Northern Italian Chestnut Buckwheat Bread

Understatement of the month: I have been eating quite well at my current volunteering site.
Just a casual morning peach and raisin clafoutis baked up by Paolo
There is one area, however, in which I've felt a bit left out. Bread. What is an Italian meal without a crusty piece of artisanal bread to soak up the leftovers? But alas, I've been avoiding gluten for the past few months with great personal results.

Allow me to make one thing clear: Pasta (which has gluten) is and has always been my favorite food. I am in Italy, the land of pasta, and my gluten sensitivity can go to Hell in the meantime. Oddly enough, this hasn't taken the same toll on me that a bite of bread or sip of beer typically does, so whether the gluten makeup is different in Italy or whether I'm actually just sensitive to yeast, I don't know. The moral is that I've been eating pasta and avoiding all other gluten, and at the end of the day, it's working.
Fusille lunghi con le cozze, or pasta with mussels and a light tomato sauce. Serve with local Prosecco and you're in business. I don't know what type of business, but it will certainly feel good.
But I miss bread, truly. And after a solid rummage through Paolo's pantry, the wheels started turning as I held a bag of chestnut flour and buckwheat flour in each hand.
chestnut buckwheat bread
Can you guess what those turning wheels lead me to do?
Most of us have only met buckwheat in the form of expensive Asian soba noodles, so you can imagine my nerdish foodie excitement when I found that northern Italy is also an avid producer of buckwheat. But in the typical manner of Italians, they know how to keep the best things to themselves, which is maybe why we seldom find this flour in the States.

Finding myself smack in the middle of the Italian holy land of buckwheat, however, means that it isn't so difficult for me to track down the local stuff. Despite the name, buckwheat has no wheat at all and is not even related to the stuff. It's actually the seed from from a plant related to rhubarb and sorrel. It's a nutritional powerhouse and the taste is assertive, like a mix between campfires and brown rice.
A local field of backyard buckwheat outside our town of Teglio
To place all the praise upon glorious buckwheat would, however, be a mistake. The humble chestnut should be equally exalted. This unique nut has a sweet and smooth flavor with a lower fat content than it's brethren, making it a beautiful cooking option that is often cost-restrictive in the States. Chestnut products, thankfully, are abundant and cheap in Italy, and there is no doubt that I intend to make use of this fact.
Crusty, dark, and rustic
A gluten free bread for the doubters
And thus was born my gluten-free buckwheat chestnut bread. Don't go letting its lack of gluten turn you off—this bread is nutty and mildly sweet and should be baked and enjoyed no matter what sort of flour you enjoy. Just don't expect it to taste like regular bread; Regular bread is a supporting actor, while this guy is more of a leading role.

Rustic Buckwheat Chestnut Bread
Ingredients
2 1/2cups (300 grams) buckwheat flour
1 1/2 cups (200 grams) chestnut flour
2 eggs
1/4 cup EVOO
1 tbsp baking powder
1 cup milk/soymilk
1/4 tsp salt

Directions
Preheat oven to  160°C/320°F (chestnut flour burns more easily than regular, so we want a lower heat and a bit more supervision while cooking).

Sift together flours, baking powder, and salt

Beat eggs and milk, slowly pouring in EVOO, for about a minute.

Using your hand or wooden spoon, make a well in the dry ingredients and fold the wet into dry. Knead the dough for about 2-3 minutes, until completely combined, and place into bread pan or form desired shape for a more rustic look. It will be denser and less sticky than regular flour.

Bake for about 55-65 minutes, until beginning to brown at the top.
buckwheat bread
Rustic bread, rustic mountains, rustic village. Who needs gluten?
Remove from oven and allow to cool before slicing to prevent a more crumbly texture. It produces a more dense and flavorful loaf than typical white flour, but all this nutrition and flavor is exactly what you need to get you going. The bite is a bit more sweet and toothsome than what you might be used to, so try with stronger flavors like aged with cheese, smoked trout, eggs and bacon, or anything else you can envision pairing well with nuttier flavors.

And the best part is that the Italians wouldn't even bat an eyelash at my secretly healthy and gluten-free bread. Like all things good, it fits right in with the food paradise that is Italia.

Stay tuned as we explore the local Valtellina region in pursuit of more good views and foods!

4 comments:

  1. Shame that you seem to have abandoned the blog - and that there are not any/many comments either.

    I have finally just now taken a respectable gluten free fluffy loaf out of the oven.

    And now I want to try your buckwheat chestnut bread because it will fill another gap - a decent country style bread.

    As I said shame again that you seem to have abandoned your blog. Oh well coped your chestnut buckwheat bread recipe to a Word document and printed it out. So thank you so much for that.

    Ellen C

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  2. Ahhh well this was a lovely and well-timed comment! I will be back...it might take me a second, though :)

    I hope the bread is wonderful!

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Thanks so much for this. I'm Paleo and looking for my Eastern Europe / Roman invasion roots. I read that my ancestors also used Millet flour, but I'm sure that chestnut was a big player as well as buckwheat before the wheat became available to people (those pesky Ottomans forced us to sell it to them, so nobody got any.. well, let's hope they got lots of celiac from it... harrumph!). Anyway, I've been looking for yeasted old world breads that are gluten free because it looks like, even post-Neolithic, my people didn't eat wheat. Chestnut/buckwheat is exactly what the Paleos would approve of, though not sure about the millet. Oh well, can't be perfect. Love this idea, recipe and blog, keep it up!

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