Assisi Carnevale: Castagnole, Brighelle, Frappe’, Zeppole, Panzerotti
The names of Assisi’s traditional Carnevale sweets are a whimsical, playful symphony to the ear: castagnole, brighelle, frappe’, zeppole, panzerotti. Savoring them is poetry to the palate.
You’ll find them at the two locations of Assisi’s Pasticceria/Bar Sensi from January 17th to martedì grasso (or “Fat Tuesday,” i.e., the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent), Italy’s Carnevale (Mardi Gras). During Carnevale, pleasurable indulgences precede the period of penance, Lent: ballroom dancing on week-ends, often following a feast – especially in the rural areas – and rich Carnevale sweets for many a dessert or in the morning with espresso.
Ballroom dancing, always a part of Carnevale
On a cold, misty February Sunday morning, I dropped in at the small Pasticceria/Bar Sensi in Via Fontebella where Bibi Sensi and staff were in the pasticceria (“bakery”), just behind the bar, frying the castagnole, filling the brighelle with crema chantilly and drizzling castagnole with alchermes (a red liqueur of spices, rosewater, and anice of Persian origin) and honey. I remember years ago when Bibi’s hard-working parents, Orlando and Stella, did the baking with their young sons, Bibi and his brother Lucio, often helping out after school and on weekends.
Bibi’s uncle, Zio Gianni, still pitches in now and then and he was there frying le castagnole, telling me with a smile, “I’m retired now from refinishing furniture and I do this for fun. My hands are tempered so even splattering oil doesn’t bother me.” And as Bibi lifted four castagnole out of the oil, he warned, “But working with four is tricky; you have to be careful.”
“Now try one, Anna!”, Bibi urged, holding out a castagnola. (The taste? Like a rich cake doughnut – but better!)
At a table near Bibi, the Moroccan pastry assistant, Ottman, drizzled some castagnole with alchermes, rolled others in honey, and dipped yet other castagnole in honey after drizzling with the red liqueur.
Ottman fills the delicate small fritters, le brighelle, too. The filling? A decadent crema chantilly (pastry cream and whipped cream). Larger fritters, le zeppole, are filled with French yellow pastry cream and rum.
After my visit at the bakery, I stopped in at the main Pasticceria/Bar Sensi on Corso Mazzini where Bibi’s, brother Lucio was just unloading pastries from their bakery van, including huge zeppole oozing pastry cream.
…..and alchermes-drenched castagnole, too:
And if you’re here during Carnevale time, be sure to try those huge sweet “ravioli”, i panzerotti, stuffed with ricottta and alchermes with the red liqueur drizzled on top of some, too, while others are left plain. Bibi had insisted on sending a couple home with me to share with Pino. Squisito! Buonissimo! (Mille grazie, Bibi).
The simplest of all the Carnevale sweets? Probably the frappe’, delicately-fried ribbons of dough – and with ancient origins, dating back to the Roman Empire when they were called “frictilia.”
February can be inviting in Assisi: few tourists. And if there might be gray chilly days, just head to Pasticceria/Bar Sensi for those cheery Carnevale sweets.
Bar Sensi, Corso Mazzini
Read about Carnevale origins, rural Carnevale traditions – and how Peppa makes castagnole
Read about ballroom dancing – at Carnevale (and not only)
Click here for more recipes
Read about the local bar/cafe’ as the center of town life
Read about a family group’s “favorite day in Italy”