During the summer months in Tuscany, especially during festival times, it's common to see stalls of vendors selling a variety of sweets. These can be found along streets or in the many beautiful piazze (squares). The stalls are full of croccante (nut brittles), lecca lecca (lollipops), gummy worms and other gummy creatures (caramelle gommose) and a variety of candies (caramelle). Alongside the booth Is found the zucchero filato (cotton candy). In passing these stalls I've also noticed long narrow bags of what looked to me like oversized potato chips. How wrong I was! These are not potato chips at all but something much better and unique to this area - Brigidino di Lamporecchio.
I passed one of these stalls the other day, during a street fair in Borgo Giannotti, a neighborhood outside the walls of Lucca, and I was stopped in my tracks by a fragrant, sweet smell with a hint of anise. When I looked for the source of that wonderful scent I was offered an assaggio (a taste) of a thin, crisp, delicately flavored wafer hot off the griddle-like device on which it was cooked. I quickly realized two things - first, that these were delicious and unlike any other dolce (sweet) that I'd tasted, and second, that these where what I had mistakenly thought resembled potato chips!
The brigidino, of course, comes with a legend. As the story goes, a novice nun of the Order of Santa Brigida adapted the recipe for Communion wafers by adding eggs, sugar, and anise, thereby creating a wonderful sweet cookie wafer. Surely this is not something a novice nun would have done in the 1300s! This order of nuns lived in a convent near Lamporecchio, a small town near Pistoia in Tuscany. More likely, Santa Brigida, who came to Italy from Sweden, brought this recipe with her and introduced the sweet to Italy. I think I like the first version of the story better! Whichever version is closer to the truth, these crisp, anise-flavored cookies are still associated with both the Brigidine (nuns of the Order of St. Brigida) and the town of Lamporecchio and are found at festivals throughout Tuscany.
If you pass a Croccante booth, take a minute to watch the way the brigidini are made (the machine is fascinating), breathe in the wonderful scent, and take a bag to go with you. This is a classic Tuscan taste.
-post by JMB