07 February 2013

AUNTIE PASTA; Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree

CHIAVARI, Italy – Battistino Gavazzi is not a pretentious man, he’s a tall shy guy who just does his job and gets on with things without talking about it very much. Gavazzi makes pasta and sells it at his store – Pastificio S. Antonio - on Corso Dante, a few doors up from Olga’s. There are a lot of fresh pasta shops here in Chiavari, I pass them every day, but what I don’t see every day, in fact I had never seen before, were tiny brown bells made from chestnut flour that Gavazzi had in the window of his shop the other day. Once inside I saw that he also had chestnut flour tagliatelle and trofie, those little squiggles of pasta that are usually served with pesto, along with a dozen or so other types of pasta.

Chestnut Flour Bells
Now I’m sure you’ve all seen green pasta made with spinach and red pasta made with beets, and other types of colored pasta, in fact I just read somewhere that there are close to 500 shapes/types of pasta here in Italy. That seems a bit of an exaggeration even if there are a lot of them, but I had never seen pasta made from chestnut flour. You can find chestnut flour in most of the grocery stores, along with kumut flour, whole wheat and buckwheat flour, so I really never paid much attention to it. But if you think about it, it really is quite different from all the other flours as chestnuts are not a grain, but grow on trees.

It makes sense that chestnut flour would be popular here as Liguria is wedged between the mountains and the sea, with little or no flat land. There is no place to grow fields of wheat or any other type of grain, but chestnut trees grow anywhere. And chestnuts are good for you. They do not have the fat content regular nuts have, and are instead largely composed of carbohydrates. Chestnut flour has a mellow, sweet flavor, is gluten free, low in fat and calories and is a good alternative to regular flour.  At one time chestnut flour was an important source of nutrition in both France and Italy, and according to Signor Gavazzi pasta made with chestnut flour is now making a comeback – at least here in Liguria.

Ligurian Trofie Made with Chestnut Flour
Because chestnuts are kind of sweet, the question then becomes what kind of sauce to use with pasta made with chestnut flour. Two sure bets are butter and sage and a keeping with a woodsy theme, a porcini mushroom based sauce. Another sauce I thought was interesting was a sausage and butter sauce flavored with fresh rosemary and would be delicious on the trofie.  The little pasta bells Signor Gavazzi had in his window would be best served in broth, a light chicken broth would do the trick. As for the mushroom or sausage sauces, wide, flat noodles, like pappadelle are a good choice because the carry the flavor well, but any noodle type of pasta would do well also.

Tomato bases sauces are a little iffy unless it’s a fresh tomato sauce lightened up with butter or a little heavy cream, as a heavy tomato sauce would drown the delicate flavor of the chestnuts. Here are a couple of recipes you might want to consider. The first one is what my friend Gary would call a ‘seat of your pants’ recipe – no measurements, while the second is a bit more structured.

Sausage Sauce for Chestnut Flour Pasta

3 (or more if needed) fresh Tuscan sausages, casing removed

Fresh rosemary

Water and/or white wine


Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil in a heated frying pan

Add the sausages and break apart while they are cooking

When the sausage are almost cooked, add a little water or white wine to the pan and stir

Add a knob of butter, stir again and when the butter has melted, reduce the heat to low and put your pasta into the frying pan and mix thoroughly.


Chestnut Flour Tagliatelle with Mushrooms
 Fast and Easy Porcini and Fresh Mushroom Sauce
10 ounces Fresh Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced  

1 ounce dried Porcini (if you are not using fresh or frozen porcini)

1/2 cup peeled, chopped chestnuts (frozen or canned) optional
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh, chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste


Tip No. 1 – Follow the directions on the dried porcini package to reconstitute the dried mushrooms.    

Tip No. 2 – Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and cook together for a half a minute or so to amalgamate the flavors.

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