Wednesday, March 18, 2009


You know about St. Patrick's Day, but do you know about St. Joseph's Day?

This feast day is as important to Italians as St. Paddy's is to the Irish. In Italy, and in neighborhoods with a population of Italian Americans, people celebrate the patron saint of Sicily. There won't be any green beer, but there are special pastas, fish, sweets, baked breads, and fava beans. Some Italian Catholics will prepare a St. Joseph's table, or Tavole di San Giuseppe, and provide a feast spread that is open to all. Special groups such as orphans, the elderly and the homeless are invited to attend. This is a day to remember the poor, so there will be no meat, and instead of cheese breadcrumbs are sprinkled over pasta. These traditions go back to the middle ages, when much of Sicily was wiped out by a famine. It is said that the humble fava bean helped them survive, and to this day favas will be included in the feast of St. Joseph.


And of course zeppole. Don't forget the zeppole. A zeppola (plural zeppole, in southern dialects zeppoli) or St. Joseph's Day cake, also called sfinge and in Rome Bigne di San Giuseppe, is a delicious little fried pastry. They sell them on the streets of Rome, Naples, and Sicily. Sometimes they're filled with crema or custard. (Read about them here)

Italians in New Orleans celebrate St. Joseph's Day:

Like the Irish and St. Patrick's Day, this is a day for Italians to take pride in their culture and heritage. Even if you're not Italian, have something Italian today. Have a slice of pizza (invented in Naples) or some pasta (invented by the Romans) with a nice glass of chianti, or have a caffe latte (you guessed it) or maybe an ice cream (gelato was first created by the Sicilian-born Procopio dei Coltelli back to the 16th century). Won't you join me?

The Holy Trinity: Italian bread, Italian wine, and some extra virgin olive oil.

Oh, and use a fork. Knives go back to prehistoric times, but Catherine di Medici brought the first fork to France in 1533 when she married the future King Henry II. The French were slow to warm to the idea. She also influenced their cooking to a great degree by bringing a sophisticated palate and cuisine from Italy.

An Englishman named Thomas Coryate brought the first forks back to England after seeing them in Italy during his travels in 1608. The English ridiculed the forks as effeminate and unnecessary, and explained that they had two good hands to eat with. Gradually, they came around.

Finally, on a lighter note, everyone's favorite Italian American, Paulie Walnuts, comments on the Italian contribution to world cuisine. Ethnic pride? Fuggedaboudit.

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