La Festa Di San Giuseppe

Posted by
Susan Maggiore
The author, Susan Maggiore and Louise Arnone, party hostess, in front of their St Joseph's Day table

St. Joseph was a beloved saint - a simple carpenter who was a pious and good man. Today, Sicilians and Italians the world over continue to remember him on March 19 every year by hosting or contributing to a St. Joseph’s Day table. All are welcome at this table where soups, pastas, and other meatless items are served to those in need.

My first memory of St. Joseph’s Day is standing in a crowded room where I saw a table laden with food and whose centerpiece was a statue of St. Joseph flanked by cross-shaped bread loaves. We would always hear the sound of knocking on the front door. Someone in the family would answer and “refuse” the couple who arrived dressed as a pregnant Mary and Joseph who were seeking a place to stay for the night. A knock was heard again, and Mary and Joseph again asked for a place to stay. The host finally relented and let them in. All of this dramatic dialogue was in Sicilian dialect which as a four-year old, I didn’t understand. However, the message was clear- never ignore someone asking for help.

Barbara Palmieri with her St. Joseph’s Day bread, shaped like a cross:

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My friends and I continue to celebrate St Joseph’s Day each year by preparing our own communal table and inviting many to come share these simple delicacies with us. Louise Arnone opens her house every year to about 50 people! There is always a dish of pasta with breadcrumbs-the crumbs symbolize Joseph the carpenter’s wood shavings. Here are some of Rachael’s versions of the dishes we like to enjoy:

Pasta Con Le Sarde

Sicilian Two Minute Lifeguard Style Calamari (from Mario Batali)

Cardoons - real peasant fare, submitted by Barbara Palmieri

Rachael’s Grandpa Emmanuel’s Baked Stuffed Artichokes

Here is a photo of Sam and Jeannie Arena making stuffed artichokes:

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It’s also customary to spread orange and fresh fennel slices on the table for everyone to pick at. If you have a local bakery, you could also see if they are making sfingi, which is an Italian ricotta filled pastry that has a flaky layered shell. Delicioso!