Dear Friends of Casa Belvedere:
Let’s turn off the news and take a pause while I take you down memory lane and stop at some fond, nostalgic memories.....
Whether you’re of Italian origin or not, if you grew up in an Italian neighborhood, you know that Italians have lots of traditions, favorite dishes and coveted recipes for every special occasion, birthday, holiday, Saints Day, etc.
Well tomorrow, March 19th, is the
Feast of Saint Joseph
, as in "Jesus, Mary and....”.
There’s not a whole lot known about St. Joseph, he’s the strong, silent type in the New Testament, revered for being dutiful, hardworking and dedicated to his family.
The carpenter, noble spirited, putative father of Jesus has since become a figurehead for fatherhood and is celebrated in Italy as Father’s Day. His Feast-day is marked by a variety of folkloristic traditions and food, of course, plays an important part of the day all over the country!
One of the most popular traditions of St Joseph Day practice is to set the ‘Tavola di San Giuseppe’, or the ‘Table of Saint Joseph’. It is customary to set the table on the evening of March 18th with pasta, vegetables, fresh fish, eggs, pastries, fruit and wine and to invite the poor into your home to eat.
Since the day falls during Lent, the dishes are all meatless (at least by the Catholic definition, which doesn't count fish as meat). Though the dishes vary from region to region, they often include fava beans, which were one of the few crops that flourished during the drought, breadcrumbs to represent sawdust (Joseph taught Jesus the carpenter's trade), and various breads and pastas. “Pasta con Sarde” being one of the most popular.
Also, St Joseph’s day has a strong significance for Sicilians who attribute help from St. Joseph for saving them from a serious drought in the Middle Ages. Sicilians set up their “St. Joseph's table” more like altars laden with special foods, flowers and devotional objects to give thanks for the help the Saint gave during the drought, and for individual prayers the celebrants believe he has answered, such as bringing a loved one home from war.
The second most celebrated St Joseph’s day tradition is the special pastry that emerges a couple of weeks before the feast day and then disappears afterwards.....The “Zeppole di San Giuseppe”. And, surprise, surprise, every region in Italy has a variant of the recipe.
If in Salento, Apulia, Zeppole are traditionally fried in lard, and made with water, lard, salt, flour, grated lemons and eggs, in Reggio Calabria ricotta cheese and cinnamon is added too, and they are shaped differently.
In Rome they call them Bigne’ and you’ll see them served plain with only a dusting of sugar. While in Naples they are filled with vanilla cream or custard and they call them “Zeppoli”.
The Sicilian version is a fluffy batter that’s squeezed through a pastry tube into a circle, fried in oil, then filled with sweet ricotta cream cheese before getting a generous dusting of confectioners’ sugar and a cherry on top. Those are called “Sfinge di San Giuseppe”
If you take the time to make any of these region-specific, St Joseph’s pastries, you will surely agree that these pastries are nothing short of heavenly. Or get yourself to Arthur Ave in the Bronx for an authentic taste of each of the pastries.