For nearly forty years, the small village of Agnino, which can be found on the road between Licciana Nardi and Fivizzano, has celebrated the Sagra della Pattona in August. The origins of the sagra relate to the feast of San Genesio, when the inhabitants of Agnino traditionally got together to celebrate and to dance. Today, thanks to the commitment of the inhabitants of Agnino, the Sagra della Pattona is a major event in the Lunigiana calendar attracting visitors from as far as Milan, Florence and Genoa.
Pattona is a type of bread made from chestnut flour, water and salt and cooked in a wood-burning oven. The pattona is wrapped in chestnut leaves, which imparts a special flavour. It is served with cheese, particularly ricotta, salumi and even honey.
Pattona is not the only local speciality on offer at the Sagra della Pattona. Cian, the chestnut pancake cooked in a long-handled, cast iron testo over a fire is available, as is testaroli, tagliatelle and polenta with mushroom. Various types of grilled meat are also prepared.
This year, the Sagra della Pattona will be celebrated on 17-19 August & 23-26 August. On 17 August there will be an indie-rock festival with local bands. On all evenings there will be stands offering local products, as well as a craft market.
Arrive at the sagra before dark to enjoy the fantastic views. Agnino, the ‘village of 18 towers‘, is called that not because it has 18 towers, but because, on a clear evening, you can count that many towers down in the Val di Magra. There are also views of the Apuan Alps.
Recipe for Pattona
- Good quality chestnut flour (preferably the DOP chestnut flour from Lunigiana). You will get a poorer result if you use inferior chestnut flour made from chestnuts that have been dried too quickly.
- Fresh chestnut leaves. You can also use dried chestnut leaves, but these must be soaked in water for between 1-2 hours just before they are used. If you are using a conventional oven, you can substitute baking parchment for the leaves, but you will lose the special flavour imparted by the chestnut leaves.
- Fillings such as ricotta, other cheeses, salumi or honey.
Quantities are approximate as the consistency of the mixture is more important than precise measurements. For 3-4 people use 400g of flour, around 50ml of water and a generous pinch of salt.
Sift the flour, mix in the salt and slowly add the water (don’t add it all at once as you may not need it all), stirring until you achieve a smooth dough that is not too thick, but also not too runny. It should be liquid enough to spoon out of the bowl, but firm enough to hold its shape and not trickle out of the chestnut leaf wrapping.
Lay three chestnut leaves in a fan pattern with the smooth side of the leaves facing up and the protruding leaf veins down, so that the veins are on the outside of the wrapping you are about to make. Following the diagram, place around a tablespoon of the mixture on the smooth surface of the leaves. Fold the tips of the leaves over and press down lightly on the mixture to ensure the correct thickness. It should be about one centimetre thick – more than that and the centre of the pattona won’t be cooked.
The pattona are cooked using the traditional terracotta testi , the small disc-like plates of the region, in a wood-burning oven. The very skilled don’t use testi, instead they use a long-handled shovel to move the pattona around, but this technique takes much practice. Pattona can also be cooked in a conventional oven.
In a hot wood-burning oven, the pattona take about 40 minutes to cook and the chestnut leaves will become burnt. In a conventional oven, cook the pattona at 180 degrees centigrade for at least 20 minutes.
Remove the chestnut leaves, which might require a bit of scrapping, fold in half and fill with your preferred filling.
Special thanks to Simone Tonelli, an organiser of the Sagra della Pattona in Agnino and pattona chef, for the information on the sagra, the preparation and cooking of pattona, including the diagram, and for general background information and advice. Thanks also to Barbara Maffei of Agriturismo Montagne Verde for her input and advice on cooking pattona in a conventional oven, and to Umberto Ferrari of Albergo Miramonti for his suggestions.
This article was prompted by an enquiry from Miranda Chiappini, born in Lunigiana but now living in Australia. She is keeping the traditions and cooking techniques of Lunigiana alive down under by producing authentic pattona, using chestnut flour imported from Lunigiana.