La Festa di San Giuseppe: Fava Beans and Cream Puffs

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 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.

Zeppole for Festa di San GiuseppeThose of Italian heritage may remember a little something about St. Joseph’s altars full of flowers, wine, cakes, and those wonderful zeppole (pronounced TZEH-powl-eh)–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 Eve 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.

I 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?

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.

Auguri Papรน!

34 Beans of Wisdom to “La Festa di San Giuseppe: Fava Beans and Cream Puffs”
  1. Sharon

    Loved this post. We skipped Zeppoles this year as well. Very first time for over 25 years. They make them in our area only on this day.

  2. goodthomas

    Ah, St. Joseph’s Day.

    They never did much in my family but I used to love to hear the stories of the parade that would happen in our town many years ago, the food, the sashes, the crowns with roses, the food, the men, the women, the food.

    And I adore the old photograph. Such an amazing image.

  3. Giulia

    I’ve got some major ‘Auguri-ing’ to do. My Husband and Father because of Father’s Day. And my Mom (Giuseppina) and kid Brother (Giuseppe).

    Anchovies on your zeppole? Hmmm, I am at a loss for words on that one!

  4. J.Doe

    Buon Onomastico to you great-great grandfather.
    I thought this was a very interesting post. I lived in Italy. Tasted zeppoles, loved them, but never knew about their history or that other regions make them differently, or even make them at all.

  5. Paolo

    Somewhat OT, but one year when I was in Hawai’i, my mom shipped, at great expense, a six-pack of Yuengling porter.

    Like hoagie buns, some things don’t just taste right outside of PA….

  6. sognatrice

    Sharon, so you’re zeppole-less too? Hmm…must be something in the air!

    GT, my family really didn’t do anything either, other than the zeppole, and basically my grandmother made those whenever she couldn’t stand my whining for them any more ๐Ÿ˜‰ Glad you like the photo of Papรน! I love that pic too.

    Giulia, if you like anchovies, you must try these–they’re delicious!

    JDoe, glad you liked it. I didn’t know zeppole were different in other parts until I heard of the cream puffs…then I knew something was up, because ours had nothing to do with cream (although I do love cream puffs).

    Paolo, you’re probably right about Yuengling. I guess I wouldn’t like it as much if a Lager suddenly showed up on my doorstep…of course, I’d be willing to sacrifice my tastebuds to try out that theory.

  7. Cheeky

    Guiseppe is so hansome. I love old people, and I love old photos. Reminds me of my family. I have some really neat old photos.
    I’m with you on the sweet & salty thing. Faux pas, schmo paw. . . ur just mixing it up a bit, go on dare the rest of ’em to be so adventurous! HA!
    I haven’t posted but I’ve been spending entirely too much time playing around, it’s addicting but I like it!

  8. Cherrye

    So the celebrator treats…hmmmm, interesting – I didn’t learn that today from my Giuseppe! One more thing he won’t be glad you taught me! ha ha

    We have plenty of zeppoles over here if you want to get a few…some of them are fried and some are baked in the oven (or so they tell me). They are the cream ones, though, I am with Giulia, anchovies????

  9. JennDZ

    Hey There!
    Wow, you just solved a lifelong mystery for me. My great uncle used to make these little fried dough balls with anchovies in them for the feast of the fishes on Christmas eve…..I told Roberto about them and he had no clue what I was talking about, so I chalked it up to another Italian American thing…..but here WE GO! They were zeppole!!! Calabrian style. Now it all makes sense! Considering my grandmother’s family is Calabrese.
    Thank you sister!

  10. Kristen

    Look at those puffs. Beautiful!

  11. Madelyne

    The Italians here in Australia celebrate it too. We have a Festa in St Joseph’s honour and although its not as big as those in Italy, it is lots of fun, with lots of food, wine and rides for the kids.

    We also do the sweet zeppole & the anchovy ones too. They are to die for….mmmmm

  12. bella

    Had to copy that zeppole recipe, because my sister and I love them. We just had a bunch of St. Joseph’s cakes (I think that’s what they’re called) and we decided that our own would taste better.

  13. anna

    I love zeppole, but I don’t know how to make them. You MUST post a recipe. Please?

    I wonder if my father will forgive me for not calling him to wish him a buon onomastico today. His name is Giuseppe (although most of his friends and family call him Peppino).

  14. -R-

    How cool that you live so close to where your great great grandfather was born!

  15. Shan

    Love the new look.

  16. Nadine

    What an interesting story. Great picture of your great great grandpa. Zeppoles were great where I grew up in Brooklyn and they didn’t have cream in them but lots of powered sugar.

  17. KC

    Here we ate a few zeppole that looked just like the ones in the photo. I was surprised when I first saw them because I grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood in Queens, and they were more like the way nadine decribes them. (I kind of like them better that way, too, but I didn’t tell that to my husband ๐Ÿ˜‰

  18. Gil

    Finally, A Happy St. Joseph’s Day post. I was surprised that there was none on Expats, unless I missed it. I hope you had a good day. My wife surprised me with some small cream puffs. Missed going for Zeppole due to recent snow.

