A Walnut, Rosemary Chestnut bread from Lunigiana, Tuscany

When God created Tuscany, he must have been in a particularly good mood.
It is a region I always loved with a passion, and going back to visit is always a pleasure. Along the eastern border of Tuscany, which is connected to both my regions – Le Marche and Emilia Romagna, run the Appennines hill chain, and during the fall this land is especially generous, beautiful, and enjoyable (yes, even more than it usually is).
Today, I want to talk about chestnuts, and specifically chestnut flour, which is such a huge tradition of this region.
The flour I am using for today’s recipe comes from a very special place: A part of Tuscany called Lunigiana, which is famous for its Chestnut flour.
Malgrate castle. Image credit goes to http://www.turismoinlunigiana.it/

Malgrate castle. Image credit goes to http://www.turismoinlunigiana.it/

Lunigiana Chestnut Flour has obtained the DOP seal (Protected Designation of Origin). All products that are labeled DOP must be produced and packaged in their specific land of origin, and nowhere else. This ensures that these Italian products are kept wholesome, genuine and authentic all around the world. To make an example using a much more popular product, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena can only be produced in the province of Modena to be labeled DOP. This chestnut flour is stone-ground to a powdery-like consistency after an ancient process of drying the chestnuts by burning chestnut wood for 40 days. It has a nutty, sweet, smoky flavor that  is absolutely unique. It can be used for sweet or savory preparations alike, in pastas and for crepes and fritters, and in all sorts of baked goods like breads, cakes, and the like. Fresh batches are usually put up for sale after november 15th, and each part of Tuscany puts it to good use in their own local recipes.
Lunigiana, the area in which it is produced, is the northernmost part of Tuscany which sits in between Liguria (where chestnut flour is also widely used), the Ligurian sea and the Appennini hills of Emilia-Romagna. This land’s activities are at their peak during the fall: chestnuts, olives, mushrooms and truffles abound here (like in Le Marche!) and every week there is a fair or some sort of event to celebrate all the wonderful products of this land. Fall is definitely the time to be here!
Tuscan Chestnut, Rosemary  & Walnut Bread | Hortus Natural Cooking
Lunigiana Chestnut Flour | Farina di Castagne della Lunigiana
This post is sponsored by Regione Toscana – yes, Tuscany itself, and Vetrina Toscana, a website that promotes products, tourism and activities throughout Tuscany. I am super proud to have been picked along with 5 other bloggers to celebrate this region. Each of us has been given a local product to cook with, and I have been chosen to represent chestnut flour. This batch of flour was kindly sent to me by Montagna Verde – Borgo Antico, a stunning place deep in the lush green of Lunigiana which has a tradition for producing special, local foods with chestnuts. They also sent me the most fragrant chestnut honey ever, which is beyond wonderful drizzled on the bread I made with the flour. All their products are organic and local. This place is a real Italian-style place where you can take some time off and spend the night, have a wholesome meal assembled with local products, and is basically a little dream come true (as many places throughout Italy are).
Last year, I used chestnut flour to make these Italian Vin Santo Cookies, which I encourage you all to try for a totally unique cookie experience. But this time, as I said, I made bread. There are few things I find as comforting as baking a loaf of bread while outside the weather is getting chillier and chillier, and the leaves crispier and crispier.
I have not baked bread in a while, and as soon as I pulled this out of the oven I remembered why. It is so rich, nice and tasty! And when bread is this good, we all know how easy it is to overeat, and we know it’s quite calorific, and then my mom’s on a constant diet and I am always wary of bread and my dad complains he’ll get fat and all the jazz, until my brother will come around when nobody sees him and the day after everyone’s wondering whatever happened to that half loaf that was sitting around. Story of our life.
I never even made chestnut bread before, and I had to exert some serious willpower to stop eating this with homemade chocolate nut spread.
This recipe will make a dense, wonderfully flavorful loaf that will make your whole kitchen smell like fall in Tuscany, with hints of rosemary and smoky undertones. The walnuts complete this loaf perfectly. This bread may not pair with everything, but it is so wholesome and tasty that you will have no problem eating it on its own. It uses the same process I used in my basic guide to bread making, which I encourage you all to check out for better understanding of how baking bread works. Still, because this bread is made heavy by the chestnut flour, which contains no gluten, and the whole grain flours, there is no point in letting it raise too long, so it is slightly quicker to make. In fact, I find this so pleasurable to eat because of its denser consistency!
Chestnut flour is kind of sweet, and this bread has a subtle sweetness that makes it great for breakfast, too. It would also make a great addition to your Thanksgiving table, as it pairs wonderfully with most fall foods! I can picture it dipped in some gravy (vegan, maybe?) or some mushroom pasta sauce. Try it with:
– Some ricotta and chestnut honey
– A homemade chocolate nut butter, or any chocolate sauce (rosemary pairs SO well with chocolate!)
– In a bruschetta spread with seasoned cheeses and fruit compotes or fresh fruit
– Toasted, and dipped in soup (try it with this Pumpkin creamy soup or My beloved Mushroom Soup)
– As a PB+J toast
– On its own, dipped in warm milk or plant milk!
Tuscan Chestnut, Rosemary  & Walnut Bread | Hortus Natural Cooking
Lunigiana Chestnut Flour | Farina di Castagne della Lunigiana

