To appreciate the opera composer Giacomo Puccini, born in Lucca in 1858, you need your hearing sense, but I will reveal to you that you could get to know him better using even your tasting sense.
Exactly, because he was a “buongustaio” which means a food lover, a foodie or as his Bohème club rulebook says:
- The members of the Bohème Club are loyal representatives of the Club spirit and they swear to drink and eat even better.
- Sad, boring, weak stomachs, poor souls, fussy, and other miserable people are not admitted and they will be thrown out with fury!
However, the Maestro also loved to cook, too.
When he was in Milan as a young student at the conservatory, sharing a room with Pietro Mascagni, despite not having enough money and the lack of the delicious extra virgin olive oil from Lucca, he made the most of ingredients available, inventing recipes such as: pasta with eel or the herring with radishes.
Actually, even later on, when he was a successful composer, he kept cooking for his friends, after a hunting session on the lake: pheasant, coot (folaga), and partridge were served.
So, here is a list of small bites dedicated to the Maestro that you can find in the local stores.
Furthermore, in some historical restaurants, you can try one of his favorite dishes ever or you could try to make it at home, but you will need a specific glass flask!
Panpuccini at Taddeucci
This is so easy to find as Panpuccini is made at Taddeucci pastry shop just right in the center of Lucca, in Piazza San Michele.
This family-run store has been pleasing the local palates since 1881 and even the VIPs like Prince Charles and Pope John Paul II have tasted their Buccellato, the traditional sweet bread with raisins and anise seeds.
But, less known is this other bread: Panpuccini. It was made on request as the family had many fig trees at their countryside house in Celle.
An old, balanced recipe combining the best Pisan pinenuts, dried figs, and raisins soaked in honey and in the sweet Holy wine. The cake is quite small and it is usually nicely wrapped, so it might be a great idea as a gift for your foodie friends back home!
Giacomini at Pinelli
You do not have to walk far away to taste the Giacomini: small almond and chocolate chips biscotti (cookies) invented a few years ago to celebrate the opera composer, I hope I will have the chance to tell you during a tour that Puccini has been rediscovered by the city and almost pulled out of the oblivion.
Anyway, besides this gossip, a visit to Pinelli is a must-do during your stay in Lucca.
Just because it is such a classic kind of Italian pastry shop, maybe you may think it is a little bit old school: the furniture, the display of sweets and cakes, this tiny bar counter where you are always in the middle, but it just feels like home to me.
Puccini ice cream flavor at Santini gelateria
Still something sweet in the name of the Maestro. In this case, you can taste a couple of scoops of Puccini cream made with eggnog, egg custard, and caramelized hazelnuts just in front of the statue and the house-museum.
You might happen to be here during a summer evening for the Puccini Postcards. Once a month, this cute little square becomes a stage for singers and musicians and they perform the most famous arias.
I do not need to add that the Santini gelateria is an institution for the Lucchese people. Ask for their whipped cream and chocolate and you will not be disappointed!
Beans in the flask – an all-time favorite
I am sure it has happened to you, too: to be traveling or just away from your place and you start craving for that homemade comfort food… so this is what Puccini writes in a letter to his mum, while he is in Milan in 1880:
“I know you can not spend money, but this is such a small favor I am asking you, as I would really love to eat beans.”
Giacomo had someone that cooked beans for him, but he could not eat them as they were dressed with sesame or linen oil…
Anyway, the beans cooked in the flask are the ideal side order for a steak and they are simply served with extra virgin olive oil and black pepper.
If you like to try the recipe, you will need, first of all, a glass flask like this one. I am sure you will see this flask in some homeware store in the city.
The beans need to be soaked in water overnight and then you can put them in the flask with sage, garlic, oil, and water so that they will be completely immersed. Ideally, you will then cook them in a firewood oven, but the gas stove is fine.
Apparently, Puccini used to visit his sister in the local convent, because the nuns made the best beans in the flask!
However, this and other recipes have been collected also in a book.
Then you can just ask me to sample some Giacomini, Crema ice cream, or the bread during a food tour!