Mar 14, 2022
Pasta with breadcrumbs (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)
Celebrate Saint Joseph Day! Move over, Saint Patrick!
St. Patrick’s Day is March 17. It is widely celebrated with shamrocks, parades and corned beef by Irish Americans.
La Festa di San Giuseppe — the feast of Saint Joseph — comes two days later, on March 19. It has been celebrated since the 10th century in Italy.
Saint Joseph is the patron saint of Sicily, and many Italian Americans consider Saint Joseph their patron saint. This feast day is popular throughout Italy, Spain and the Philippines. Saint Joseph parade marchers wear red and carry lucky fava beans.
In Italy and Spain, it is also Father’s Day — Festa del papa (Italian) and El Dia del Padre (Spanish) — because Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary, is seen as an exemplary father figure. Children give their dads presents and cook a festive but meatless breakfast.
Fava Bean Dip (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)
The St. Joseph’s Day table is a three-tiered symbolic, festive display covered with white linen tablecloths. It is decorated with flowers, candles, symbolic foods, holy cards and a statue of Saint Joseph.
Symbolic foods at the table include a variety of breads in symbolic shapes, like a ladder, hammer or saw, since Joseph was a carpenter. There are also pastries, wine, olives and olive oil, and fruit like oranges, limes and pineapple. Meat is omitted because of Lent. Side dishes include figs, olives and artichokes.
Italians, of course, must eat pasta. A special St. Joseph’s Day pasta is made with breadcrumbs rather than cheese, to resemble sawdust, since Joseph was a carpenter. This pasta is often served with anchovies or a fennel sauce.
Thick soups — minestras — are also served, made with beans or lentils and vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, escarole, celery and fennel.
Sicilian legends attribute the end of a severe drought during the Middle Ages to prayers to Saint Joseph. Only one crop was able to endure the drought: the fava bean. That is why fava beans are served on St. Joseph’s Day.
Saint Joseph is also the patron saint of pastry chefs. Cookies, cakes and biscotti are served for dessert, many made with almonds. Special pastries, like Sfinge di San Giuseppe — St. Joseph’s Cream Puffs — are stuffed with a filling made with chocolate, pistachios and ricotta cheese. There are also zeppoles, fried dough rolled in sugar, cream-filled pastries or donuts, figs and fig cookies. These baked goods are sold to raise money for the poor and for the parish.
In Italy, devotional prayer accompanies the meal. Girls wear flowers in their hair and recite poems in honor of Saint Joseph. To commemorate the Holy Family’s search for shelter before Christ was born, children dressed as the Holy Family knock on doors, seeking shelter. At the end of the feast, the table altar is taken down and everyone leaves with a blessed fava bean and a bag full of pastries and breads.
Pasta with breadcrumbs
The breadcrumbs represent sawdust on the carpenter’s workshop floor. Although this dish is often made with linguini and an anchovy sauce, I made this version with fresh asparagus. Other options are to omit asparagus and add anchovies, or for a sweet dish, add raisins and orange segments.
2 cups (1/4 pound) pasta — I used penne but spaghetti is more traditional
1 tablespoon salt
1 bunch fresh asparagus
4 tablespoons olive oil (or part butter)
2 cloves garlic
2 cups unseasoned breadcrumbs (fresh or panko)
OR 1 cup breadcrumbs and
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup fresh minced parsley
salt and pepper
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Place a large pot of water on the stove, add salt and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions.
Wash asparagus, remove ends and cut in 2″ lengths. Add to boiling pasta during last 7 minutes of cooking.
Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
While pasta and asparagus cook, in large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Peel and mince garlic; add, and cook one minute over medium heat (do not brown).
Add breadcrumbs, stir with the oil using a fork, and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes until brown.
Add remaining oil and walnuts, and continue to stir and fry another 2 minutes to toast the walnuts.
Stir in chopped parsley. If mixture is dry, add up to 1 cup of pasta water.
In a large casserole or serving dish, combine half the pasta and asparagus with half of the crumb mixture. Season with salt and pepper; sprinkle with lemon zest and juice. Repeat for another layer.
Garnish with additional parsley and more olive oil, if desired.
This dish can be made ahead and reheated in a casserole dish.
Fava Bean Dip or pesto
Toss with pasta; serve as a crostini topping; or serve as a dip like you would hummus, with crackers or fresh vegetables. You will need a creamier texture for pasta, so add a little more olive oil.
1 1/2 cup fava beans (1 15 oz. can; you can use frozen or fresh if you can find them)
1/3 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 or 2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
cumin or chili pepper if you want it spicy
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley; extra parsley for garnish
Drain beans. Place in saucepan with 1 cup of fresh water and bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, then drain and transfer to food processor.
Add remaining ingredients except parsley to food processor and process to desired consistency. Serve with pita or crackers; use as a dip for fresh vegetables like broccoli, red peppers or carrots; serve on crostini; thin with a bit more olive oil or pasta cooking water and use as a sauce for pasta.
Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Words Are My World.
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