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From the food of the poor to the gourmet ingredient: this is how the chestnut conquered the chefs

For centuries chestnuts have been the food of the poor, which allowed those who lived in the mountains to survive. Then on the one hand the depopulation of the “highlands” with massive urbanization and on the other hand in recent years the spread of the chestnut wasp (the scientific name is ciniped galligenous), an insect which destroyed leaves and plants, seemed to have brought to their knees the production of this fruit symbol of autumn.

Today things change and confirm it we have these days at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Turin: the fair of slow food indeed sees the chestnut return to the fore, with the presentation of the network of chestnut trees. “The network – explains Federico Varazi, vice-president of Slow Food Italy – has for some years involved different realities throughout the peninsula, from Piedmont to Calabria, ranging from principals to regional committees, from restaurateurs to our pipelines. We are trying to relaunch old practices to give a future to a crop like that of the chestnut which is part of our landscape and which can help us to save it”.

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Proof of this is the birth of a Slow Food presidium, that of the Mosciarella delle casette di Capranica Prenestina, a dried chestnut typical of the Latium Apennines. “In our territory – he remembers Rosaria Olevano, referent of the garrison – the chestnut groves were an important reality, so much so that there were more than eighty houses, the places where the chestnuts were dried have now almost completely disappeared. Thanks also to the collaboration with the Naturalist Museum of the Prenestini Mountains we started with a project to recover wood from abandoned chestnut trees and we put some houses back into service. An even more important practice at a time like this when climate change necessitates increasing attention to safeguarding hydrogeological instability.” Dried fruits have entered and enter Capranica in traditional dishes such as the classic chickpea and chestnut soup.

If we move further north on the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, the “ciacci” are the masters. “It is – he said Linda OrlandiniofChestnut Association of the Upper Reno Valley in Emilia – a kind of pancakes made from chestnut flour that can be garnished with savory or sweet ingredients”. Linda is almost thirty years old and is part of this generation of young people who have decided to return to repopulate the highlands. “My grandfather – he remembers – had chestnut wood. My father was not interested in it, me after the university in Bologna, I decided to go up here, to create a company and to live from agriculture and chestnuts. Among other things, a product in tune with the times: chestnut flour does not contain gluten and can also be consumed by intolerant people”.

The chestnut geography follows the crest of the Apennines and extends to Calabria. In Serrastretta, in the province of Catanzaro, Giuseppe Talaricothirty-something too, is part of the community of chestnut producers in the Reventino regionwhere the tradition of the “pastille”, that is to say dried chestnuts, is revived in special houses in the woods.

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“To revive and take care of the chestnut groves – he explains – is today of fundamental importance for the protection of the environment. It also means, among other things, protecting the biodiversity of the undergrowth. In my company, we also produce black anise, which is a typical plant of this undergrowth”. A documentary, “Innesti”, directed by Sandro Bozzolo. The author traced his father’s battle as he was busy recovering an abandoned chestnut wood in the mountains of the Cuneo region.

The classic Montebianco revisited by chef Enrico Crippa

The classic Montebianco revisited by chef Enrico Crippa

Chestnuts seem to live a new life even on our tables. If in the past they were cooked according to the triad mondine (boiled without the outer skin), ballotte (boiled with the skin) and grilled chestnuts (grilled for street food very widespread in Italy), today fior di chef uses chestnuts or their flour in gourmet recipes. They range from three stars Enrico Crippa that all Piazza Duomo di Alba revisits the classic Montebianco a in its own way Pierluigi Vacca that ofOld Borgo from Morano Calabro offers stockfish with chestnut cream, as well as lentil and chestnut soup with prawns from Paolo Trippini of the homonymous restaurant in Civitella del Lago, without forgetting the chocolate, rhubarb and chestnut dessert Marco Molaro to two oxen of Olivola in the province of Alexandria. In short, even at the table it is always easier to get caught in the chestnut.

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