Tag Archives: Saint Joseph

SFINCI and CRISPEDDI DI RISU, for the Festa of San Giuseppe (Fritters for St Joseph’s Feast Day)

Saint Joseph’s Day (Festa di San Giuseppe) is celebrated in Italy on March 19.

Italy double dips and combines this ancient and religious tradition with Father’s Day – La Festa del Papà – the feast (celebration) for father, the event imported from America in the early 20th century. In the USA it is held on the third Sunday of June.

Saints’ name days are more significant in the south of Italy. My father, who was born in Ragusa but lived in Trieste, used to receive phone calls from his family who lived in Sicily wishing him well, “auguri” on March 19.

San Giuseppe was reputed to be a humble carpenter who looked after his family (Mary and Jesus) so it is easy to see why the Catholic church has made him the patron saint of carpenters, workers, protector of the church and of fathers, but he is also patron saint of the poor and, more mysteriously, of pastry cooks.

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I have partly explained (to myself) how pastry cooks fits under Saint Joseph’s umbrella by thinking about what happens in Sicily. The feast of Saint Joseph although in Lent (a time of fasting in the Catholic liturgy) also marks the end of the long unproductive season of winter. His feast day is close to the equinox and since pagan times spring has been celebrated big time in various ways.

Wheat (grains, seeds and legumes) were unequivocally the metaphorical seeds of life and through germination and regeneration they invoke the powers of fertility. In many parts of Sicily there are banquets to celebrate the bounty of the harvest (known as La Tavola di San Giuseppe – Saint Joseph’s Table). The main food is a collection of breads of odd shapes and sizes, many sprinkled with seeds. The food and breads on display were once shared and offered to the poor, now they are shared within the community.

Fried sweets are traditionally made in Sicily on Saint Joseph’s day. Sfinci (made with flour) and Crispeddi di Risu (made with rice) seem to be the most common and as in all Sicilian recipes there are many local variations. Sfinci are the most common and are found in the north, south and west of Sicily; some are filled with custard cream or ricotta.

In my copy of Maria Consoli Sardo’s book Cucina Nostra (1978) there is a recipe for sfinci made with semolina. She also provides a recipe for sfinci made with rice without yeast. I like her recipes because they seem genuinely authentic – uncomplicated and, as I imagine, an example of cucina povera (poor kitchen) as cooked by many Sicilians especially those living away from the larger cities on the land (see her recipe below).

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Crispeddi di risu are more common in the east of Sicily, from Messina in the north; Catania on the central coast and Syracuse in the south east. I have found many recipes for crispeddi and all involve cooking rice in milk or milk and water and adding eggs or flour. Some contain yeast and others are very complicated and involve forming balls of the cooked rice and dipping them into batter before deep-frying them.

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Maria Consoli Sardo calls her recipe Sfinci Di Risu (Fritelle Di Riso, in Italian).

I have used Arborio rice.

200g rice, ½ litre of milk, 200g of flour, lard for frying (how else can you make them crisp?), sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling.
Boil rice in water (does not say how much water, I used 500 ml= ½ litre. There is no mention of salt but this is common sense, as a Sicilian you would know to add a pinch.)
Halfway through cooking, add milk and finish cooking (it will have the consistency of risotto…having said this, my risotto is all’onda, ie, in waves … it should have some moisture).
Place the cooked rice in a bowl and leave it for 24 hours, add flour, mix well and let it rest. Spread the mixture out (such as on a marble slab) and after 2 hours cut it into batons and fry them in plenty of lard. After they have been fried, sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon.
My variation to the above: I used extra virgin olive oil to fry them and dressed them with Chestnut Honey and cinnamon. (I usually have Orange Flower Honey (Sicilian) in my pantry but I have run out! The Chestnut Honey however was great!)
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This second recipe for crispeddi di risu  is adapted from Giuseppe Coria’s Profumi di Sicilia, Il libro della cucina Siciliana. It is also a simple recipe and this one has yeast. Judging from his quantities Signor Coria must have always cooked for large numbers!

Adjust accordingly.

