ll Cibo é L'essenza Della Vita....

"The rooms that you use on a daily basis are the rooms people will always want to sit in, because they have soul." --Bunny Williams


"If you want to live forever and ever, drink wine and eat maccheroni." ~~~Sicilian Proverb

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Viva la Tavola di San Giuseppe!"- A St. Joseph's Foodie Friday

 The view from the terrace of Frances Mayes' Bramasole   

   When I was born, my parents named me Patrizia.  As you might imagine, the Rs and Zs don't roll as easily off the American tongue, and I almost immediately became "Pattie" much to my mother's chagrin. The decision to name me Patrizia actually caused a bit of a stir in the close-knit Italian circles tin which my family existed. Tradition- which is VERY important in a Sicilian family (my paternal side)- says that the first son is named after the paternal grandfather, the first daughter after the paternal grandmother, second son after the maternal grandfather, second daughter after the maternal grandmother, third son after the father, third daughter after the mother- and THEN, and only then, are the parents allowed to name their child some weird and wacky name. 

Like Patrizia

       My parents jumped the gun a bit. My mother was from Northern Italy, had no idea of these traditions and simply knew that all her life she had loved the name Patrizia. And she had no intention of having 6 children. 

She left that to me

       Now, Patrizia WASN'T my Grandma's name. Her name was Giuseppina (thanks Mom!). She was Peppina to her sisters and Josie to the rest of the world.
        There were actually people in the neighborhood who refused to call me by name, but insisted on referring to me as Peppina. They thought my mother had committed a grave offense and disrespected my grandmother in a blatant manner. Fortunately, my grandma Josie was a woman ahead of her time. She proclaimed it all ridiculous and said emphatically that Patrizia was the PERFECT name for her grand-daughter.

The end.
Isn't she adorable? Grandma Josie dancing with my Dad

However, this tradition explains why in any given Sicilian family, you tend to have 13 Franks, 11 Vinnies,  and 23 Joes. 

My father was the third son and consequently is named after my Grandpa Giuseppe, which means he's Joe Jr. 

My Grandpa Joe

              It also means that St. Joseph's Day is extra special in our house as we have many many Josephs in our family (see above).
  In Italy, March 19th is the day we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph. There are many traditions associated with "La Festa di San Giuseppe" and, of course, many of them revolve around food. Here's a little history I found on the wonderful world wide web:

Many Italian St. Joseph's Day traditions stem from the middle ages. During a famine in Sicily, when food was scarce and many people were starving, the poor people had only their faith to rely on. St. Joseph was known as the protector of the Holy Family; thus, Italians with strong family relationships prayed for St. Joseph to intercede for them, in an effort to ensure successful crops. Their prayers were answered, and the famine came to an end. In gratitude, people promised to make annual offerings of their most precious possession – food – in St. Joseph's honor.
Those who visit a St. Joseph's table, often receive gifts of fava beans and breads. Fava beans play an integral part of the celebration because this was the food that saved the Sicilians from starvation. The bean is said to bring good luck, and it is believed that if the St. Joseph's bread is kept in the home, the family will never starve.
Today, after Mass  a big altar ("la tavola di San Giuseppe" or "St. Joseph's Table") is laden with food contributed by everyone in the village. Different Italian regions celebrate this day differently, but all involve special meatless foods: minestrone, pasta with breadcrumbs (the breadcrumbs symbolize the sawdust that would have covered St. Joseph's floor), seafood, Sfinge di San Giuseppe, and fava beans, which are considered "lucky" because during the drought, the fava thrived while other crops failed . 
The cry "Viva la tavola di San Giuseppe!" begins the feasting and is heard throughout the day. When the eating is done, the St. Joseph's altar is smashed, and then three children dressed as the Holy Family will knock on three doors, asking for shelter. They will be refused at the first two, and welcomed at the third, in memory of the Holy Family's seeking of hospitality just before Christ was born. This re-enactment is called "Tupa Tupa," meaning "Knock Knock."
            In our family, my Grandma Josie always made pasta with breadcrumbs and ground walnuts (to symbolize sawdust), she always made sure there were Sfinge di San Giuseppe (a pastry resembling cream puffs made of a choux paste and filled with a rich, thick crema), and of course, there was always bread, usually from my Uncle Mike's bakery. As I got older, it was my job to help grind the walnuts and fry the garlicky breadcrumbs. Tomorrow, I will be making this same meal for my father.
And we will be wearing red!

