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.
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.
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.