1 kg of rice
1 litre of milk
1 litre of boiling water
½ tsp of salt
2 tbs of sugar
500 g of plain flour
150 g of fresh yeast (or equivalent) dissolved in ½ cup warm water
grated zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons,
honey, cinnamon powder to coat.
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Mix the milk with water, add salt and sugar and add the rice. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer on low heat stirring occasionally until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and looks like a risotto.
Cool, mix in the flour and yeast. Add the grated peel. Mix it well, cover, and let rise for 2-4 hours.
Shape the rice with a spoon and slide them into the hot oil.
When golden, place them on paper to drain for about 30 seconds and then dress them with honey and cinnamon powder.

Recipe for Sfinci, see in an earlier post: FEAST OF SAN GIUSEPPE (SAINT JOSEPH) and Sfinci di San Giuseppe

FESTA DI SAN GIUSEPPE (SAINT JOSEPH) and sweets called Sfinci di San Giuseppe

Those of you who have been to Ragusa Ibla will recognize these shots. The baroque church is that of San Giuseppe, a much loved saint in Sicily (not as much loved as San Giorgio who is the patron saint of Ragusa and has a church which is much larger Duomo- cuppola in photo above- more beautiful and not far from this one).

March 19 is the Feast of San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph), which in the Northern hemisphere coincides with the spring solstice. This feast day is a major religious celebration in Sicily.

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San Giuseppe is the patron saint of pastry cooks and among the many celebratory dishes are special breads shaped in varying shapes and sizes. On this day pulses are also eaten in many parts of Sicily; some of you may be familiar with maccu made with dried fava beans, which is especially common in southeastern Sicily. Several of these present day traditions have developed from very ancient origins – both legumes and wheat are considered to be seeds of life and are metaphorical foods from pre-Christian times.

In many parts of Sicily there are banquets to celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph, which coincides with the end of Lent, a period of fasting in the Catholic liturgy. But it is also a celebration of the end of the fast imposed by nature – this was more so before the days of fast travel and transport or refrigeration when the provisions kept from summer over winter were depleted by this time of the year.

In some communities especially in small villages large altars and tables are built and filled with large quantities of local cuisine: fish dishes, cooked vegetables, breads, many sweets, but no meat is prepared.  Once, in many Sicilian towns and villages the food was also shared with the poor.

One of the recipes cooked on this day are the Sfinci di San Giuseppe.  The translation to fritters does not necessarily sound very appealing, but maybe if I tell you that they are made from the same dough used to make Pâté à Choux or Bigné or creampuffs, you may be more enticed. They are fried rather than baked.

If you have ever made cream puffs you would know that the dough is cooked before being baked. For making the sfinci a little sugar is added to the mixture.
There are many recipes to make Choux Pastry and the following recipe works pretty well:

eggs, 4 large
water,1 cup (230 cc)
unsalted butter, 4 tablespoons (55 g)
salt, a good pinch
plain flour, 1 cup (140 g)
sugar, 1 tablespoon
oil, to fry the batter (I use extra virgin olive oil for everything- but not my best olive oil which I use to dribble on hot food or salads)

Place water, salt and sugar in a saucepan (large enough to hold all of the ingredients) and bring the water to a boil. Add the butter.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all at once. Beat the mixture immediately with a wooden spoon and work quickly. Stir till the dough is smooth – the flour and water will form a ball and no longer stick to the sides of pan. Allow the dough to cool for about 10-15 minutes, but stir it often to allow the steam to escape and to cool at a greater rate.

Add eggs one at a time, stirring each egg completely into the dough before adding the next. (The dough should be pliable but not be runny).

Heat some oil to frying temperature – there should be sufficient oil to nearly cover the level tablespoonfuls of dough, which will be dropped into it.

Fry only a few at the time or the sfinci will broil rather than fry. Turn each sfinci once or twice until they are golden brown and have swelled in size.

Variations:

Some Sicilians eat them warm and coat the sfinci with honey, others use a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon.

Some allow them to cool, split them open and fill them with pastry cream or with whipped ricotta flavoured with a little sugar and cinnamon. In some parts of Sicily they are called Zeppole.

If you have watched the Inspector Moltabano television series, you will recognize the building that was used as the police station; it is in Ragusa Ibla. To the right of the building you can see the corner of the Chiesa di San Giuseppe (church of). Some of my male Sicilian relatives are posing for the photo. They live in Ragusa.

