Autumn is a generous time of year. Often depicted as a melancholic season, poised between summer memories and a return to the office, October actually presents us with a treasure chest of ingredients and lifestyle changes to guide us through the winter.
The rhythm of nature
Alongside the sublime views of Florence, up in the hills surrounding the city our senses identify something more profound and epocal in the amber-hued light. The universal rhythm of nature becomes slower and more welcoming in the fall, reminding us at some elemental level about the “right pace” of life. That pace also belongs to we humans, a fundamental factor that we tend to forget in our ever connected and hasty world. Stopping for a moment and listening to the rhythm of nature and our lives is autumn’s greatest gift.
Into the light
The shifts in light and temperature during October move us with their magic, as if in slow motion, suspended between the intensity of the summer and the concentration of the winter. The healthiest move we can make is to leave the house or office with neither an exact destination nor a precise job to accomplish, but just to live life at “human speed”, the velocity of our footfall. Simple outdoor exercise is a great way to strengthen our immune system against winter ailments. Walking with no fixed point in mind also frees our thoughts, allowing us to carry those tough tasks that we often forget to do.
Reaping the harvest
In perfect harmony with the harvest, now is the ideal time to acknowledge and celebrate the fruits of our labour. We pay tribute to the energy, passion, problems and limitations faced by farmers and those who feed us. Autumn is the season best suited to changes in our diet, especially for those who feel the constant need to snack or struggle to resist the calling of their sweet tooth. The flavours of typical Tuscan dishes at this time of the year—soups and broths—stabilize our appetites and act as relaxants, rescuing us from the uncontrollable urge to peck between meals. The secret is not so much to focus on what not to eat but to make way for foods that will gradually reduce, without too much effort, our urge to dash to the bar for yet another cappuccino e cornetto.
That old chestnut
Take the chestnut, for example—the queen of sweet autumnal treats. The castagna is used in every possible form in every corner of Tuscany: fresh (try ballotte, chestnuts boiled with bay leaves and fennel seeds), dried and even ground into flour. Chestnut flour is the principal ingredient in necci, a sort of sweet pancake; castagnaccio, a thin cake topped with pine nuts, sultanas and rosemary; and the lesser-known pattona, an exquisite sweet polenta traditionally served with the freshest of ricotta. The chestnut is the perfect return to natural sweetness, an easy, satisfying way to renounce sugar and overly refined ingredients with none of the sacrifice. When bruciate, warm, roasted, burnt on the outside and super sweet in the centre chestnuts, appear on the table at the end of a meal, autumn is Tuscany at its most magical.
(Sweet chestnut cake)
500g sweet chestnut flour
2 pinches salt
2 tbsp sultanas, soaked in water
50g pine nuts
Mix the chestnut flour, salt and water to make a smooth batter.
Stir in the sultanas, pine nuts and rosemary, setting aside a portion of each.
Pour the mixture into a buttered, lined pan and sprinkle the remaining sultanas, pine nuts and rosemary on top.
Bake at 200°C for 35 minutes. Let cool completely before serving.