Chestnut flour can be hard to track down in regular stores, but you can buy it online, or even make your own at home by drying sliced chestnuts in the oven and grinding them up with a spice grinder or blender. If you know what you’re looking for, you can forage for chestnuts to make your flour, but be careful not to use horse chestnuts by mistake, as these are poisonous. If you’re in any doubt, it’s best to stick to store-bought chestnuts.
How to cook with chestnut flour
Chestnut flour can be substituted for wheat flour to make any of your favourite baked goods gluten-free and paleo-friendly. Just remember to add a rising agent, as gluten-free flours will not rise by themselves, or use your chestnut flour for something that doesn’t need to rise, like pancakes, flatbreads or polenta. If you’re just trying chestnut flour for the flavour, you can use a flour mix that’s half chestnut, half wheat, although obviously this is not suitable for people with gluten allergies.
The sweet, fall flavour of chestnut flour pairs well with mellow fruit flavours and spices, and would make a delicious banana bread or spiced pear muffin. And of course, chocolate and nuts is a classic flavour combination, so why not try using chestnut flour in your next batch of gluten free brownies?
If you want to try some traditional chestnut flour recipes, there are a wealth of simple, flavourful dishes from Tuscany that use either chestnut flour or bastarda, a mixture of wheat and chestnut flours. Chestnut flour is a key ingredient in Tuscany’s celebrated cucina povera, or ‘peasant cooking’, a rich culinary heritage of unique local dishes developed over the years by peasant women using their own ingenuity and whatever ingredients they had to hand. Chestnuts were a cheap way to make flour, as they were readily available on the trees that covered the Tuscan hillsides.
Tuscan specialties include chestnut flour gnocchi, either boiled in milk or seasoned with brown butter and sage, and pasta made from mixed bastarda flour. Bastarda lasagne sheets are traditionally made without egg, and taste delicious topped with cream and walnut sauce. Chestnut flour is also used to make thin, crêpe-like pancakes called necci, which are cooked between two flat cast iron pans held over a fire, and eaten stuffed with sausage, pancetta or ricotta.
Another specialty dish is marocca di Castola, a dark-coloured bread that is now listed as a Slow Food product. This dense, spongy bread is made from a mixture of chestnut and wheat flours and mashed potato, and can be served with ricotta and honey, anchovy or local meats like lardo di Colonnata or pancetta.
Perhaps the best-known chestnut flour dish is castagnaccio, a thin, crisp fruit cake made from chestnut flour, water, olive oil and rosemary, with different fruits or nuts added for flavouring. Popular choices include raisins and pine nuts, or walnuts and orange peel, but as with many regional dishes, there are slightly different versions depending on where you go, and much heated discussion as to which version is correct.
Of course, you don’t need flour to add some sweet, nutty chestnut flavour to your cooking. Chestnuts are also delicious cooked whole, and work great in hearty fall dishes of meat and vegetables, or in rich chocolate desserts. For more chestnut inspiration, check out our favourite chestnut recipes.