November 30, 2019 9:00 am
Many people in Italy are used to eating chestnuts, the autumn fruit par excellence, roasted or in the more typical version of castagne del prete. According to an ancient recipe from Irpinia (a territory mostly situated in the province of Avellino, in the Campania region), the latter includes cooking this autumn fruit in the gratai, special structures heated constantly for fifteen days with the aim to dry chestnuts; subsequently, these are roasted in very hot ovens, which provide an intense flavour. Since this process results in the fruit becoming dry and stringy, the last phase of the preparation consists in immersing chestnuts in water to re-hydrate them without altering their taste. Ready to be consumed or eaten later, even in the sweet version of the well know marron glacé, chestnuts are the basic ingredient for many succulent desserts. However, they are also ideal for various savoury recipes.
In these rainy and cold autumn days nothing more than a seasonal dish can warm up our bodies and souls. With its ancient tradition typical of Irpinian culinary knowledge, the zuppa di castagne e fagioli (chestnut and bean soup) can be the solution to chilly hearts and minds. The territory of the province of Avellino is renowned for its long tradition of chestnut cultivation, especially in the areas of the Monti Picentini and the Alta Valle del Sabato. In these areas, chestnuts, together with hazelnuts, are among the most typical products. Chestnuts and hazelnuts are symbolic products, very rooted into the territory, and for centuries, in addition to supporting the economy, they have been part of the basic food intake for the population. In particular, in the past chestnuts were considered the food of the poor, as they were mostly consumed by less privileged people. At the beginning of the harvest period, starting in autumn, every single home had its own chestnut reserve. Thanks to their high nutritional value, people considered chestnuts as meat substitutes, since not everyone could afford the latter. In addition, chestnut flour – hence bread and pasta – was made with the fruits that could not be sold. This highly versatile fruit was used in a thousand other dishes to feed the whole family all the year round. Nowadays, anyone who pays a visit to the various Chestnut Festivals in the province of Avellino notices that one of the main dishes based on this fruit is the zuppa di castagne e fagioli, the chestnut and bean soup.
This consists of a tasty and nutritious course created with the intent to warm up the long and cold Irpinian days that in this area begin in early autumn. This soup is a savoury recipe, easy to prepare and effective in satisfying the palate pleasantly. First of all, being chestnuts the main ingredient, premium varieties should be chosen; among these, Irpinian high-quality chestnuts are: the “Castagna di Montella PGI”, the “Castagna di Serino”, the “Marrone di Santa Cristina”. These are used not only to make excellent soups, but also for exquisite and seasonal jams.
The original recipe, for 8 people, is made with the following ingredients:
- 500g chestnut
- 300gr beans
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/2 decilitre of olive oil
- rosemary, to taste
- salt, to taste
The first step involves boiling the chestnuts and removing their inner peel. Then, overnight-soaked beans can be cooked in a separate pot where oil, garlic, parsley, rosemary and salt are added according to taste. Halfway through cooking chestnuts can be poured into the pot and hot water can be added if necessary. Bring everything to complete cooking and serve while it is still hot. Over the years, the soup has undergone a number of variations, so there are also versions enriched with dried mushrooms or pork, or even both for gluttons, as well as with homemade bread croutons.
The chestnut and bean soup from Avellino recalls past times. It brings to the memory the smoke of a hot dish that can warm up the cold, grey, and rainy winter days. Eating it in this period may help to add warmth and flavour to our days.
Written by María Lucía Carrillo Expósito and Carmen Serena Santonocito
María Lucía Carrillo Expósito teaches Spanish as a foreign language in Italy. She holds a degree in Philosophy and Art (Geography and History) from the University of Córdoba, and a degree in European and Hispano-American Language and Literature from the University of Naples “L’Orientale”. She is currently completing her international PhD course in “Euro(pean) Languages and Specialized Terminology” at the University of Naples “Parthenope”.
Carmen Serena Santonocito is a PhD student in the last year of the doctoral course in “Euro-(pean) Languages and Specialized Terminology” at the University of Naples “Parthenope”. She holds an MA in Languages and International Communication from the University of Turin.
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