Fava beans and cream puffs? And you thought all that green beer from St. Patrick’s Day was disgusting.
Just kidding. You’re not meant to eat the fava beans and cream puffs together, but they are both traditional for today, St. Joseph’s Day, or La Festa di San Giuseppe as it’s called here. It’s held in honor of Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, and, in fact, also serves as Italian Father’s Day.
So, before I forget, Happy Italian’s Father’s Day, Dad (he’s an Italian citizen now too, you know)!
Actually, the Feast of Saint Joseph is celebrated by more than just Italians–it’s a worldwide Catholic feast–but it is especially important in Sicily, where St. Joseph is honored for saving the island from famine during the Middle Ages; the population survived on fava beans, and so they are always a part of the celebration. In fact, I saw the first favas of the season today at my little grocery store, but by the time I went home to get my camera, someone had hauled away the whole case of them. Guess they’re celebrating big time.
Those of Italian heritage may remember a little something about St. Joseph’s altars full of flowers, wine, cakes, and those wonderful zeppole (pronounced TZEE-powl-ee down here)–perhaps even one from your own house. Although many refer to zeppole as cream puffs (pictured at left), there are actually many different versions of zeppole from Rome on down.
My grandmother made zeppole too, but it was simply fried dough covered in sugar; this is also how P’s mom makes them as well, which leads me to believe that this is the Calabrian way (at least in these parts–along with dialects, recipes can change drastically from village to village). Here, though, they don’t put any sugar on them at all, so it’s basically chunks of fried dough stretched so that it has some lightness.
And, incidentally, neither P’s mom nor my grandmother would think of filling these dough pockets with cream–if you find anything inside, it’s likely an anchovy, and what a delicious treat it is!
Don’t tell anyone, but I actually put sugar on the ones filled with anchovies too. I did this at one New Year’s dinner and got all kinds of crazy looks. I tried to explain how much I enjoy sweet and salty mixtures, but finally just used the fact that I’m American as an excuse. That compensates for many a faux-pas you know.
I wimped out and didn’t make any zeppole for today, mostly because I’d end up eating every last one. Maybe next year.
Today is also the day when all the Giuseppes (Josephs), Giuseppinas (Josephines), etc., celebrate their onomastico, or name day. Since many Italians share their names with saints, they celebrate both a birthday and a separate onomastico, unless, of course, they were named for the saint of the day they were born. My grandmother, for instance, was named Pauline because she was born on the day of St. Paul’s conversion.
Did you know that in Italy, the celebrator is expected to treat everyone else? So, I’m looking at you, Joe O.–you owe me some Vitamin Y.
And here I’ll also give a shout out to my great-great-grandfather, Giuseppe, who was so named because he was born today, March 19, 1873, just a short walk from where I’m typing this and mere steps from P’s house as it turns out.