Chestnuts time in Tuscany
Have you ever misseda smell? Already in early October the nostalgia grips me strongly in the senses. The fall of the leaves, the change of colours, the drop in temperatures – everything feels autumn, and the smell of the fire that has not yet been lit is already tickling the nostrils. This is actually nostalgia for smells that will soon arrive … The grill stalls that have been popping up in the alleys of the old city in recent weeks blur the senses, and the drizzle of rain adds an aura of fairytales to them. At one of the stalls I rest my umbrella on my shoulder and am careful not to get hit while pulling out hot chestnuts from a newspaper cone.
But that’s actually the end of the story.
The start of it is usually at the nearest tool shop, where I stock up on good work gloves. After all, tomorrow morning we will go up to Garfagnana Mountains, to the depths of the chestnut forests in the northern part of Tuscany. I also stock up on mud-loving shoes, a raincoat and a basket. In nature, chestnuts appear in a manner similar to hedgehogs. The outer shell is designed to protect them and provide them with a warm and moist uterus that they need in order to develop. It’s thorny and prickly, and that’s exactly why we use gloves so we can pick them up.
The walk in the forest is slow and pleasant; on a thick blanket of fallen leaves in dozens of shades that pads the ground. With a wooden stick I have collected I move the leaves and discoverdozens of chestnuts beneath them that are already dying to get out of their hedgehog shells and show their smooth and glowing bark. A small step with the shoe and the hedgehog cracks and I pull out the shiny chestnut. There are also lots of empty hedgehogs, which means that wild boars, deer and rabbits have been here before – which make the collection much happier: if they nibbled it raw, just imagine how delicious they will be after a visit to my kitchenJ.
In Italian cuisine the primary raw materials are those found in the immediate natural environment. What actually stands behind the term FARM TO TABLE is local and seasonal food from fresh ingredients, grown in your territory. The chestnut forests that span the vast mountain ranges have provided – and still do – raw material for both the lumber industry and as a food source this time of year. On the Tuscan Italian menu it is a significant raw material at this time of year. Our menus also change accordingly, and these seasons are based on chestnuts, pumpkin, porcini mushrooms, and polenta.
The most popular and well-known use of chestnuts is in grilling and eating them hot. There are so many other uses for chestnuts and the thing that is perhaps most frustrating is that they grow in a season that has fewer visitors for the personal chef services. And serving chestnuts or any other autumn dish during the high season of summer is just out of question and context. So we just enjoy hosting friends for creams from chestnut and pumpkin, Brussels sprouts in chestnuts, and sip chestnuts in red wine. Autumnal dining is special not only because of the falling temperatures and bright colours, but also because of the ease and convergence around the blazing fire, and the fact that Tuscany is no longer so crowded with tourists. How I would like to serve chestnuts in a cone at an intimate wedding catering (have you ever seen a winter wedding in Tuscany? Why does everyone prefer spring?) Or host a team-building treat where participants have to literally take hot chestnuts out of the fire…
… And for those who do not have chestnut forests behind the house?
- I’m sorry, but I guess you have other good things growing in the backyard, or a short drive away. Enjoy what grows in your area this season.
- There are substitutes, like dried chestnuts or chestnuts cooked and sold in vacuum packs, with which our virtual guests use for the online cooking classes. Go to the store near you, you might be surprised!
- Maybe actually planning a chestnut vacation for next fall is not a bad idea? Autumn vacation to collect the chestnuts, Porcini mushrooms combined and stirring a pot of just-milled-polenta with a fire burning in the fireplace.
Enter your kitchen in warm slippers and enjoy the fall. Want to try the creamy pumpkin chestnut soup?