  19. Jeff Gromen

    I love the way you explain these holidays. I should just point everyone to your blog for these explanations. Things here are very similar to there. I heard the baked zeppole only came around recently for the health concise Italians. Screw that! I had 4 fried zeppole in total yesterday!


  20. sognatrice

    Thanks for the comments everyone! I loved hearing about zeppole in different parts of Italy and around the world (anyone else care to share their zeppole recipes?); I’m also glad to hear others have enjoyed the anchovy version. I always tell people that even if you don’t think you like anchovies, you should try them here in Italy–they are so much better!

    One thing I should’ve mentioned in the post is that the pronunciation I put in is actually just the way they say it here, dialect-influenced. In standard Italian, of course, an “e” isn’t normally said “ee” (that’s saved for the “i”!). Here, though, when I mentioned “zeh-powl-eh” the response I got was “Huh? Oh! Zeepowlee!” I’m guessing this may be why recipes in English are often spelled “zeppoli” instead of the correct “zeppole.” Phew.

    Anna, for a recipe for the cream puff-type, just click on the picture, and for a recipe like I said I’m more used to, click on the red word “this” in the paragraph right under the picture. If I ever end up making my own, I’ll be sure to post the recipe I use.

  21. Vee

    We celebrate St Jospehs day too it is a big thing in our family. A year doesn’t go bye without my mother preparing the alter, my father is a Giusepe.. I have written about it on my blog also with some pics.

    We don’t do the Zippole although I have had them from Calabrese friends. The Sicilians do the battered cauliflour fried with sugar on it…yum.

  22. The (Mis)Adventures of a Single City Chick

    Oh, whoops. I missed St. Joseph’s Day. Bad Catholic Christina! ๐Ÿ˜‰ We’ve never made Zeppoles in my family. The closest to that we have as a family recipe is Crustoli, which are deep fried dough that’s been braided first and then either drizzled with honey or sprinkled with powdered sugar. But we typically only make those at Christmas. And that’s so cool that your grandpa was born so close to P’s house. Sounds like Fate to me. ๐Ÿ™‚


  23. Anonymous


    My grandmother, Rose Rugatto, hosted a feast every St. Joseph’s day since 1903. My Aunt Giovanina (Jenny) took over for her after her death. Now that my aunt is 95, her daughters host the feast. It was observed by my grandmother in thanksgiving for a favor for which she asked on her son’s (my uncle’s) behalf. All the food is blessed by the local priest. Participants are asked by the host-family to sit at the table to represent the saints being honored. There are always the three people to represent the Holy Family plus the others representing named saints to whom the host-family has a particular devotion. The dinner is preceded by prayers. The “saints” are obliged to taste each dish which is served. One interesting fact is that there is no meat nor meat dishes served ever. After the “saints” have eaten this grand meal, there is “open-house” for all others. The “saints” are given baskets of food and bread to take home – this is called the “diviscione.”

    The house (my aunt’s – I’m too young to remember the feast at my grandmother’s) was always packed with the town’s people of Watertown, NY – coming and going all day long. I ate tons of Tarales! (My fav. Italian cookie.)

    Sometimes I forget about the Feast of St. Joseph’s, so I’m glad you reminded me.


  24. Wendy

    Love this post! I love learning about my grandparents and great-grandparents lives. My niece and I both read your blog and have both decided we are going to plan a trip to Italy soon!

  25. sognatrice

    Vee, I’m off to check out your post now, thanks for the tip ๐Ÿ™‚

    Christina, if I remember correctly, your family is from northern Italy (north-central?) which probably lends credence to the fact that zeppole are more common, if not exclusive to, the south. Anyone else know for sure? My “real” Italian readers?

    TRZ, wow, what a feast! As you’ve described is the absolute southern Italian festa–yes, no meat! It’s Lent, after all, and in the old days, there was no meat allowed through the whole season if I’m not mistaken, so that makes sense. The three people serving as the Trinity is so classic. Great story! Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚

    And Wendy, be sure to let me know if/when you’ll be in the Calabrian neighborhood! Just don’t come in August–ridiculously hot and full of northern Italian and other European tourists.

  26. The (Mis)Adventures of a Single City Chick

    Ah, yes, you are correct. Both my grandmother and grandfather’s families were from Lonate Pozzola (just outside of Milan), so that could very well account for the different “specialty.” ๐Ÿ™‚


  27. That is so cool that you have a picture of you great-great grandfather! I love reading your blog with all its interesting facts about Sicily/Italy.

    Black Coffee & Bourbon’s last blog post..I Almost Lost My Wedding Band

    I feel *very* lucky to have that photo–thank goodness he went to get his US citizenship or we wouldn’t have that one either. My grandmother’s photos almost all burned in a fire in the early ’70s, so luckily my great aunt had this one around ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. It just FLOORS me that you live in the very same village of your great-great-grandparents. It’s so unreal to me, yet obviously REAL because you’re doing it. I love this part of your blog – the stories of your family and your village and the Italian traditions. Just wonderful.

    I’m pretty amazed by it too–*very* often. I love imagining what he might’ve seen and what the heck he’d think of my coming back here….

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Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

Calabria Guidebook

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