“The bread tree”, this is how the ancient Greeks called the chestnut tree because it fed in winter but that is not all. It is a plant that they began to use in its entirety: wood for buildings, flowers and bark in pharmacopoeia and fruits (nuts) as food.
In Italy the chestnut has always played a very important role, above all for the people that inhabited the entire Apennine arc where there are incredible chestnut woods.
At the beginning of the 20th century, 800 million kilos of chestnuts were produced which created a considerable turnover. Chestnut is used to make flour and other pastry products such as jams and glazed marrons. Not to mention the famous Mont Blanc cake, a true riot of flavours.
After the small glaciation in Europe in 1709, Rocca Priora decided to go back to planting trees in the mountains and for this reason the Castelli Romani are characterized by beautiful chestnut groves that in summer make the Castelli Romani Park a cool place to walk .
After the second world war there was the abandonment of the mountains and people went to look for a better life in the city and in the industrial zones, those of the so-called progress. The production of chestnuts and derivatives dropped dramatically and today we produce about 30 million pounds.
Chestnut is the classic fruit of autumn and I wanted to use it in a recipe together with another very ancient product, ceci (chickpea) that is a legume that together with chestnuts formed the food base for entire mountain populations.
For this dish we chose the “chickpea sultan”, the smallest type that exists. The sultan chickpeas, as the name also reminds us, probably come from the East, Iran or Turkey, and the Egyptians used them to feed slaves.
We will make a soup with chestnuts in this specific case using the “marroni di Segni” (chestnuts from Segni), a beautiful town south of Rome, famous in the world for its cyclopic (polygonal) walls with the superb Porta Saracena.
Segni is absolutely one of the must visit towns in life.
Recipe of Chestnut Soup and Sultan Chickpeas
Everything has to start the night before the soup is cooked when we remember to soak the sultan chickpeas in cold water scented with sage leaves and a clove of garlic.
Take the chestnuts and boil them in water flavoured with fennel seeds and a bay leaf. In another pot, at the same time, we also boil the chickpeas. It is important not to salt during cooking but only at the end.
After boiling the chestnuts, peel them and chop them coarsely and put them to flavour in a pan where we will have already browned a clove of garlic with oil and chilli.
After a few minutes, when the chestnut has soaked up the flavour, we add the chickpeas with their cooking water. We wait for the soup to come to a boil and let it cook for 15/20 minutes, just long enough for the chestnuts to come apart and create a cream.
To enhance all the flavours, the soup should be served with a round of new oil (maybe just arrived from a mill that is still working in autumn) and sage leaves.
The dish tends to be sweet, excluding the spicy note of the chili pepper, and I drank a Trento classic method rosé. I could not wish for better!