Castagnole: Chestnut and Apple Fritters

castagnole sugar

Every so often, I pull a medium-size paperback off my bookshelf and get lost in its pages. The book is Tempo di Castagne (Chestnut Time), by Carla Geri Camporesi. It is a cookbook, but also a memoir of sorts, an ode to childhood, to country life in a different era, and to the chestnut in all its manifestations ~ tree, fruit, and versatile ingredient.

Chestnuts are often associated with fancy food: think marrons glacés, whole chestnuts candied in sugar syrup in a painstaking process that takes several days. Chestnut jam ~ sweet, smooth and spiked with vanilla, was one of my favorite breakfast treats when I was a kid. I used to spread it thickly on toast (still do).

And yet, for generations of Italians, chestnuts were anything but an indulgence; they were an essential food source, especially for those living in mountain communities in central and northern regions. Cooks turned chestnuts into soup and used them to “stretch” meat recipes. The fruits were dried and roasted over low heat, then ground into flour to make pasta and polenta. The flour’s sweet, earthy flavor made it a natural ingredient for rustic cakes and sweets.

Camporesi’s book contains more than 100 recipes, from chestnut lasagne to chestnut and chocolate tart, and from chestnuts in vinegar to chestnuts in syrup. There are risotti, porridges, stews, puddings, creams, cakes, jams and more. Chestnuts and apples appear together in a handful of recipes, and no wonder ~ they share the same seasons (fall and winter) and their characteristics ~ the starchy sweet nut and the juicy tart fruit ~ complement each other nicely.

castagnole1

The other day, my eye fell on this recipe for chestnut flour and apple fritters. I assumed the apples would be sliced and dipped or into batter and fried. Instead, they are cooked down to a puree and incorporated fully into the batter, which is then dolloped into hot oil and fried. This, to me, makes all the difference. The fritters are not crispy, but tender and bouncy.

They’re a bit like the traditional castagnole that are enjoyed all over Italy (but especially in the north) during Carnevale. Those are typically made with all-purpose flour and flavored with lemon zest, though there are endless variations. The name “castagnole” refers to their chestnut shape and size, rather than the use of chestnuts in the recipe. The dough for the traditional version is firm enough to roll into ropes, which are then cut into nuggets. They puff up into bite-size spheres when fried.

Having made both, I can say I prefer these, not only for their springy texture but also for the nuanced flavors imparted by the chestnut flour, which is sweet and a little bitter, and by the apples, which are tangy. Because the batter is soft and drippy, the shape of these fritters is not uniformly round, but I like their squiggly imperfections. Also, unlike most fried sweets, which are best consumed hot, these keep surprisingly well (at least a day) and are delicious at room temperature.

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A brief heads-up on upcoming events:

  • Saturday, March 5: Celebrating Food, a bi-annual one-day conference at the Universities of Shady Grove, MC, hosted by Les Dames d’Escoffier’s DC chapter. I’ll be part of a panel discussing women in the culinary arts. Details on my Events page.
  • Giro d’Italia Cooking Class: This is the first of a series of cooking classes I’ll be teaching at Hill Center, on Capitol Hill, DC. First up: Abruzzo (natch). Details here.

 

Podcast interview: I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Paolo Rigiroli of Disgraces on the Menu about Italian food and my work as a cookbook author. You can listen to the podcast here.

 

ABRUZZO Culinary Tour

Fontefico lunch table
Interested in exploring delicious Italy off the beaten path? Join our third annual Abruzzo Presto/Domenica Cooks culinary tour of Abruzzo in September. This is a week-long tour exploring the food, culture, and landscape of this spectacular region. You can find the details on my tours page, and please feel free to forward the link to friends and family with the travel bug.

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Makes about 3 dozen fritters

Castagnole: Chestnut and Apple Fritters

Chestnut flour gives these fritters a distinctly earthy sweet flavor with a faint bitter finish. Cooked, pureed apples make them extra-tender. You can roll the hot fritters in granulated sugar, as I do, or sprinkle powdered sugar on top. Chestnut flour, which is naturally gluten-free, is easier to find than it once was. Look for it in well-stocked supermarkets, Italian groceries, or online. This recipe is adapted slightly from one in "Tempo di Castagne," by Carla Geri Camporesi (Maria Pacini Fazzi, ed., 1993).