Image on the left: Credit to terredilunigiana.blogspot.it

Walnut Rosemary & Chestnut country bread
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
(Makes a loaf weighing about 800 grams)
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • For the Poolish
  • 150g Strong bread or Manitoba flour
  • 130 to 150ml Water
  • ¼ tsp Active Dry yeast, or 2 grams of fresh yeast
  • For the Bread
  • The Poolish
  • 150g Spelt or whole wheat flour
  • 100g Strong bread flour
  • 100g Chestnut flour
  • 130 to 150ml Water
  • ¼ tsp of Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 very generous tbsp Barley malt, or chestnut honey (or brown sugar)
  • 1 abundant teaspoon of salt
  • ½ cup to 1 cup walnuts, very roughly chopped
  • A couple rosemary sprigs, needles finely chopped
Instructions
  1. Assemble the poolish the evening before the day you want to bake your bread. Dissolve the yeast in the water and stir all the ingredients in a bowl. If 130ml of water make your poolish somewhat loose and wobbly, perfect. If it looks too much like a kneadable piece of dough, add more water. Cover well with plastic wrap, and let it sit for at least 10 hours and up to 18, in a place with a room temperature anywhere from 20C˚ to 28C˚. When ready, the poolish should look bubbly and quite sticky.
  2. Once you are ready o assemble the bread, combine the flours and salt in a bowl, and stir. Again, dissolve the yeast in the water, along with the sweetener of choice. Pour the liquid mixture into the poolish and stir well to combine, then pour this mixture into the bowl with the flours. Add the walnuts and rosemary and mix well - get your hands dirty! The dough does not need to be kneaded for long, but make sure all the ingredients are well combined. You should obtain a smooth ball of dough that does not feel dry but is not really sticky. The water absorption of flours change a lot, so start with less water and add more if you see that you need it. Cover the bowl with the dough with plastic wrap and let it raise for 1 hour. After this time, you will need to perform the first stretch & fold: grab one edge of the dough, stretch it, and fold it on itself. Repeat this several times, for a couple minutes. For more specific instructions, refer to my post on bread making (see above the recipe).
  3. Let it raise for another hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 480 F / 250 C. Put some water in an ovenproof bowl and place it in the bottom of the oven when you turn it on.
  5. If you have a baking stone, make sure it gets nice and hot. If using a regular tray, oil it slightly to get a better bottom crust, and heat it in the oven when you turn it on.
  6. When the oven is hot, turn the bread carefully and very delicately on your tray or stone, and bake for 5 minutes, before turning down the oven to 450 F / 230 C. After 10 more minutes of baking, remove the bowl of water from the oven - be careful not to burn yourself!
  7. Let the bread bake for another 10 minutes, but check it after 7 minutes or so. The bread is ready when the crust is nice and deep brown, and, if you knock on it, it sounds slightly hollow.
  8. As soon as you pull it out of the oven, cover it with a clean cloth and let it cool. This way, the crust will stay crispy.
Do you have any special use for chestnut flour? Is there something you would like to see using it? I am thinking fritters or pancakes…or both. Do tell!
Thanks a bunch to Tuscany and to all those who got me involved in this post! Thanks, guys!
Tuscan Chestnut, Rosemary  & Walnut Bread | Hortus Natural Cooking
Tuscan Chestnut, Rosemary  & Walnut Bread | Hortus Natural Cooking
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