Friday, March 19, 2010

A Saint of a Different Name

On March 13, 1966, when I was a mere 15½ months old, my mother cut an article out of The New York Times entitled “Sweets for San Giuseppe.” It was written by a 45-year-old Craig Claiborne, one of American journalism’s original “foodies.” That clipping survives today amidst the many recipes in my mom’s recipe basket:

3-16-2010 2;13;49 PM 
In that article, Mr. Claiborne very aptly wrote:3-16-2010 2;03;31 PM
“Foods and feast days seem inalienably linked. [March 17], of course, is Saint Patrick’s Day and, in this country at least, the association is with corned beef and cabbage. But two days later … is the lesser known feast of St. Joseph. In Italy – and in the Italian neighborhoods of New York – the traditional dessert for the festival is zeppole, fried cream puff rings, filled with sweetened ricotta.”

Before getting to the recipe itself, I should talk a little bit about feast days in general, and Saint Joseph in particular. According to the Catholic Saints’ informational website at, saints’ feast days “first arose from the very early Christian custom of the annual commemoration of martyrs on the dates of their deaths, at the same time celebrating their birth into heaven.”

As time went on, the Church designated more and more feast days – to the point where every single day of the year commemorates, on average, three saints. While many feast days fall on the date of death of the saint, others celebrate their birth. Such is the case for St. Joseph – “San Giuseppe” in Italian – the husband of Mary who raised Jesus as his own, no questions asked. Today is his birthday, his feast day … and also interesting, today is Father’s Day in Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

Mr. Claiborne’s point in his short paragraph is well taken: though Saint Patrick duly earned his place in Church history, his feast day for the most part outshines that of Joseph. But not in my mom’s house … nor in mine.

Being from one of those “Italian neighborhoods of New York” Mr. Claiborne was talking about, my mom still enjoys making this special treat once a year, though she now bakes the cream puffs instead of deep frying them, just to lighten them a bit. For me, the day became all the more special in 1999, the year my oldest child – Joseph – was born.

Did we eat corned beef and cabbage for St. Paddy’s this year? Sure, we almost always do. It’s a nice diversion from boring old chicken, pork, or pasta. And we did enjoy it. But more enjoyable is what’s in store for dessert tonight – the sweets of San Giuseppe. 

This year I volunteered to bake the zeppole – my first attempt ever – so to share the recipe here with you. Coincidently, I am 45 years old – the age Mr. Claiborne was when he wrote the article I hold in my hand.

I admit, I was a bit intimidated at the start, as I can’t say I’ve ever boiled dough before. P3180002That was the first step, after all. But overall, the preparation really wasn’t difficult. The trickiest parts were incorporating cold eggs into a warm dough without scrambling the eggs … and piping the dough. As you can see, I could use a little practice at the latter.

As you peruse the recipe and hopefully try it yourself, I would simply tell you to take your time. Follow the recipe step by step, and you too will make St. Joseph’s pastries as good as my mom’s … which, I think, is saying a lot.

And tonight when you hit the bar for one last drink in memory of St. Patrick, take a minute to make a second toast to fathers everywhere … and to their patron saint: “Auguri, San Giuseppe!”


Zeppole di San Giuseppe
(Click here to view
and print recipe)

For other good recipes posted today from around the globe, check out Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum!

Zeppole Di San Giuseppe on Foodista


sbcifuentes said...


Allie and Pattie said...

Buona Festa di San Giuseppe! Yum, yum, YUM!
xoxo Pattie

MrsJenB said...

How cute that turned out! Again, I had no idea the history of St. Joseph's Day, and I'm so glad to be learning more about it. You were very brave to try this out! :-)

Melinda said...

Thanks for sharing the history and the recipe! I love the story behind the food!

Melissa Peterman said...

Great story! It truly makes me appreciate this recipe so much more!

Michael Lee West said...

I love food history articles like this one--what a treasure, and in your mother's handwriting. Thanks for joining us at FF. Have a great weekend!

Beth said...

So glad you brought these to bunko last night. Pretty and delicious. I love the history behind it all too. Thanks, Maria!

Sherry said...

O, Yum! Those look fantastic! What a fantastic Foodie article. Love this.
Win Rachael Ray bake ware at my blog.

Tess Wittler said...

I love reading your blog and hearing the stories behind the recipes you choose to share. Thank you!