Once again the month of March is like February, and all the holidays that I prepare a tablescape for are all a few days apart so I decided to showcase them randomly and not on the actual date to spread them apart. Let’s start with Saint Joseph’s Day.
(click on photos to enlarge)
Saint Joseph’s day is March 19th
At the end of this post I have included all the traditional recipes for Saint Joseph’s Day including a recipe for “fig cookies” or Cuccidate from a dear friend, Paula Carbone Gati who has a fantastic facebook page I follow.
Paula’s page is called “Born Again Italian” and it highlights all the old Italian family recipes. Give it a look.
There is no special tablescape that I can prepare for Saint Joseph’s Day unless I make a Saint Joseph’s Day altar and that is a little bit much for a household of two. If there were Saint Joseph’s Day dinnerware, believe me, I would own them. Instead, I use my dishes from Italy.
I am having this meal twice this month. The first time so I can show you a picture of what my holiday meal will look like for Saint Joseph’s Day and then the second time on the actual holiday, March 19th.
Saint Joseph is the patron saint for my family, so instead of a tablescape, I decided to share with you some of my family traditions and customary foods for this special holiday.
Before we start, a little background for Saint Joseph or San Giuseppe that might help you understand the holiday a little better. Saint Joseph was the husband of Mary. It is in Sicily where Saint Joseph is regarded as their patron saint for preventing a famine during the Middle Ages. There was a severe drought and the people prayed to Saint Joseph for rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers and the rain came they would prepare a feast in his honor.
Well, the rain came and the people prepared a large banquet. Legend has it that the fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation and that is always part of the Saint Joseph day dinner.
When I was younger (much younger), on Saint Joseph’s Day my Grandmother would take me to bring food to the Saint Joseph’s Day altar of her local church after Mass. Many of the older generations set up altars in their homes, but we did not. We always wore red to honor Saint Joseph, in the same way that green is worn on Saint Patrick’s Day.
The altars are quite a sight to see and they have 3 tiers to represent the Holy Trinity. The top tier holds the statue of Saint Joseph surrounded by flowers (especially lilies). The reason is that – “The lily is associated with Saint Joseph, spouse of Mary, through an ancient legend that he was chosen from among other men by the blossoming of his staff like a lily”.
The other tiers hold candles, figurines, special breads, pastries, lemons for luck, fava beans, pineapple for hospitality and wine. There is also a basket on the bottom tier where you can place prayer petitions.
Here is a picture I found of of a Saint Joseph’s Day altar just to give you a better idea. Definitely wouldn’t work in my dining room.
In my family, my Grandmother (even though we are not Sicilian) believed deeply that praying to Saint Joseph would protect her family and she bought all her grandchildren, at a very young age, a statue of Saint Joseph. This is a photo of mine that I proudly display in my bedroom today. It is over 50 years old. In fact, my son’s middle name is Joseph to honor Saint Joseph.
In addition to the celebration of Saint Joseph’s Day, I have always enjoyed the FOOD for Saint Joseph’s Day. Many of you know this day only by the pastry (zeppole or sfinge di San Giuseppe) but we had a fantastic meal before the pastry.
(There were no words to describe how fantastic these pastries were today)
Purchased at Alpine Bakery- Smithtown, NY
My family would make the pilgrimage each year to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx because we wouldn’t run the risk of buying ingredients at a local grocery store and be disappointed. No, ingredients had to be Italian and imported. No questions asked.
If you ever have the chance to visit Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, NY you will be thrilled. The food is so fresh and it is like stepping back in time with the mom and pop shops. But Arthur Avenue isn’t just shops, it’s restaurants as well and the food is fabulous. A real Little Italy.
Different regions celebrate Saint Joseph’s Day differently but all involve meatless foods (because this holiday always falls during Lent), minestrone soup and pasta with breadcrumbs (The breadcrumbs represent saw dust since Saint Joseph was a carpenter), seafood, and fava beans for luck and for dessert, the star of the show, zeppole and sfinge di San Giuseppe.
