Autumn in the Italian Alps, The Perfect Time to Eat Chestnuts!
‘Castagna’ or in other words, the ‘Sweet chestnut’ is the ultimate ‘fruit’ for the Autumn season in Italy. Near Albergo Miramonti, there are hundreds of chestnut trees that adorn the Alpine forests. Many locals and tourists love to walk within the trees and pick up some chestnuts on the way, and did you know, Before the 1950s, chestnuts played a key role in the diets of many Italians? - Particularly in regions of Campania, Sicily, Piemonte, Toscana and Lazio!
The prime months for harvesting chestnuts are October to November when they are most abundant. Therefore, during this time, many chestnut-inspired foods and dishes to appear, including the famous chestnut cake, ‘Castagnaccio’. If you walk through the ‘Sagres’ or local food stalls, you will find that many stalls sell a variety of chestnut produce - from roast chestnuts to chestnut marmalade! It is a sight worth seeing if you’re visiting Italy in the autumn.
HOW TO FIND THEM
The best way to find chestnuts is hiking! It is a very fun and exciting activity to do around this time, particularly if you’re hiking in the Italian Alps. The ideal gathering altitude for chestnuts is within the heights of 500 to 800 metres - you will find endless forests of chestnuts there! Just make sure you bring a pair of hiking boots, some gloves and a basket. To start, scan the ground for the chestnut’s key characteristic - its prickly shell; and once you have found one, use your sturdy boots to gently roll the spiky shell until the chestnut is free. But often, you will also find chestnuts that have naturally escaped from the shell, and thus, you can pick them up and place it in the basket. Not only will you find chestnuts, but you can also find the fabled Porcini mushroom! They love to grow beside the trees thanks to the exchange of nutrients between the trees and the mushrooms.
An Italian delicacy, ‘Castagnaccio’ is a chestnut cake produced by many regions in Italy, particularly in Tuscany. Its primary ingredients are chestnut flour, pine nuts, raisins and oil. Together, it creates a great autumnal dessert to share among family and friends. You can easily find this cake in many local food stalls or ‘sagres’ during this time. This dish is one of the many popular Autumn dishes in Italy.
Once you have gathered a hefty amount of chestnuts, you can now ‘roast’ them to make a great snack. Traditionally, ‘Caldarroste’ or roast chestnuts are fire-roasted in a holed pan, but they can also be made at home. Before roasting, a cut should be made in the midsection of the chestnut. This is so that the vapour can escape and for the skin to open up, allowing the chestnuts to fully-cook. If you do not have a gas-operated oven, you can use a large steel pan to toss the chestnuts until they are cooked.
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