Switzerland Part Two--Ticino & The Chestnut Path

Never let it be said the Swiss don't have a sense of humor! Chestnuts were planted in this region of the Ticino by the Romans 2000 years ago. They were a major food staple in this mountainous area as they could be dried, made into flour, roasted or produce chestnut honey, tiding the farmers over during the snowy winters. After walking through the forest of chestnut trees we were treated to lunch at Il Castagno, which is also a hotel. The décor was most inviting with marble floor from the local quarry and chestnut wood tables. The first course was fresh figs with excellent prosciutto but the second showcased the chestnut after which the restaurant is named. I’ve used chestnut flour in cakes but I never before experienced it in pasta dough. The combination of sweet earthy chestnut, fried sage, butter, and cheese was so heavenly I asked for the recipe. And the week of my return home I lost no time recreating it. The restaurant used 30% chestnut flour but I found that 50% was even better! Incidentally, the red wine with the boar on the label (Wild Boar Hill) was the best I tasted in the Ticino area and happened to be from the vineyard of our charming escort Eliana who also gave me a rare corn flour that had been smoked. I can’t decide what to do with it first—corn fingers or perhaps bread for stuffing—no—it has to be corn fingers where the grain will star. After lunch we walked through the town and discovered an ancient building that was used to roast chestnuts. Inspired by the pasta I also tried making a loaf of bread, replacing the flour with 20% chestnut flour. I slashed it to resemble a chestnut and it was good but not great. Of course panettone with candied chestnuts (in the Bread Bible) is fantastic but the flour is not that interesting for bread.

Chestnut Pasta

Makes: 7.7 ounces/220 grams (Serves: 2 as main dish)

Chestnut Pasta.png

In a food processor with the metal blades, place the flours and salt. Process for a few seconds until mixed.

With the motor running, add the egg yolks, and cream and process for a few seconds or until the egg is absorbed and the dough is in even little clumps.

Empty the dough onto a counter and knead it for about 3 minutes or until it is silky smooth and no longer at all sticky. Add a little flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes up to 4 hours or refrigerate it up to 2 days before rolling and cutting.

Divide the dough into 3 parts. Using one piece at a time (keep the remainder covered) put the dough through the widest setting 2 or 3 times, folding it in thirds after each rolling. Repeat rolling on progressively finer settings, finishing at the second finest (#6 on a hand crank or Kitchen Aid pasta attachment). Flour the dough lightly between rollings only if it seems at all sticky.

Hang the dough on a pasta drying rack or place it on a lightly floured cloth for about 5-10 minutes to dry slightly. After all 3 pieces have been rolled, insert the fettuccine 1/4-inch wide cutting roller. Run each strip through to cut into noodles.

Cook at once, or hang the noodles on a rack for about 10 to 15 minutes or until they are partially dry, or place them on a lightly floured towel and cover with a cloth until ready to cook. If you are hanging the noodles, be sure to remove them before they dry completely or they will break at the point where they touch the rack.

Noodles can be refrigerated for 1-2 days or frozen. If freezing, allow them to dry completely to keep them for sticking together. To make the chestnut sage pasta, wash and dry about 16 large sage leaves. Heat 4 tablespoons of butter, preferably clarified browned butter, in a small sauce pan. Sauté sage leaves in the hot butter until crisp but not brown. Remove them to paper towels with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Pour the butter into a large frying pan. Cook the pasta 3 minutes in boiling salted water (1/2 tablespoon of salt). If frozen, add a few minutes to the cooking time or cook until just tender. When the pasta is cooked, use pasta or other tongs to lift it out of the water and add it to the frying pan on medium low heat. Toss to coat it with the butter, adding some of the pasta cooking water to keep the pasta moist. Toss in half the sage leaves, garnish with Parmesan Reggiano and the rest of the sage leaves.

Note: Chestnut flour is easiest to find on line. Try: www.igourmet.com for American chestnut flour or www.chefshop.com for imported Italian chestnut flour.