Last weekend, we had some friends over for a post St Joseph’s Day and not quite Easter party. We knew we wouldn’t see these friends for the actual holidays, so we made a hybrid meal.
The St Joseph’s Day tradition is a Sicilian one, really. It isn’t nearly as popular as it used to be but the idea is that Joseph was a generous, pious and poor man. To honor him, on March 19th, you are supposed to open your home to your friends, family and neighbors. Everyone is welcome to your table where people come together and try simple, meatless dishes. A very traditional meal for St Joseph’s Day might be Pasta Con Le Sarde (Pasta, Breadcrumbs and Sardines) or Pasta and Breadcrumbs-cheese is way too extravagant. You also typically see oranges lining the table for good luck. We did an Orange and Red Onion Salad, with lots of fresh oregano and spread whole oranges around the table to honor this part of the tradition.
But because we weren’t just celebrating St Joseph’s Day and it is hard to go a Sunday without a meatball, we made Rachael’s Sicilian Meatballs.
They’re Sicilian for a few reasons-she uses bread soaked in milk instead of breadcrumbs, but also adds toasted pine nuts and currants into the meatballs, which is very Sicilian. But interestingly, she bakes these meatballs in a bed of tomatoes, rather than frying them and cooking them in a pot of sauce. She then serves them alongside a dollop of fresh ricotta mixed with lots of black pepper and shredded basil leaves-delish!
You see pine nuts (pignolis), currants, raisins, pistacchios, oranges, olives, fennel, eggplant, to name a few, in many Sicilian recipes. These ingredients came to this island as a result of so many cultures converging through the years, depending on who was ruling Sicily at the time.
Here you see some typical Sicilian ingredients and our actual counter top last Sunday-green olives, capers, pecorino cheese, basil, oregano, parsley.
In addition to the Pasta Con Le Sarde and Sicilian Meatballs and Orange Salad, we started with Caponata, or eggplant salad, and Olive Salad. Olive Salad is simple, but delicious and is one salad that tastes better the next day. Here’s what you do:
1 cup pitted Sicilian green olives
1/2 red onion, sliced
4-5 stalks of celery, sliced, plus the heart and leaves.
2 teaspoons fresh or dried oregano, chopped
Salt and pepper
EVOO and red wine vinegar
Toss everything together in a bowl and adjust the seasonings. It should taste more vinegary than oily and you could even squeeze a little lemon in there to give it another layer of acidic flavor.
To round out the meal, we served traditional Sicilian pastries:
with cannoli-like filling and candied fruit on top. I made an Easter Wheat Pie, sometimes called a Grain Pie as well:
I’ll admit it, I had never heard of this pie and didn’t grow up with it, which makes sense since this dish originates in Naples and my family is from Sicily. I found a can of grano, or grain and the recipe on the back so I made it from scratch. It was really fun to make-the crust is sweet and hard (I used whole wheat flour too). And the inside contains ricotta, lots of orange zest and this grain, which really looks like cooked barley or farro. So the pie is custard-y, or at least mine was. My friend, who grew up with these pies said although mine was good, it was nothing like what he was used to eating. Here’s the recipe from Colavita.
I may have gotten the Easter Wheat Pie wrong, but it was still delicious and had those typical Sicilian flavors of orange and candied fruits. I’ll probably give it another go next year. We ended the night with homeade Limoncello for the adults and each child got a giant chocolate egg, wrapped in foil for an elaborate presentation. You could make one of these at home by putting small chocolate eggs in a plastic baggie and then wrapping the whole thing in colored foil or clear plastic wrap. It’s really all about the presentation and the celebration with friends and family.