The Tuscan kitchen is based on the concept of ‘cucina povera’ which literally translates to ‘poor kitchen’. This way of cooking, or should I say philosophy, takes whatever humble ingredients you may have on hand and transforms them into a feast fit for a king. It is about using available simple seasonal ingredients and creating something magical – a melding of flavors from food grown, raised or foraged from the land itself. This now-fashionable way of eating here in America has been a core tenet for cooking and living in not only Tuscany but in Italy and war torn nations for generations upon generations. This way of life has grown from the need to utilize whatever limited food was available during times of war and great poverty throughout Italy and the world. And today, many have embraced this concept not only in their kitchens but as a guiding philosophy in their lives. (And it is also a great excuse when you do not feel like heading to the market for dinner. Just open the fridge and get creative with whatever you have on hand. You can proudly proclaim that you are cooking in the ancient style of ‘cucina povera‘.)
In Tuscany, the simple chestnut proved to be a source of nutrients in times of poverty. It could easily be gathered from trees in the woods and ground into sweet flour providing the most basic of sustenance. Today, finding chestnut flour can be a bit of a challenge but well worth the effort. I was able to find it at our local Italian market. I was delightfully surprised by the taste of the chestnut flour. I had planned to top these crepes with sautéed apples but after tasting the sweet earthiness of the chestnut crepe mingled with the creaminess of the fresh ricotta and the sweetness of the honey, I dared not mess with perfection. This treat is so worth seeking out the ingredients. And with any crepe batter, it is better to prepare ahead and let rest for at least 30 minutes or even better overnight.
Enjoy this simple treat …one that truly embodies the spirit of ‘cucina povera’ , an ancient way of cooking that reminds us that it is the simple pleasures of life that can bring the most joy.
Chestnut Crepes with Fresh Ricotta and Honey
(Necci con Ricotta Fresca e Miele)
1 cup chestnut flour
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ricotta cheese
Place the chestnut flour in a large bowl. Add in the eggs, one at a time. Whisk the milk in slowly and whisk until the batter is smooth. Let the crepe batter stand at least 30 minutes or up to 24.
Heat an 8 inch cast iron skillet or crepe pan over medium heat. Brush the surface of the pan with a bit of olive oil. Pour a scant ¼ cup of batter onto the surface and tilt the pan so the batter runs to the edges, creating a thin layer. Cook for about 1 minute until the edges start to curl up slightly. Flip and cook on the opposite side until cooked through – about another 30 seconds. Repeat for each crepe, greasing the pan as needed before adding the batter.
To serve, place a heaping tablespoon or two of ricotta on each crepe and roll up. Drizzle with the honey and serve at once.