Chestnuts and Mushrooms
Fall is the season for harvesting and storing, for bundling up and sitting around the fireplace. When I lived in Italy, the simple pleasures of harvesting started in late summer and early fall with mushrooms season, or as the Italians say andare a caccia di funghi, that is, going hunting for mushrooms. It meant hiking into the thick silence of the oak and chestnut woods, where the boars usually roamed undisturbed.
I was lucky that my neighbor, nonna Assunta, took me under her wing and brought me along. Nonna (grandma) Assunta lived a long life farming the land, overcoming incredible hardships with an indomitable spirit. Although 80 years old, she still worked 8 hours a day and pretty much left me in the dust when the carrying of bales of herbs was concerned. I loved listening to her and tried to absorb all she had to teach me. If late summer rains had brought about ideal conditions for mushrooms, she would lead me to her secret spots deep in the woods where we would harvest wild porcini and chanterelle mushrooms. We would victoriously head back home with our baskets full of our “hunt”, part of which was for enjoying fresh and most for drying.
The woods around Oliveto, the small Tuscan village where I lived, were also rich in chestnuts, which we collected and roasted on the fire at night when the weather turned chilly. This is something you can do in a wood fired oven as well.
Wood-Fired Oven Roasted Chestnuts
Use a cast iron skillet or a metal pan, filling it with one layer of chestnuts that have been cut crosswise on top. Slide in the wood fired oven at 500 degrees and shake the skillet or pan a few times during the cooking period. When the skin of the chestnuts start to burnish and the cross cut opens, try one nut: if it feels soft when squeezed between the fingers, you know it is ready to enjoy. Fun to serve in small, brown bags!
Later in November it would be time for the olive harvest and, boy, this was hard work! In Tuscany the olives are pruned heavily to keep the trees small so that they can be harvested by hand. With the help of nets, ladders, and baskets one climbs each tree and running the hand over each individual branch collects the olive fruits. This method and the colder climate is what create the best olive oil on the planet, very low in acidity. We would try out the newly pressed oil on bruschettas, bragging that our oil was better than our neighbor’s!
Here’s a recipe for Wild Mushroom Bruschetta and while you are at it, check out the Holiday Turkey recipe on our website at as well, it will come in handy for Thanksgiving!
Wild Mushroom Bruschetta
Serves 4 people
As it is hard to find wild mushrooms, I have adapted the recipe for Portobella mushrooms instead.
- 2 Portobella mushrooms, cut in half
For the seasoning
- 2 cloves of garlic, pressed
- 1 handful of Italian parsley, finely chopped
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme and oregano, finely chopped
- ¼ cup virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
Place a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl and add the balsamic vinegar. Mix until the salt has dissolved. Add the herbs and the pressed garlic. Add the olive oil. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Fire up the wood fired oven. Let the fire burn down, this will take about one hour. Move the fire and embers to the right or the left side of the oven. Rake some of the coals of the fire to the front-middle of the oven. Place a free-standing grill over the coals for a few minutes before placing the halved mushrooms on it.
Brush lightly the halved mushrooms with the seasoning mix, then grill the mushrooms.When they are done, chop them and add them to the rest of the seasoning.Grill 4 slices of Italian bread. Add the mushrooms and seasoning on each grilled slice and serve. Buon appetito!