 

MACCU (a thick, broad bean soup, made at the end of winter to celebrate spring)

This is a photo of mature broad beans taken in the Palermo Market. If you were keen, you would extract the beans from the pods, dry them and store them. Now days  you would buy them dry.

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‘You must try the maccu,’ urged my host as we perused the menu in a small restaurant in the back blocks of Palermo. ‘It’s one of our local specialities.’ A wide, shallow bowl was filled with a drab beige puree enlivened by a spiral of olive oil. I tasted it and in an instant understood that this was minestra di fave, the puree of broad beans that had sustained people throughout the Mediterranean in the 14th and 15th centuries, a dish familiar to me from many culinary manuscripts. The taste was pure, elemental, almost mono-dimensional, but enhanced with the timelessness of tradition. With every spoonful I was connected to civilisations past, from medieval to Roman and even back as far as ancient Greek and Egyptian. And when I harvest my broad beans each spring, the echo of this experience returns.
Barbara Santich, author and culinary historian.
From article in The Australian Weekend magazine: Unexpected delights, compiled by John Lethlean and Necia Wilden, August 03, 2009

I am always thrilled to read anything by Barbara Santich. Her writing is always rich in detail, well researched and a pleasure to read.

Maccu, is a traditional Sicilian very thick soup and in most parts of Sicily it is made of dried fave (broad beans). It is mostly cooked over the winter months and as Barbara informs us , it has been a staple dish for the contadini (peasants) since ancient times.

In some parts of Sicily it is also a celebratory dish cooked at the start of spring. Spring in Sicily has a particular significance for me because March19 was my father’s name day. It is the Feast of San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph); this feast also coincides with the spring solstice and in many parts of Sicily maccu is particularly eaten on this day.

Maccu is a recipe with spring sentiments of renewal, use up the old, celebrate the new. To make maccu, the dried beans of the last season are used before the new harvest begins in spring. Broken spaghetti and any assortment of left over, dry pasta shapes are also added to the soup and particularly in the days when pasta was sold loose, there used to be quite a few pasta casualties. Many of the religious celebrations have pagan origins; the feast of Saint Joseph in the Catholic religion is at the end of Lent, a time traditionally used for fasting, both in the religious sense and over the lean winter season.

Dried fave (broad beans) are the main ingredient. They are light brown and smooth and shaped a little like lima beans. And because they have a very tough skin, they need to be soaked and peeled before cooking. As you would expect, there are local variations in the recipes. In some parts of Sicily a mixture of pulses are used – lentils, beans, chickpeas and some recipes include dried chestnuts. The greater selection of pulses is found in Il grande maccu of San Giuseppe, the grandest soup of them all. Wild fennel is added to most versions – it adds colour and taste. Those of us who do not have this, can use fennel seeds and a few fennel fronds; a little green leaf vegetable like cime di rape, chicory or silver beet (Sicilans would use the wild beets) will also add the green colour. Some recipes include a little chopped celery, others have dried tomatoes (they would be kept under oil over the cold months).

I realize that it is not March, but in Australia we are looking forward to spring which starts in September and writing about maccu now seems appropriate.

This is a recipe for a very simple maccu.

INGREDIENTS
dry broad beans, 500 g (use a variety of other dried pulses if you wish)
wild fennel, one bunch ( or fennel seeds, crushed, 2 teaspoons and fresh fennel fronds)
onion, 1, cut finely
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

PROCESSES
Soak the dried broad beans overnight.
Drain them and peel the outer skin off the broad beans.
Cover the legumes with an ample amount of water, add fennel seeds and cook the soup slowly. After about 40 minutes add the onion, fennel (and some small amounts of chopped greens if you wish). Continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. To prevent the pulses from remaining hard, add the seasoning after the pulses are cooked. If you wish to add pasta, add more water, bring to the boil and cook the pasta in the maccu.

Drizzle with generous amounts of extra virgin olive oil and serve (I do this at the table and on individual portions).

In some parts of Sicily, left over maccu is also eaten cold (the pulses solidify).

In the feauture photo the maccu is served with Lolli,  a type of hand-made pasta still customary today in the Modica area.  I ate this in Trattoria a Punta Ro Vinu in Modica.

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