Here is a picture of my minestrone soup
In my family, we made minestrone soup followed by bucatini with anchovies and breadcrumbs. (For those of you who are not familiar, bucatini is basically a larger spaghetti with a hole inside. Another pasta that is traditional is mafaldine; this looks like thin strips of lasagna noodles). Sicilians usually make the dish with sardines (Pasta con Sarde) instead of the anchovies.
Here is a picture of my bucatini with breadcrumbs
The Saint Joseph’s Day bread was another special part of the meal and my Dad would buy the bread and have it blessed before he brought it home. It is a round crusty loaf scored with a cross.
And now back to the pastries. They are called zeppole or sfinge di San Guiseppe and I am sure you have all seen them. It’s a sweet dough like a big cream puff split and filled. They can be filled two ways. One with cannoli cream with tiny chocolate chips and candied fruit and also with custard cream; both topped with powdered sugar and a cherry and both delicious. Every year I always have to have one with each filling.
A fine tradition I passed along to my son.
A lot of the old traditions unfortunately are not practiced as much today. Grandparents and parents have passed on and lives have become much busier, but I try to keep as many traditions going in my family as I can. I do make the bucatini with anchovies and the minestrone soup, but I buy my pastries because baking is just not my thing. (I have included the recipe at the bottom of the post, in case you want to take the baking challenge). I personally don’t make the fava beans for this holiday either, but I wanted to mention it again because it stands for “good luck” in case you wanted to include them on your menu.
All in all this holiday brings back great memories for me when I was younger and my family was still here with me, enjoying each others company and a great meal together.
Here is a picture of me (I am the toddler) with my parents, grandmother and two older sisters. All of my family have passed on now and all are missed every day. I keep the traditions alive to honor them; and thank them for all they have taught me about traditions and being proud of my heritage.
(click on photos to enlarge)
I don’t have many photos for this holiday but at the bottom of this post, I will leave you with some traditional recipes if you want to celebrate St Joseph’s Day with your family.
It has been my pleasure to share my traditions with you for this special day. I hope this post gave a few of you some inspiration to try some new Saint Joseph’s Day holiday recipes.
Until my next post, stay well and make every day a celebration!
Saint Joseph’s Day is also the birthday of my dear friend Sue Tetonic.
Happy Birthday Sue!
Toasted Fresh Bread Crumbs
Warm 2 tablespoon olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add 3/4
cup of fresh breadcrumbs and stir to coat with oil. Cook, stirring constantly,
until the crumbs are golden brown and crunchy, about 5 minutes. I add a little grated cheese
to the breadcrumbs as well. You can never have to much cheese.
Bucatini with Anchovies and Breadcrumbs
12 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained and finely chopped (small can- 2 oz.)
1 pound bucatini
1/2 cup olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, minced
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2/3 cup toasted fresh breadcrumbs
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve some pasta water.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat
Add the garlic, red pepper, and finely chopped anchovies. Cook, stirring
until the anchovies dissolve. Remove the skillet from the heat.
Stir in the parsley
Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the
skillet with the anchovy sauce. Toss until the strands are well coated. Add
some of the reserved pasta water if the mixture seems too dry. Set aside 2
tablespoons of the toasted bread crumbs. Add the remaining crumbs to the
skillet and toss the pasta again. Transfer the pasta to individual serving bowls.
Top each serving with a sprinkling of the reserved bread crumbs.
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup onion, finely chopped
½ cup celery, with leaves, chopped
1 carrot, sliced thin
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 (28 oz.) can of whole tomatoes, with juice
1 large can of cannellini beans
5 cups of beef or vegetable stock
½ cup flat parsley, finely chopped
1- 2 cups finely sliced, then roughly chopped spinach
2 zucchini, unpeeled and cut into little cubes
½ cup small pasta (like ditalini)
Freshly grated Parmesan or Locatelli cheese
1 tsp. dried basil (optional)
1 tsp. dried oregano (optional)
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
Sauté the onion, carrot and celery in the olive oil until soft. Toss in the garlic and stir for another minute.
Cut up the tomatoes and add them to the pot and cook down for 15 minutes.
