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Happy St. Joseph’s Day! I know I have posted this holiday for many years and for all the new members I will repost the history of St. Joseph’s Day before I share some food items and recipes…..
In Italy, St Joseph’s Day is considered the same as our “Father’s Day”
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 that saved the population from starvation and that is always part of the Saint Joseph day dinner.
Some people keep painted fava beans as a good luck charm.
When I was a child, 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 loaves of bread, 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.
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 sawdust 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 traditional pasta is Mafaldine pasta; this looks like thin strips of lasagna noodles with curly edges). Sicilians usually make the dish with sardines (Pasta con Sarde) instead of anchovies.
This is a photo of my pasta dish today for Saint Joseph’s Day.
Bucatini with olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and parsley- a tradition and a favorite in my home, delicious.
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 crusty loaf of bread flavored with anise- so delicious.
This year I tried my hand at bread making and here is my version of St. Joseph’s Day bread….
Bob loved it and said it was better than the bakery, but I would have liked a little more anise flavor so I think next time I will add double the anise seeds….
And now back to the pastries. They are called zeppole or sfingi di San Guiseppe and I am sure you have all seen them. Zeppole has vanilla custard filling and sfingi are filled with ricotta, which is the same filling used for cannoli.
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 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.
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 other’s company and a great meal together.
I am not making the traditional minestrone soup this year but I am making bucatini pasta with garlic, olive oil and anchovies, and toasted breadcrumbs. Plus I am trying my hand at making the traditional St Joseph’s bread. I usually go to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to all the Italian bakeries but this year I won’t be able to get there so wish me luck!
Below are the recipes I am using this year. Have a blessed and joyful St. Joseph’s Day!
Toasted Fresh Bread Crumbs
Warm 2 tablespoon olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add 1- 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 too much cheese.
Bucatini with Anchovies and Breadcrumbs
12 anchovy fillets in olive oil, finely chopped with the oil from the can (small can- 2 oz.)….for a stronger anchovy flavor add two cans.
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound bucatini
1/2 cup olive oil + 3 TBSP
4-6 large garlic cloves, sliced and divided
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 and 1/3 cup toasted fresh breadcrumbs (1 cup for sauce * 1/3 cup for garnish)
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve pasta water.
In a small skillet, add 3 TBSP of olive oil and approximately 3 cloves of sliced garlic and warm at a very low temperature (you want to flavor the oil)
While the pasta is cooking, heat ½ cup of the olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat
Add 3 cloves of sliced garlic, red pepper flakes, and the finely chopped anchovies.
Cook, stirring until the anchovies dissolve. (Be careful of splatters)
Remove from the heat.
Add 1 cup of toasted breadcrumbs and stir for 1 minute to combine the oil and breadcrumbs
Add 3 ladles of pasta water to make a sauce
Return to the heat on low and stir in the parsley
Add the drained cooked pasta to the pot with the anchovy sauce. Toss until the strands are well coated
Slowly add the warm garlic oil with sliced garlic and mix well.
Season with salt & pepper
Transfer the pasta to individual serving bowls.
Top each serving with a sprinkling of the reserved breadcrumbs and grated cheese.
St Joseph Bread
(Makes 1 loaf – approx. 18-inches in length)
2/3 cup warm milk, 105 – 115 degrees F.
1 (1/4-ounce) package dry active yeast
3 cups bread flour, divided
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon anise seed or 1 teaspoon anise extract ( I use both for a strong anise flavor)
Egg wash: 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water
Stir the yeast into the warm milk and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add 1 cup of flour, sugar, salt, and melted butter. Beat the mixture with the paddle attachment for 2 minutes. Add the eggs, anise seed or extract, and another cup of flour. Beat for 2 more minutes.
Change from the paddle attachment to a dough hook. Add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough starts to come together. You may not need to add all of the flour. Then allow the dough hook to knead the dough on medium for 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Punch the dough down and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 20 – 22-inch rope. Place the 2 ropes on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Loosely twist the ropes together, tucking the ends under. Cover and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 – 40 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Brush the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
And a bonus recipe for St. Joseph’s pastry
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 into 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 filling.
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 fillings 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 confectioners’ sugar.
Until my next post, make every day a celebration!
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