, and their own fresh pressed Bio olive oil. These offerings should surely garner first prize. It was certainly a gold medal experience for Philip and I. Thank you Cornelia for your warm hospitality and friendship.

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Podere Conti’s Bio- Olive oil.

Living in the Italian countryside has certainly opened my eyes to a whole new lifestyle, new foods and ways to harvest and cook in season, but mostly to some very dear friends.

xx Annette

 

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