I’m 10, nose stuck to the window of the “doposcuola”.
Outside is cold, the day is grey and not at all like those Panamanian days drenched in sunshine and heat my little head remembers from Panama and behind me the nuns watch us. I don’t like the nuns in this doposcuola; they’re not fun like the ones my parents sent me to when we first moved to Italy. Those other nuns played ball with us kids and served us homemade cakes or bread with their very own thick fruit jams for our mid-afternoon snack whilst these ones just pass around sad looking pre-packaged snacks and apples. I miss the jam. These nuns also tell me off continuously for my spelling: they have no patience for the girl who moved across the world less than a year before.
And then I see it: a tiny (minuscule in fact) but undoubtedly white flake. The first one I see in my life. “SNOW!”. The nun smirks and tells me that’s not really snow but I don’t mind as I’ve never seen snow before and to me the white flake counts.
The flakes now are coming down faster and thicker, more kids push their noses against the window and one of the nuns softens and let’s us run onto the courtyard to dance in what is, really, just slush but who cares? I stop 2 steps out shocked by the burning cold of a snow flake on my face and I cover it with my hands wrapped in blue wool gloves; after a few seconds I look at my hands and they’re covered in frisky drops of ice-cold water. Quickly melted snow and just like they started the flakes stop falling and we go back indoors.
When mum comes pick me up that evening I ask exhilarated “Did you see the snow????” but I pay no attention to what she replies, busy as I am thinking about the white flakes and that stinging cold on my face whilst we walk through the cobblestone streets of the village headed to run errands. And then all of a sudden the second revelation of the day hits my nostrils, one of those scents that warm you up from the inside; a smell like a paper bag of sugar hidden amongst the embers of a fireplace. On the same day I see snow for the first time I discover roasted chestnuts.
To this date I still associate chestnuts with the first pungent cold and in all their forms they bring to my flat a scent of fresh wood burning; perfect if you don’t have a [working] fireplace like me and to take away the sense of doom the first blow of autumn’s cold wind brings.
When fresh chestnuts for roasting are not available, out comes the chestnut flour to mix with water, orange zest (an idea taken from Juls’ Kitchen), pine nuts, raisins and rosemary to make a simple castagnaccio: a half cake, half schiacciata typical from Tuscany or Liguria or Piedmont or Emilia Romagna depending on whom you ask. It’s gluten free and spiced lightly enough to comfortably say goodbye to summer and welcome autumn.
- 250gr chestnut flour
- Water (2 cups circa)
- 30gr pine nuts
- 50gr raisins
- Zest of 1 orange
- ⅓ cup rosemary roughly chopped
- A pinch of sea salt
- 1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Mix the flour and salt in a bowl, add the water little by little and keep stirring until you have a pancake-like batter (quite smooth and liquid). Note that you might not need all of the water or add some more after so please be parsimonious when adding it to the dry mix.
- Add in the orange zest, half of the pine nuts, rosemary and raisins and keep mixing the batter.
- Brush a flat baking tray with the olive oil, pour in the chestnut mix and top with the remaining pine nuts, rosemary and raisins.
- Bake for about half an hour at gas mark 4 (180C) or until it’s nicely cracked on top (and, if you are like me, until the edges are crunchy) and get it out of the oven.
- Enjoy when still warm with a cup of tea whilst looking at the grey day outside your window.
Keywords: desserts, Italian food