St. Joseph's Day Feast: Italians Honor Patron of Peace, Charity to Poor : Buffets of Meats, Fish, Pasta, Fruits, Vegetables, Desserts

Times Staff Writer

Unbelievable as it may seem to those of Italian heritage, there are many people who have never even heard of St. Joseph's Day. Yet it's as big a holiday for Italians as St. Patrick's Day is for the Irish.

The ancient tradition originated in Sicily, where St. Joseph--patr/n of peace, a happy home and charity to the poor--was beloved by rich and poor alike. Every March 19 wealthy families prepared huge buffets laden with special meats, fish, pasta, fruits, vegetables and desserts. Less fortunate neighbors were invited into their homes to enjoy the feast.

When Sicilians immigrated to other countries, such as America, they asked the blessing of St. Joseph for guidance to their destination and help in getting established. They vowed in return to honor him by annually extending their hospitality to others, especially the poor.

Blessed by the Priest

Each year a table was decorated with a statue of St. Joseph surrounded by candles and flowers. Then the traditional foods were added and everything was blessed by the priest before guests began to arrive.

Courtesy demanded that when people had eaten and visited with the host family, they left to make room for others. Those who came and could afford it, made offerings that were later given to the poor.

Many of the Sicilians who came to the United States eventually fulfilled their obligations and tables in homes began to disappear. Priests, believing the significance of the holiday should not be lost, asked remaining families to join in one large table that was set up at the church.

St. Peter's Italian Church in downtown Los Angeles continues this tradition each year. St. Joseph is honored with an elaborate table filled with favorite Lenten dishes, wine, fruit and desserts--all donated by members of the parish.

Proceeds to the Needy

One dessert always included is the traditional Sfinge Di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph's Cream Puffs); other offerings might include fish, pasta and artichokes. All of these foods may be purchased, with proceeds going to the needy.

This year's celebration is set for Tuesday and Wednesday. Each day after Mass at 11 a.m. the table will be blessed and free spaghetti served from noon to 8 p.m. Vegetables and dessert are available for a small fee. The celebration is open to the public and, of course, additional donations will be appreciated.

According to the church's pastor, Father Adolph Nalin, last year almost $9,000 was raised. Much of this was sent to Ethiopia. Other years the proceeds have been given to local charities such as the Union Rescue Mission and St. Vincent de Paul. Decision about the recipient of this year's funds will be made following the two-day event. SFINGE DI SAN GIUSEPPE (St. Joseph's Cream Puffs)

1 cup water

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

Ricotta Filling

18 maraschino cherries

Glazed orange peel

Bring water and butter to boil in saucepan. Add flour and salt, stirring until mixture leaves sides of pan and forms ball. Cool about 5 minutes.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add sugar, lemon and orange peel and mix well.

Drop by heaping tablespoons about 3-inch apart on baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

Remove from oven and open puffs immediately, allowing steam to escape. Cool. Fill with about 1 tablespoon Ricotta Filling and garnish with maraschino cherries and glazed orange peel. Makes about 18 puffs.

Note: To prepare dough using food processor, bring water and butter to boil in saucepan. Add flour and salt, stirring until mixture leaves sides of pan and forms ball. Cool about 5 minutes. Place dough in food processor and add eggs, one at a time, processing after each addition. Add sugar and process until incorporated. Add lemon and orange peel, processing with quick pulses just until distributed.

-- Filling recipe may be doubled, if desired, and puffs may be filled with more Ricotta Filling. Ricotta Filling

1 pound ricotta

2 tablespoons grated chocolate

1 tablespoon grated orange peel

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons almond extract

3 tablespoons milk, about

Blend together ricotta, chocolate, orange peel, sugar, almond extract and enough milk to make smooth custard-like mixture. Chill. Makes about 2 cups filling.

Note: Recipe from "The Art of Italian Cooking" by Maria Lo Pinto. FISH WITH TOMATO AND GREEN OLIVE SAUCE

1 1/2 to 2 pounds thickly sliced, firm flesh fish

1 thinly sliced medium onion

2 crushed garlic cloves

1 cup thinly sliced celery

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup sliced green olives

1/2 cup capers, rinsed

4 fresh basil leaves, chopped

1 cup chicken broth

2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce

Rinse fish and pat dry with paper towels. Place in baking dish and bake at 375 degrees 15 to 20 minutes, or until fish flakes easily.

Saute onion, garlic, celery and pine nuts in olive oil in medium skillet. Stir in olives, capers, basil, chicken broth and tomato sauce. Heat to boiling.

Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Serve over fish. Makes 6 servings. FISH CIOPPINO

1 1/2 pounds white-fleshed fish

1 cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon oil

1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1/2 cup dry white wine or water

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 whole cloves, optional

1 tablespoon minced parsley

Cut fish into 1/2 inch chunks and set aside. Saute onion and garlic in oil in large saucepan until tender.

Drain and mash tomatoes. Add to saucepan along with tomato sauce, wine, basil, thyme, marjoram, oregano, bay leaf, pepper and cloves. Simmer 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add fish and cook about 10 minutes. Stir in parsley. Makes about 7 cups. CLAM SAUCED PASTA

1/3 cup minced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup olive oil

2 (6 1/2-ounce) cans chopped clams, undrained

1/2 cup parsley

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 cup half and half

1 pound hot, cooked pasta

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil in skillet until tender, but not brown. Add clams and clam liquid. Cook, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes.

Add parsley, red pepper and half and half. Toss with pasta, Parmesan cheese and egg yolk. Makes 8 servings. HERBED ARTICHOKE PLATTER

4 artichokes

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 to 1/3 cup butter or margarine

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped green onion

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel, optional

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Grated Parmesan cheese

Melted butter or margarine, optional

Pull off lower, outer petals of artichokes. Snip off tips of remaining petals. Cut off top third of artichokes. Cut stems to 1 inch or less.

Stand prepared artichokes in pot with 3 quarts boiling, salted water. Cover and boil gently about 30 minutes or until petal near center pulls out easily. Drain.

Saute garlic in butter. Add parsley, green onion and lemon peel. Stir in bread crumbs. Set mixture aside.

Remove fuzzy center or choke from cooked artichokes. Spread leaves. Fill center of artichokes with 1/4 cup bread crumb mixture. Sprinkle with cheese.

Bake at 400 degrees 10 minutes or until filling is heated and cheese is lightly browned. Serve with melted butter for dipping leaves. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Vegetable oil, lemon juice and seasonings may be added to cooking water, if desired.

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