Tuscan Chestnut Crepes with Ricotta (Necci)

By • June 3, 2011 • 14 Comments

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Author Notes: The humble Necci is a sort of crepe made with chestnut flour, eaten plain or warm with a dollop of fresh sheep’s milk ricotta cheese. The recipe comes from the forest-filled Tuscan region of the Garfagnana, near Lucca, where chestnuts have been a traditional staple for centuries.

Chestnut flour is gluten-free and also has a naturally low moisture content, which means it keeps well. It has a naturally sweet taste and falls apart easily when cooked, so is often mixed with other flours or olive oil to help hold it together.

There is something very medieval about making Necci the traditional way. To start with, you need a good fireplace with a roaring fire and glowing coals and a pair of cast-iron "testi" – two flat, heavy iron plates, about 25 cm in diameter, with long flat handles. Nothing says “Medieval” like cast-iron.

What’s unusual about these necci is that rather than spread the batter and flip it like a pancake, the batter is spooned onto the lightly greased "testo" and is spread and flattened by placing the other testo on top. With both hands, the testi simply get flipped over the fire together until both sides are cooked evenly. The necci are then piled between chestnut leaves until the batch is ready to eat.

The simple batter – water and flour – is traditionally eaten alone or with some ricotta, but it also lends itself well to savory fillings of prosciutto and cheese, or sweet fillings such as nutella. My personal favourite is a bit of ricotta and a drizzle of chestnut honey. But you can be inventive...

The recipe couldn’t be simpler but it’s the flipping that’s tricky if you don’t happen have a pair of testi handy. While the traditional recipe calls only for chestnut flour and some tap water to make a slightly thick batter (thicker than crepe batter), I find that if you’re going to make it on a regular pan and attempt to flip it over, you’ll need to add a little olive oil to the mixture to stop it from simply falling apart as soon as you touch it. Greasing in between each neccio really helps too.

As with most street food, it always seems to taste better when you're standing on the street eating it, so where I go to get my Necci fix in Florence where I live is the Santo Spirito market, the 2nd Sunday of the month. The elderly couple that still prepare Necci the traditional way and cook them on the spot with cast-iron testi seem like a postcard from another era. And for 2.50 euro each with fresh ricotta, it’s a snack I never pass up when I see it. - Emiko
Emiko

Food52 Review: This sweet, nutty, slightly funky crepe couldn't be easier to make (the batter has only 3 ingredients) and, filled with ricotta and drizzled with chestnut honey (or whatever honey, really), it makes for a delicious -- and gluten-free -- breakfast or dessert.

Note: If your batter is so thick it's misbehaving, shoot for Emiko's helpful visual description (it should be slightly thicker than crepe batter). - kristen miglore
Kristen Miglore

Serves 2 greedy people

  • 9 ounces Chestnut flour (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • olive oil for greasing
  • a tablespoon of ricotta for each neccio
  • a drizzle of chesnut honey (optional)
  1. In a large bowl, mix the flour with enough water to get a smooth, dense batter, slightly thicker than crepe batter. Add olive oil and a pinch of salt and mix again. Heat and lightly oil a frying pan. Add a couple of spoonfuls of the batter to the pan and tilt slightly to evenly coat the pan (note that this batter does not move as fluidly as crepe batter).
  2. Cook for about 2 minutes or until you see that the top of the batter looks dry. Loosen with a spatula, flip over and cook the other side for one minute. Set aside and keep warm. They can be eaten plain, as is, or try them with a spoonful of fresh ricotta spread on each, roll them up and serve drizzled with honey.
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over 1 year ago CandC

We tried this recipe and Mario Batali's "easier," modernized version with eggs and milk in it, and this recipe won, as traditional recipes often do. It had more chestnut flavor.

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over 1 year ago Emiko

So good to hear! :) Eggs and milk are not only unnecessary but they change the dish entirely, they're no longer "necci"!

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over 3 years ago aejinseo

Where can one buy chestnut flour in NYC? Whole Foods and Eataly don't carry it...

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over 3 years ago Emiko

That's surprising that neither of those places carries it! I have heard you can get it at Di Palo Dairy on the corner of Mott st and Grand st in Little Italy: http://www.dipaloselects... Good luck! :)

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over 3 years ago Midge

I can only imagine how delicious these are!

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over 3 years ago EmilyC

These look and sound divine. I have all of these ingredients on hand, so I'll be making these soon!

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over 3 years ago Emiko

Great! Let me know how they turn out; chestnut flour can be tricky because there's no gluten and it tends to fall apart easily when cooked. If you like, you can try the trick mentioned of adding a bit of olive oil, which is pretty standard practice here, or you can *cheat* (just a little!) by substituting a small amount of the chestnut flour with some regular white flour (sacrilegious but it helps!) :)

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over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

These look and sound terrific! Really makes me want to go to Florence (as if I didn't anyway!).

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over 3 years ago Emiko

haha, thanks. If you ask me, it's worth the trip just for some of these necci made properly in the piazza and eaten on the steps of the church of Santo Spirito :)

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over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

I love your head note! It really takes me right to Italy. Wonderful recipe.

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over 3 years ago Emiko

Thank you!

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over 3 years ago VanessaS

This looks amazing!

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over 3 years ago nogaga

It really does!

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over 3 years ago enbe

This sounds so good!