Stir in the beef or vegetable stock and the bay leaf and beans and bring to a boil. Add half the parsley, dried oregano, dried basil, pinch of red pepper and lower the heat and cook for about 30 minutes
Add the spinach, zucchini and pasta and cook at a gentle boil until the pasta is tender. * If you are not serving the soup immediately, make the pasta separately and add to the soup when serving otherwise the pasta will absorb all the soup if left in the pot to sit.
When ready to serve, stir in the rest of the parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and serve with the crusty bread and topped with grated cheese
(I do not remember who gave me this recipe).
1 lb. dried fava beans
1 bunch green onions
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Cook dried fava beans in boiling water until tender, adding more water as needed. Sauté seasonings in olive oil ’til tender, then add to beans. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in soup bowls.
Zeppole di San Giuseppe
(Makes about 12 (2-1/2-inch) zeppoles
1 cup water
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup whole milk
2 egg yolks
1/2 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream, whipped
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
To make the pastry:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter, sugar, and salt. Bring to a
boil. Remove from heat. With a wooden spoon, beat in flour all at once.
Return to low heat. Continue beating until mixture forms a ball and leaves
side of pan. Remove from heat. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating hard
after each addition until smooth. Continue beating until dough is satiny and
breaks in strands. Allow the mixture to cool.
Transfer the dough to a pastry bag with a large star tip. For each pastry,
pipe a 2-1/2 -inch spiral with a raised outer wall on the baking sheet. Bake
for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove and allow to cool before
To make the filling:
Combine sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. In a bowl, whisk together
milk and egg yolks Whisk milk mixture into sugar mixture. Place the
saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking
constantly. Boil for 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in rum, orange zest,
and vanilla. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl. Place a piece of plastic
wrap directly on the surface. Allow to cool for 30 minutes and then
refrigerate until cold. Fold in the whipped cream.
To assemble the zeppole:
Cut the pastries in half horizontally. Transfer the filling mixture to a pastry
bag with a star tip. Pipe some of the filling onto the cut side of the bottom
half of each pastry. Place the top half of the pastry on the filling.
Pipe a small amount of the filling into the hole in the center of each pastry.
Place a maraschino cherry in the middle. Dust the pastries with
Fig Cookies (Cuccidate)
Courtesy of Paula Carbone Gati from facebook page- Born Again Italian
4 cups of flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups of butter, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup of Crisco, cold and broken into small pieces
1/2 cup of milk
2 tsp vanilla
One 12 oz pkg of dried figs, I use either mission or calimyrna
1/2 cup almonds… chopped,,,not to fine,,,more on the course side
1/2 cup of dates -no pits
1/2 cup of raisins
1/3 cup of honey
1/4 cup of orange marmalade
1/4 cup whiskey
1 tsp of good cinnamon
4 cups confectionary sugar
a few table spoons of milk
In stand mixer…mix all dry ingredients, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt set aside….to this add butter pieces little at a time, then cold Crisco, then have all wet ingredients mixed and slowly add this to the flour until a nice smooth dough forms…after the dough comes together..put on table and knead a few minutes till the dough is smooth, add more flour if necessary… make a smooth ball and cover in saran and refrigerate …while you prepare filling
I double this recipe..because I make a big batch and for the amount of work that goes into this its best to do it at once…it makes approx 5 doz cookies for this recipe…. which is a good amount..but you can freeze these cookies..I usually pack 6 at a time in a Ziploc then put in glad ware container and take out as needed..they freeze really good.
I remove the dried stems from the figs, and put all the dried fruits through the meat grinder
when all the fruit is ground up I add the rest of ingredients,,, and mix really well…I usually let this sit over night for all the flavors to really marry.
Start the assembly…taking a piece of dough at a time roll out to make approx a 3 inch by 12 inch rectangle..cut with knife to square off…then take the fig filling and make a log approx 12 inches long….place this log onto the rectangle of dough and roll and have seam side down….cut approx 1 1/2 inch pieces and place on parchment lined cookie sheets…..350 degree oven for approx 15 minutes, till bottoms are slightly golden…
Make icing and after cookies are cool….spread a little icing onto each little bundle and sprinkle with some nonpareils…