Ingredients

  • 4 sweet-tart apples (I use a variety), about 1 3/4 pounds
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2/3 cup sugar, divided, plus more for dipping
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 2/3 cups chestnut flour
  • 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 packet lievito per i dolci (see NOTE) or 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon Punch Abruzzo or dark rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Sunflower oil for frying

Instructions

Peel and core the apples and chop them into small (1/2-inch) pieces. Squeeze the lemon half into a bowl and toss the apple pieces as you go, turning to coat them with the lemon juice.

Place the apples in a medium saucepan and sprinkle 1/3 cup sugar over them. Pour in the water and cook, partially covered, over medium-low heat until they are completely soft and turn to puree when they stir them, about 30 minutes. Give them a stir from time to time as they cook to prevent scorching. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Sift the chestnut flour and unbleached flour into a large bowl (this is mainly to break up any little clumps of chestnut flour). Whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar, the leavening, and the salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla extract. Gently whisk the cooled apple puree into the eggs until well incorporated. Pour the mixture into the bowl withe flours and mix with a sturdy spatula to form a thick batter.

Pour oil to a depth of 2 inches into a deep-sided skillet or Dutch oven. Heat on medium-high until the oil shimmers (375 F). Gently drop spoonfuls of batter (about 1 full tablespoon) into the hot oil, a few at a time, and fry for about 2 minutes, turning them once or twice so they brown evenly on both sides. Turn the heat down if they start to brown too quickly ~ you want to make sure they are fully cooked through before removing them.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the castagnole to a rack set over a paper towel-lined tray to drain for a few seconds. Dip the fritters in a bowl of sugar while still hot, coating them all over. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

NOTE Lievito Paneangeli is an Italian leavening agent flavored with vanilla that is used for making cakes and other sweets. You can substitute 2 teaspoons baking powder per packet of lievito.

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33 Responses to Castagnole: Chestnut and Apple Fritters

  1. Rosa Jeanne Mayland February 5, 2016 at 5:19 am #

    These must taste heavenly! What a fabulous combination.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Frank Fariello February 5, 2016 at 9:47 am #

    Will have to look out for chestnut flour—I love the earthy taste of chestnuts. And then, anything fried…

    Btw, enjoyed your interview with Paolo. 🙂

    • Domenica Marchetti February 5, 2016 at 9:55 am #

      Frank, thank you for mentioning the podcast. I had forgotten to link to it. I’ve now updated the post. Re: chestnut flour, you can find it the Italian Store for sure. Cheers, D

      • Paolo Rigiroli February 10, 2016 at 11:26 am #

        Thanks Domenica, it was an honor to have you as my guest! And thanks Frank, as always!

  3. jamielifesafeast February 5, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    I really discovered and fell in love with chestnuts in Italy and now I always have a bag of chestnut flour in my refrigerator. But I never know what to do with it. Now I do. We love this kind of treat.

    • Domenica Marchetti February 6, 2016 at 10:45 am #

      This book has so many uses for chestnut flour. What about tagliatelle with a nice hearty ragu? That might be next on my list. xo

  4. Paola February 5, 2016 at 3:58 pm #

    I love the sound of these Domenica and will definitely look out for the book. I buy Italian chestnut flour every November to make castagnaccio and chestnut pasta – even though it is summer here and the seasons don’t work in quite the same way. I look forward to makIng these in our autumn. They look a bit like mamma’s frittole (she grates the apple)- love the idea of the purée.

    • Domenica Marchetti February 6, 2016 at 10:48 am #

      My sister gave me the book 20 years ago. I looked for the edition that I have, which has the recipes both in English and Italian, but I wasn’t able to find it online. At any rate, you who speak Italian wouldn’t need the translation. My search showed that she wrote a number of other recipe booklets, but I haven’t been able to find out more about her.

  5. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way February 5, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

    These remind me of the fritole ( dialect) my mamma would make us at Christmas. She didn’t use the chestnut flour instead she’d put nuts and raisins in them. It doesn’t seem like Christmas without them — looks like I’ll have to change that. Thank you for the beautiful reminder.

    • Domenica Marchetti February 6, 2016 at 10:55 am #

      You must have some wonderful memories of enjoying your mother’s fritole at Christmastime. My mother always made calcionelli (fried dough pockets filled with nuts and honey) and I love those, too.

  6. Chiara February 5, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

    un piatto tradizionale , se non ci sono le castagnole che Carnevale è?Mi ricordano le fritole , come ha detto Marisa (le cui origini sono vicine a alle mie ), sono deliziose !