Another little tidbit about St. Joseph's:
     A most fascinating and beautiful thing that happens today is the return of the cliff swallows  to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano in San Juan Capistrano, California. The mission -- one of the oldest buildings in California, and a part of a string of 21 missions that line California's coast -- was founded on 1 November 1776, the Feast of All Saints, by the Franciscan priest, Junipero Serra, in honor of St. John Capistrano. It was begun the year before, with members of a friendly Indian tribe helping to build, but when word came that the Mission of San Diego was attacked by an unfriendly Indian tribe, the bells were buried and everyone took shelter until building could continue.   When the mission was finally completed, a small town grew up around it, and this is where the legend of the swallows -- "las golondrinas" -- begins. It is said that one of the priests noticed a storekeeper in town angrily sweeping down the swallows’ nests and chasing away the "dirty birds." The priest, being a Franciscan, of course invited the poor little birds to the Mission where there was "room for all." The birds, sensing the spirit of St. Francis around the place, followed and have remained loyal to the Mission ever since. No matter the origins of the story, the fact is that each year on 23 October, the swallows fly south for 7,500 miles to Goya, Argentina. There they winter until the end of February when they make their way home, arriving back at the Mission of Capistrano on St. Joseph's Day, where they are greeted with the ringing of church bells and great festivities.
Our St. Joseph's Bread

Heads up here- I am not putting amounts on this recipe because, to be honest, it's never measured- it's all to taste

La Pasta di San Giuseppe

I pound spaghetti- boil water and be sure to use plenty of salt
fresh bread crumbs (I crumb some crusty Italian bread in a food processor)
a bag of walnut pieces, ground in my mini chopper
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
olive oil
a handful of fresh Parsley, minced
2 flat anchovies, mashed in my mortar and pestle

While the pasta is cooking, toast the bread crumbs in some olive oil in a heavy skillet with the garlic. When they start to turn golden, stir in the mashed anchovies and incorporate. toast till deep gold, but do not burn. Remove to a bowl and toast the ground walnuts in the dry skillet. Warm some olive oil with a bit of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. When pasta is cooked, drain and reserve a cup or so of the pasta water. Toss pasta with olive oil and pasta water. Toss in bread crumbs, ground walnuts, and parsley. Add more olive oil as needed and top with shredded Parmesan. May also be topped with finely grated lemon zest


Sfinge di San Giuseppe (also known as St. Joseph's Zeppole)
1 cup water 
1/3 cup unsalted butter 
1 TBSP sugar 
Grated rind of 1 lemon 
Pinch of salt 
1 cup sifted flour 
4 large eggs, at room temperature 
1 TBSP Cognac  
Put water, butter, granulated sugar, lemon rind, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, and as soon as the butter has melted, remove from heat. Add the flour all at once, stirring constantly and with vigor. 
Return the pan to the heat, and stir constantly until the mixture forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the pan. Cook just a little longer, until you hear a slight crackling, frying sound. Remove the pan from the heat, and cool slightly. 
Add the eggs, one at a time. Be sure that each egg is thoroughly blended into the mixture before you add the next. Stir until smooth and thoroughly blended . Add the Cognac or vanilla. Cover the dough and let it stand for 15 to 20 minutes. 
Preheat the oven to 400º F. 
Pipe the dough in concentric circles with a large star tip,  leaving 2 inches between the sfinge. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven, make a small slit in the top with the point of a sharp knife and cool. Cut off the top and pipe in filling with a large palin tip. Top with a maraschino or glazed cherry
Crema di Pasticceria
(pastry cream)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons cornstarch 
2 1/2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
4 Tablespoons butter
In a small bowl sift together flour and cornstarch, set aside.
In a saucepan on medium heat, combine the milk and the split vanilla bean- scrape the seeds from the bean into the milk; cook till it begins to simmer. Watch carefully so your milk doesn’t scald or you will have a skin on top. If you do notice a skin forming, remove it before you are ready to add it to your egg mixture. Turn heat off. 
Meanwhile, in a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer, beat eggs and sugar together until creamy pale yellow.Add the flour/cornstarch mix and beat till well incorporated and it  is quite thick
Slowly pour hot milk into egg mixture in a very thin stream beating constantly (don't use high speed or it will foam up) to prevent curdling. When incorporated, remove vanilla bean. Return custard to pan you heated the milk in and place on medium heat till mixture begins to thicken and come to a soft boil. Stir constantly and mix from bottom of pan to prevent custard from scalding. When it begins to come to a slow boil time it for another minute or so.. custard will be very thick. Turn off heat. 
Add the 4 tablespoons of butter and mix well. Transfer to a bowl and press plastic wrap onto surface. Cool and refrigerate till cold

Today we are linking to our favorite weekly blog event- Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum. Come join us, won't you?

We're also linking to Family Friday at Terra Del Sole Come and read some fascinating stories!

