Necci, mondine and vin brulè on the Fosso this weekend thanks to the sterling work of the A.S. Barga who every year at this time set up their stall, kitchens and fires and fill the autumn air with the smell of roasting chestnuts.
As they are roasting for a large amount of people they have a different system for preparing them rather than using the more slower traditional padella – they instead use large metal cages which are turned slowly over the flames.
As the cooking comes to an end they are turned faster and faster to knock out the burnt outer skin and leave just the cooked inner ready to be bagged up and given to the waiting crowds.
Except that recently there is a vital missing ingredient to this tradition event – there are no fires, no smoke, no smell in autumn in the air as believe it or not the castagne are actually being roasted down at the sport stadium and then being transported up to the Fosso once they are cooked.
Somehow it just doesn’t feel the same event without the fires and smoke but there is always that other special taste on offer – the necci.
Necci – the simplest of ingredients …. sweet chestnut flour, water and salt mixed into a thick paste and cooked between two hot plates over a flame.
Two metal plates, the testi or cotte, are oiled and heated and the chestnut paste is poured onto one of the plates, the other is placed over the top so that the necci can be cooked from both sides.
A stick to press down on the top plate and in seconds you have one of the tastiest foods in this area.
Add some ricotta and you have quite simply the Food of Gods.
That is if you are not over a certain age and remember that chestnuts were the staple diet of the poor in this area without which they would have perished in time of famine.