It is an old peasant recipe and one of the first street foods in Bolognese gastronomic history. They look a bit like Tuscan necci.
And on the other hand, the chestnut trees are widespread throughout the Tuscan-Emilian-Romagna Apennines. It has created similar eating habits between Bologna, the lower and Apennine regions of Romagna, and the Tuscan side.
A few examples? In ancient times, polenta made of chestnut flour was a food spread over a large territory.
The same goes for chestnut soup and castagnaccio (here, you can find my paternal grandmother’s recipe).
The origin of sweet mistocchine
“Bologna la grassa” (Bologna the fat) should not mislead.
In addition to the sumptuous dishes that have made the city of towers famous, there is an equally solid tradition of poor peasant dishes.
Sweet mistocchine is one of the simplest forms of using chestnut flour.
They are round or oval-shaped sweets made with a mixture of flour and water or milk. In more recent times, the ingredients also include a pinch of salt. Someone add in a dash of aniseed liqueur. To cook mistocchine, you need a hot plate or a griddle pan. And, if you want, you can fry them.
The recipe, which originated in the Bolognese Apennines, was also popular in the Bassa Romagna, close to Bologna. Graziano Pozzetto, an expert on Romagna cuisine, writes about mistocchine: “A traditional sweet made from chestnut flour, which is linked to the childhood of not many people from Romagna, and which used to be bought at the kiosks here and there in Bassa Romagna, or at the corner of the streets of the little village on the Ravenna valley, from the old lady or the man with the traveling food stall”.
It seems that the word derives from the latin verb “miscere”, which indicated both a mixture of leftover chestnuts reduced to powder and the action of mixing/kneading connected to the process of combining water and flour.
Mistocchinaie and mistocchine
The mistocchinaie were the women who made and sold their product, and from December until Carnival were among the streets of Bologna.
The mistocchinaia was such a popular figure that Carlo Goldoni, in 1759, mentions her in his comedy L’Impresario della Smirne “What does Mistocchina mean? As the young woman is Bolognese, and in Bologna, they call mistocchine certain flatbread made with chestnut flour, they have given her (Goldoni refers to the city) a nickname that befits her country, and her skill”.
In the city chronicles, sweet mistocchine saleswomen appear as early as the 17th century.
And think that the places were assigned by public announcement and in the official publications, there was a price list of mistocchine.
Usually, the mistocchinaie stood near the columns of the porticoes to protect the makeshift fire to cook the mistocchine. The cooking plate was suspended on a warm perch, while the rudimentary fire was fed by charcoal and wind protector. After cooking, the mistocchine were stacked on top of each other in straw baskets to preserve their heat.
Historical sources report that the mistocchinaie are dressed in white, or wear a wide white apron, as are white handkerchiefs they wear wrapped around their heads and the sleeves that go down from their elbows to their wrists. They are usually women, but some men are also remembered.
In the mid-twentieth century, mistocchinaie were mainly a memory that appeared in the Bolognese nativity scene. Even up to the 1950s, the last mistocchinaie can still be found in the streets of the city center or at the Santa Lucia Fair.
Among the women, a few mistocchinaio are also remembered.
Somehow, we lost the memory of this orally passed-down recipe.
The naturally sweet mistocchine are a poor food and, as for the piadina, the gastronome Artusi does not report the recipe.
However, in the edition with notes of his work, recipe 240, ‘Sweet flour Migliaccio, popularly Castagnaccio’, states that ‘chestnuts have long been a staple food for mountain people. Polenta made from chestnut flour has fed entire generations. In the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, they used to be cooked between two irons to make focaccine known as patolfe, while in Bologna they were cooked on a very hot griddle and sold in the streets under the name of mistocchine. In Tuscany, on the other hand, flour was used to make a kind of bread called pattona or polenda and neccio, a small pattona baked between two hotplates’.
Leafing through the 1923 school recipe book of Signorina Gamberini, a student at the Regina Margherita vocational school (the first girls’ school for arts and crafts in the province of Bologna, later the Sirani Institute), the girls learn the art of pinza, ciambella, raviole cookies, and even castagnaccio, but not of mistocchine.
The mistocchine were bought on the street, not brought to the table.
And yet Elio Zorzi, a great connoisseur of Venetian and Italian cuisine, in those very years, recognized the following among Bologna’s specialties: ‘mortadella, thin tagliatelle, and mistocchine’.
The mistocchine also find their place in the Italian Culinary Guide of the Touring, a census of the Italian culinary heritage (1931 edition): “small pastries made of a mixture of chestnut flour, baked on iron sheets. It is a modestly made cake, at other times very famous in Bologna…’ but it is already said that the mistocchinaie are disappearing.
In the recipe books of the 1960s, we no longer find any reference to this ancient street food that gastronomes from all over Italy recognized as part of Bologna’s culinary heritage.
How is it that mistochine are forgotten and neccio not?
The problem with verbal memory is that if the transmission stops, the memories are lost.
In Tuscany, the story-telling that bases regional identity (also) on food began centuries ago. And it has made it possible to preserve an entire heritage of peasant recipes that would otherwise have risked oblivion.
Slow Food, in its dictionary dedicated to regional Italian cuisine for foreigners (2010), mentions sweet mistocchine, clarifying the dispute between the Bolognese and the Ferrarese, who claim the origin of the recipe: «in Ferrara they may also be fried, in which case they are called tamplùn».
The mistocchine are a sugar-free and naturally gluten-free cake.
If you use water, you can add at least one tablespoon of sugar to the dough.
Although they resemble pancakes, they are not fluffy, and the dough is not battered but rolled out with a rolling pin. Or you tear off pieces of dough of equal weight and press them into a round shape with your hands.
Traditionally, the mistocchine are almost tall a centimeter, but I recommend making them thinner, half a centimeter or less. Once upon a time, this cake was, for many, the only occasion to eat a delicacy. Probably the children of the past would have wanted the mistocchine even higher.
But today, our tastes have changed. We are used to sophisticated and sweeter sweets. If you roll them out high, in the mouth, you risk the mappazza effect (an Italian word that means a heavy indigestible food). Roll them out thin, half a centimeter or less.
This ancient street food deserves to come back to our table.
They are a good idea for Merenda. If you offer mistocchine like end-dinner dessert, serve them with a glass of sweet wine.
Buona cucina, Monica
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Sweet mistocchine recipe
about 8 mistocchine
List of Ingredients
200 g chestnut flour
100 g milk, approx.
a pinch of salt
icing sugar or caster sugar for dusting
Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.
Pour in the milk a little at a time.
Depending on whether the flour is old or new, it may absorb the liquid differently. You may need a little more milk.
Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly floured surface. Knead with your hands until the dough is soft but not sticky.
Tear into pieces of equal weight and crush with your hands or roll out the dough with a rolling pin to a height of 1/2 centimeter or thinner.
Cook on a griddle or in a non-stick pan for a few minutes on each side. When the flour changes color, they are ready.
As you cook, stack the sweet mistocchine on top of each other to keep them warm.
Sprinkle with sugar, either icing or caster, and serve.