    • Domenica Marchetti February 6, 2016 at 10:57 am #

      Allora devo anche provare le fritole come dici tu e Marisa. Devono essere buonissime. xx

  7. italianhomecooking.co.uk February 6, 2016 at 4:52 am #

    Ciao Domenica, thanks for this lovely recipe and for mentioning that book, that sounds good and which I had never come across (I can see that Mrs Camporesi has actually written very many cookery books and all of them sounds really interesting).Very tempting (I do have chestnut flour in the fridge). Stefano
    Ps chestnut flour is fragile and can become rancid easily, hence the fridge

    • Domenica Marchetti February 6, 2016 at 11:00 am #

      Ciao Stefano, benvenuto! Yes, I also noticed she has written a number of books. She clearly knows her subject well. Thanks for the tip about the chestnut flour. It can be expensive to buy here, so definitely worth taking that step to prevent it from turning rancid. Cheers, D

  8. elisa February 6, 2016 at 11:23 am #

    “Tempo di Castagne” e’ un vero tesoro per chi ama le castagne come me. When I find fresh chestnut flour I store in the freezer and I love to use it to thicken hearty winter stews or soups. I am so glad you revived this recipe, I haven’t made it in a long time, after all this IS tempo di castagne. Grazie Domenica!!

    • Domenica Marchetti February 7, 2016 at 10:43 am #

      What a good idea to use chestnut flour as a thickener. Thank you for this tip, Elisa!

  9. ciaochowlinda February 7, 2016 at 2:00 am #

    Thanks for introducing me to this cookbook author, wwhom I knew nothing about. I would also like to have more recipes for chestnut flour, and you’ve provided a delicious one. I’ve only ever used it in castagnaccio, but I have to confess I’m not a big fan of it. THIS, however, I know I’d love. I’ve made these using ricotta, but now I’ll have to try them with chestnut flour. Good luck with your appearances, and with the workshop in Italy.

    • Domenica Marchetti February 7, 2016 at 10:44 am #

      This book is chock full of wonderful recipes, Linda. You would like it. xo

    • italianhomecooking.co.uk February 8, 2016 at 5:54 am #

      ..on castagnaccio: ciao Linda. I agree that castagnaccio is an acquired taste. I love it but, for instance, my mum does not like it al all. I have always made it super rich with milk, vanilla, zest ecc (somehow betraying its humble origins, I admit), HOWEVER it was only last year that I discovered the most unusual way of making castagnaccio, using a much higher ratio of liquid:chestnut flour than usual (from this italian blog: http://silvarigobello.com/2014/11/12/il-castagnaccio-perfetto/) – it becomes a sort of castagnaccio pudding, very very creamy – excellent warm. I do recommend experimenting on it. just to explore a different way with castagnaccio. ciao, stefano

      • Domenica Marchetti February 8, 2016 at 7:15 pm #

        Thanks for sharing that link, Stefano. I have never made castagnaccio. It’s one of those traditional recipes I’ve been wanting to try but just haven’t got around it. One of these days I will for sure.

  10. Elizabeth Minchilli February 7, 2016 at 3:30 am #

    I kind of wish you would just come over to my house and make them for me.

  11. italianhomecooking.co.uk February 8, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

    I have just tried them. very good indeed. I have also added some orange zest. sweet little morsels. thanks again. to half batch I have also added some home made cheese curds/ricotta style I had in the fridge to see what happens (chestnuts frittelle and ricotta is rather common): nice too, creamier because of the ricotta. this recipe is a gem, thanks domenica. stefano

    • Domenica Marchetti February 8, 2016 at 7:16 pm #

      Excellent! I like your addition of zest and ricotta. I’ll try it next time. Grazie!

    • Domenica Marchetti February 8, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

      By the way, I’ve tried to leave a comment on your blog but haven’t been able to. I’ll keep trying. the pitta ‘nchiusa looks delicious.

      • stefano arturi February 10, 2016 at 7:03 am #

        thanks domenica (comments not working: thanks, I will check it)

  12. sippitysup February 16, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

    Chestnuts in general are easier to find than they used to be. I see them popping up all year long from the highbrow Whole Foods to my lowbrow Latin Market. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for flour. Or maybe I’ll make my own. Hmm… GREG

  13. Laura (Tutti Dolci) February 18, 2016 at 5:33 pm #

    What irresistible fritters, just the thing to get us through winter!

    • Domenica Marchetti February 27, 2016 at 10:09 am #

      Thank you. They were good; I’m afraid to make them again because I ate so many!

  14. amelias from ztastylife May 28, 2016 at 8:23 am #

    always love your passion for Italian delights!

    • Domenica Marchetti May 30, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

      Grazie cara…these were so good. I’ll make them again in winter. xx

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