Chestnuts are undoubtedly a symbol of autumn. It recalls long walks on Pre-Alps or Appenino’s paths, it brings back to peasant’s traditional recipes, it reminds street vendor’s roasted chestnuts with their smell mixed to fog – and we are children once again.
Lombardy is rich in places perfect for the so-called castagnate, the action of picking up, cooking and eating chestnuts: from the Pre-Alps near Varese to Alto Lario, Valtellina, Oltrepo Pavese and appennino (here you can find lots of itineraries www.zainoinspalla.it). As a matter of fact, our region has many unspoiled landscapes, easy paths, hills and mountains where you can spend the day by picking up chestnuts and – why not – taste traditional dishes.
In Italy we distinguish two kinds of chestnuts: castagne and marroni. Castagne are the chestnuts that we all know: they are wild and in their husk are contained 2 or 3 small, round and flat chestnuts. Marroni are bigger chestnuts and they come from cultivated trees and their husk contains only one big chestnut.
Once we have clarified this division, chestnuts remain a basic and essential ingredient of our regional cuisine. In the past they were a poor but nutrient food – a source of vital energy.
From chestnut flour we can prepare cakes such as the castagnaccio, whose recipe varies according to different cities or small towns. But chestnuts are also perfect to fill the roast or to cook games. But we must not underestimate different kinds of risotto (the one with chestnuts and speck is delicious but you must also try the one with no added ingredients). Chestnut gnocchi or ravioli have an excellent level too. In the end the great variety of desserts: creams, pies, cakes. You can even think to prepare an entire dinner, from main and second course to the dessert, with chestnuts as main ingredient. For the health maniac it is worth remembering that in a diet it is allowed to eat up to 10 chestnuts a day.
If you are the nostalgic type, nothing is better than the smell of roasted chestnuts, the bag from the street vendor, the walk during the sunset warmed by the warmth and the chestnuts taste.