Castagnaccio

It all started years ago when I began playing Dark Cloud 2, an RPG for the PS2. This game changed my life in many ways. No other game has brought together so many of my interests into one cohesive whole. Dark cloud has photography, town planning, sociology, trains, inventions, fishing, time travel, monsters, sages, and mythology all wrapped up in a cute cell-shaded package. It really ignited my early philosophical interest in the nature of time and the interconnectedness of people and events, as well as awakened a wanderlust that I have since been unable to satiate.

In the early stages of the game, Max – a young rich boy who has inherited a mysterious red stone from his father – must go around his hometown and convince people to help him on an adventure that will take him outside the walls of a town that has been isolated from the world for years. Not everyone is game for this challenge, but those who are are fairly easy to convince. Most simply ask for a small favor (an item or service) in return for their help. One of these characters is Ferdinand, the private chef employed by Max’ father. Ferdinand tells max about a rare dessert he is making, called Castagnaccio, for which he needs something called “castagne.” He figures that a roasted chestnut would do just as well (castagne = italian for chestnut), and if Max brings him one, he will join the quest.

This scene piqued my interest in Castagnaccio, and I immediately did some research. Sure enough, Castagnaccio is a rustic italian cake made with chestnut flour. Traditionally, chestnuts were associated with poverty, so Castagnaccio has not made it into the repertoire of many modern Italian chefs, and is certainly nowhere to be found at any of the standard pizza-and-pasta italian joints in the United States.

For at least a year I kept my eyes open for Chestnut flour, but could not find it at anywhere. Then, a few weeks ago I went home to my parents’ house and saw a strange nut on the table. My mom had found a chestnut tree growing wild near the middle school! She drove me over and I collected a bag full of the beautiful big brown nuts. I roasted them, ground them into a sort-of flour – it was really chunky and sticky – and improvised a recipe based on the half dozen or so I had been drooling over for the past year. I made two versions: Rosemary, Pine-Nut and Fennel Seed (a fairly traditional combination);

and Almond – Fig.

Unfortunately, the cakes were less than what I had hoped. I expected them to be somewhat plain, but what I came up with was PLAIN, too gooey, and just not that great. I haven’t given up hope yet though. I want to find real chestnut flour too see how the stuff is supposed to behave, maybe tweak the recipe a bit, and try again. This isn’t over!

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