As Always,

Buon Alimenti, Buon Amici,

Pattie and Allie


  1. As always, I wish I were there! You beat me to it! I'll be posting my recipe in the morning.

  2. Pattie and Allie: That was fun reading about how you were named and the semi-scandal that ensued when you were named Patrizia. I didn't know much about St. Joseph's Day. I will have to try the Zeppole -- heard it mentioned in another blog today. Zeppole sounds yummy (so does the pasta)and it is pretty! Joni

  3. Buona FESTA DI SAN GUISEPPE! for all the St. Patrick/St Patrizia Day's I cooked for you- and made the traditional IRISH food- I hope that some of those Sfingi have been over night mailed and will be waiting for me when I get home tomorrow! No, well as I am working tomorrow, I guess I will be stopping at DiMonda's and pick up about 6,000 calories of goodies-- miss you

  4. I am loving the Zeppole!! The pasta looks wonderful as well:)

  5. I am just loving all of the info I'm picking up about St. Joseph's Day! I had never heard of it before - another great thing about blogging!

    The pasta looks excellent and right up my alley! Thank you so much for sharing these recipes and your stories! I always wondered why there were so many of the same names in Italian families! :-)

  6. You know how to make me smile :) You know...Tony is in a long line of Anthony's and of course we have Lil Tony (LOL)! You have to love tradition! I love the name your mom picked for you and the more I learn about her the more I realize she is so amazing!
    The pasta looks delicious! Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Wonderful story and photos of your family! I didn't realize there were such strict naming traditions! I love your name ;)

    Your pasta dish looks wonderful, and coming from you, it must be very authentic!

  8. The pasta, the stories, the photographs--I love them all. My father's middle name was Joseph!

  9. what a lovely story and you made me was so teh pasta looks to die for and the pastry had me going ooh ooh oooh! you know I cannot resist pretty things/food/ shallow like

    lovely post Patrizia!

  10. Good morning! I loved reading about the naming traditions! I am glad we did not have to follow those rules in our family. Somehow I can't picture myself as a "Blanche" :). I know I would love the pasta with walnuts and anchovies--how could it be anything but good?! Thanks for the beautiful pictures and background on St. Joseph's Day. On the brownies--use a mix with a syrup packet!

  11. Pattie, your stories of "Old Italy" crack me up! The recipes look awesome, but could you maybe just send me some Zeppole, because that looks like it's beyond my capabilities? lol!

  12. What fun to learn more of your family and traditions. I hope you enjoy the day. Blessings...Mary

  13. ces sfings sont magnifiques en plus bien présentés, j'adore
    bonne journée

  14. GREAT blog! Wow. I am so glad I have found it. Keep up the great work!

  15. How awesome! I loved reading this entry. I'm Italian and so is my husband but we grew up very Americanized. I didn't even know about some of the things you covered in this post. I think your name is beautiful and your dishes are beautiful as well! :-)

  16. Une histoire racontée avec beaucoup d'humour.
    j'aime beaucoup.
    Les pâtes sont magnifiques.
    Bonne fête.
    See soon.

  17. Terrific Job! Oh, I just love your posts' and how great to do Foodie Friday and Family Friday. I think they are a great combo. I think I will have to do this too. At least when I know some of the recipes.

    I love the Missions. Have you been to any of them? They are fabulous!

    My husbands family was all from Italy. He spent his summers there when he was a kid. His parents were from Carrara and Parma.

    I was engaged to a different Italian many years ago, and his family was from Southern Italy. I learned to cook Southern and Northern.

  18. Hi Girls!

    Wow, thanks for all that info. I just love reading about your family and the history. I knew a little about St. Joseph (My dad went to school At St. Joseph's in our area).

    I would never have thought to add ground walnuts to pasta. since I have a ton of walnuts, I'm going to have to try this.

    Have a great day and weekend!

  19. Hi Pattie, Such wonderful information! I love learning from you. I am developing an intense love of Italy and all the traditions and beautiful places. I need to take a trip to see it for myself!

    I have not seen a post from Allie in a while tell her I said to have a fun (and safe) weekend.
    Thank you, my friend for the beautiful post!

  20. I am a Patricia but my Italian in laws always called me Patrizia and I loved that variation! My mother-in=law was disappointed I did not name my daughter after her, which was " Nunziata." It would have been so hard to grow up in America with that name so I just couldn't do it!

    I am over the moon happy to have your recipe for Sfinge!! I always buy them at a bakery but I'd love to try to make them! Thanks so much Pattie!!!

  21. hello
    I offer you a price on my blog, come and take it
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  22. I love St. Joseph's Zeppole and have wanted to make it in FOREVER now!

    Gorgeous pasta dish too. Love nuts in any dish and this just hits the spot!

  23. I loved hearing the history and tradition of names. You are a great story teller.

    Those little dessert cups look so good!

  24. Oh how I would love to sit and hear all your family stories.. Will you adopt me? :-)
    You always make the yummyest recipes and display them better than most magazines..
    I so enjoy my visits to your blog.
    thanks for coming to see me and leaving such a sweet comment. I never forget you were the one who encouraged me and told me you were sure I could do, The Blog Thing...
    hugs to you and allie

  25. what a lovely blog you have and thank you for sharing so many wonderful recipes!

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