Meet me at the square
Autumn in Italy. One of my favorite time to stroll down the roads of my old downtown and meet my friends in the main square for happy hour. The smells are sharp and very unique, smells that you can only detect for a couple of months a year: roasted chestnuts and Vin Brûlé.
The harvest season for wine grapes is almost over, it's getting cold and the mouth is craving for warmer, sharper, comfort flavors. We are not quite ready to move indoor for the winter, so we find the way to enjoy some extra outdoor time keeping our hands and hearts warm: "Castagnata in Piazza" (Roasted chestnuts in the square). This a very popular enogastronimic event that a lot of towns in Italy organize in the months of October and early November. Each town also proudly features some other local seasonal products like tartufi, porcini mushrooms, grapes, local wine, cheeses and salami. This is when the locals like to step back in time, celebrating some of the old town traditions. They dress up in the old original costumes and play old music to entertain the crowds. The party goes on all night. As it gets colder, people start gathering closer around the fire, where the roasting pan is toasting thousands of chestnuts. Time to swap the glass of wine with a cup of steaming Vin Brûlé. Feet and legs are freezing at this point, but faces and hands stay warm in front of the burning fire. It's so hard to leave...
2 bottles of red wine, full body
220 gr / 7 oz / slightly less than 1 cup sugar
Peel of 1 small organic lemon
Peel of 1 small organic orange
1 apple, peeled and cut into cubes
1-2 star anise
8 cloves (inserted into apple cubes)
2 sticks cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
In a steel pot, add the wine to all other ingredients. Cook on low for 5 minutes, untill sugar is dissolved. Turn on high. Using a lighter or a burning stick, fire the wine (stand back!) and wait until the flame is completely gone. Serve hot in a mug.
Important variation. The tradition of warm spiced wine goes back to the Ancient Greek Empire, and then kept alive by Italian monasteries. The recipe has changed over the centuries in many variations. The most notable difference among recipes is the boiling the wine for long enough to let the alcohol evaporate VS boiling it just enough to dissolve the sugar and avoid alcohol evaporation as much as possible, sometimes even adding additional wine at the end.
CALDARROSTE (Roasted chestnuts)
Choosing the right chestnuts is extremely important. Make sure they are all aprox. the same size and that they don't have any holes, cuts or stains. Using a sharp knife, make a cut over the curvy part of the chestnut. A cut aproximately 1 inch long. This way the chestnuts won't "explode" over the fire.
Using a perforated pan, cook the chestnuts on medium for 30 minutes, stirring and turning them often (for a full experience cook over the barbeque!). When they are evenly roasted, let them cool just enough so you can handle them with bare hands, peel and enjoy!