Today’s column is not about corned beef or green beer. It is about an important annual celebration which occurs annually just two days after the party saint’s big day.
There is a story which has been passed down several generations and told to me by both my grandmother and father. The people present this particular day are long gone but the memory lives in our family as we pass it to our own children.
St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) is celebrated each year with a table filled with cakes (St. Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs!), breads, meatless sauce and other special foods made with love and care in thanks for special favors asked of St. Joseph.
I have many recipes handed down from my grandmothers and from some old cookbooks. The blue one was actually written by my sister-in-laws aunt – how cool! Another favorite recipe is from the late Nick Antonacci (owner of the Como and my father’s best friend). It is sfinge made with a base of ricotta cheese … so good.
OK … back to the story.
Feeding the needy is perhaps the most important part of the day. It is primarily a Sicilian tradition and my father’s family celebrated in a big way. He grew up on 17th Street in Niagara Falls in a typical two family home. His grandparents lived downstairs.
Each year my great grandmother would make the feast with the help of my grandmother and great aunts. I am sure they cooked for many days. Although their houses were not large they would open their home to anyone who wanted to eat.
Imagine doing that today? It was a different time …
My great-grandfather built a large banquet table which was referred to as the St. Joseph table and I’m in possession of it today. When you went up stairs to my grandparents house you had to go through the kitchen to get to their bedroom. Because of that they stored a lot of the food that did not need refrigeration in there until it was set out on the table.
They served all day, until everything was gone. The spaghetti for the pasta con sarde (macaroni and sardines) (Gramma’s recipe at end) served with Molicca (breadcrumbs to represent sawdust – St. Joseph was a carpenter) was stored in the bedroom. My grandfather bought a case of spaghetti. I am not sure how many boxes there were in a case but assume it was a lot of macaroni.
On this particular St. Joseph day, I think in the 1940s, the crowd at the house was particularly large. It was part a family dinner, social experience and soup kitchen. Macaroni was being cooked as fast as pots could boil water. At some point in the day my father went into the bedroom and brought his grandmother the last box of spaghetti from the case.
She cooked it and it was served to the crowd. Next my grandfather noticed the table was out of spaghetti, went into the bedroom and took the last box of spaghetti from the case, gave it to his mother-in-law. She cooked it and it was served.
Once again, there was no more macaroni out on the table so my grandmother came into the kitchen and into the bedroom, got the last box of spaghetti out of the case, gave it to her mother who cooked it and it was served.
They fed many people that day and experienced their own “feeding of the multitude.” The “last” box of spaghetti was served three times! It was our very own St. Joseph Day miracle.
I won’t be preparing a table this year … one can only do so much. I would love for local restaurants and organizations to let us know if they are offering a St. Joseph table.
Gramma Russo’s Pasta Con Sarde
4 Large Cans Tomato Puree
1 Large Onion, chopped
10 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Can of Sarde Mix (I buy mine at Latina’s)
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add sarde mix and heat through. Fill each can of puree ½ full with water to clean sides and add to pot. Cook down on medium low for 2 to 3 hours until thick.
Cook spaghetti according to instructions on the box. Toss with some sauce to coat and serve with extra sauce on top. In place of grated cheese sprinkle macaroni with Mollica.
Toast day-old Italian bread in the oven until dry. Use a food processer and grind to a fine crumb. Brown the crumbs in a heavy, dry pan until brown. Be sure to stir constantly because it burns very quickly. Remove from heat and add a little bit of granulated sugar.
Great-Great Gramma's Bitter Sweet Peas (this is my favorite St. Joseph recipe)
6 Large Cans Peas (drained)
1 Large Bunch Celery (diced)
1 Pound Italian Green Olives (pitted and chopped)
1 Large Can Artichokes (cut up)
1 Tablespoon Salt
Dice and cook celery until slightly softened. Drain and cool. Saute onions, add celery, and olives. Take off stove (recipe says to take off the fire but I decided to change that) and add peas and artichokes. Mix lightly with fingers.
¾ Cup White Vinegar
½ Cup Sugar
Warm the vinegar gently in a sauce pan to melt sugar. Remove from heat and add to pea mixture. Toss lightly and refrigerate.
Viva San Guiseppe!
una settimana deliziosa