September 20, 2011
Cooking inspiration is not the least of the pleasures I draw from a vacation, especially when I'm able to bring back a few local ingredients. It's not always a sensible maneuver, though: I'm sure we all have old packages of dusty exotic spices we haven't once cooked with, but can't quite bring ourselves to toss.
I've done this often enough over the years that I am now a lot more prudent about my vacation ingredient purchases. My strategy is twofold: one, I try hard to assess whether this string of chilli peppers or that guava jam really will look as appealing once my tan (though barely visible to the naked eye) has receded; and two, whatever it is I opt to bring back, I vow to put to use within a few weeks of my return.
These savory chestnut canistrelli are living proof that I've been successful this time, as they've allowed me to put the first dent into a bag of roasted chestnut flour from Corsica, and a sachet of herbes du maquis, a dried herb mix made up of thyme, rosemary, myrtle, and bay leaf from the local scrubland.
What are canistrelli, you ask? They're the typical Corsican cookie (singular form: canistrellu), a rustic, crisp little cookie that is much more than it looks, and which I first discovered at U Spuntinu, a Corsican épicerie on rue des Mathurins, not far from the Paris Opera.
I adore the original, not-too-sweet version, and in fact included a recipe for them in my Paris book, but this time I had a mind to make bite-size savory canistrelli to emulate the ones we'd bought from a shop in Sagone on our last day on the island. We were expecting friends for the apéritif, and I thought they would go well with the white wine chilling in the fridge.
I took out my sweet canistrelli recipe to build on that, and all went smoothly; it is a very easy dough to work with. The crunchy little diamonds (which happen to be vegan) turned out to be so flavorful I prepared a second batch on the spot, thinking any extras would get nibbled on during the week. A wise move, as it turns out; very little was left that night.
If you've never had anything made with chesnut flour, it's worth seeking it out. It's a gluten-free flour with an assertive flavor that doesn't taste like actual chestnuts, but is earthy and sweet in its own way. The one I got is a Corsican flour dried over a wood fire, which makes it subtly smoky. Chestnut flour is not cheap (mine was 10€/kg, or $6/lb), but a little goes a long way as it is generally used in combination with other, milder flours.
I now intend to use more of that flour to make chesnut flour crêpes and also sweet chestnut canistrelli such as the ones I bought in the village of Evisa, and which proved quite the extraordinary snack, eaten in alternating bites with a square of dark chocolate.
Any other ideas on how to use chestnut flour?
Chestnut and Herb Canistrelli
- 160 grams (1 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour*
- 90 grams (2/3 cups) chestnut flour (substitute whole wheat flour)
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon dried herbs (such as herbes de Provence; my Corsican mix contains thyme, rosemary, myrtle and bay leaf)
- 80 ml (1/3 cup, 60 grams) olive oil
- 80 ml (1/3 cup) dry white wine (substitute water)
Makes 50 to 60 bite-size canistrelli.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flours, salt, baking powder, and herbs. Form a well in the center and pour in the olive oil and wine. Stir the liquids into the solids, working gently with a fork, until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a clean work surface, and knead gently until the dough comes together into a smooth ball, without overworking it. Add a little more flour or water as necessary to adjust the consistency.
Lightly flour the work surface underneath the dough, and use the palm of your hands to pat it into a disk, about 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) in thickness. Slice the dough into 2.5-cm (1-inch) squares or diamonds with a dough cutter or sharp knife.
Transfer the pieces to the prepared baking sheet, leaving just a little space between them.
Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 160°C (325°F) and bake for another 15 minutes, until the canistrelli are golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool completely before serving. The canistrelli will keep for about a week in an airtight container at room temperature.
* If you keep a sourdough starter, you can use the excess here: use 160 grams of your 100%-hydration starter, lower the all-purpose flour to 80 grams, and omit the white wine.
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