The Other Saint Day in March

For many people the month of March means corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and green beer to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. But for Italian Americans, March is the month to celebrate St. Joseph and eat a meatless meal with family and friends.

The Feast of St. Joseph is celebrated on March 19th; said to be the birthday of St. Joseph,patron saint of workers and the poor. Communities across the U.S., where large populations of Italians live especially of Sicilian descent, celebrate with a traditional St. Joseph table. In New Orleans there are St. Jospeh parades on the same streets that celebrate Mardi Gras. Other spots where the feast day is celebrated in homes, churches and restaurants include New York City, Boston’s North End, and Buffalo, NY to name a few.

So why do Italians celebrate this Saint and how? Some historical accounts date the feast to medieval times in Sicily, when after many prayers to St. Joseph, Sicilians were saved from a wide spread, severe drought. The meal, consisting entirely of meatless dishes because meat was not plentiful in the ancient Sicilian diet, often includes olives, fennel, artichokes, frittata, deep fried cod (be sure to use a separate fryer for anything that needs to be allergy friendly), pasta con sarde, and fava beans. Fava beans are considered lucky since the fava bean actually thrived during the drought and was a source of food for the starving Sicilians. Oftentimes the meal starts with lentil soup. Click here for DairyFreeGina’s Lentil Soup recipe.

Bread is made in the shape of a cross or Shepard’s staff to honor St. Joseph. Make your own St. Joseph bread using your favorite dairy free recipe. For a vegan frittata click here .

Desserts can include sfinge(a deep-fried cruller-type pastry sometimes dusted with powdered sugar), strufoli (honey balls) and pizzelli. Click here for my grandmother’s pizzelle recipe which I’ve modified to make dairy free.

Below are some recipes you can make for St. Jospeh’s day or any day of the year.

Pasta Con Sarde

**Note: To make gluten free use gluten free pasta. Also, do not add any cheese as Italians never top pasta containing fish with cheese**

Sauce:
2 TBSP olive oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 cups chopped fresh fennel
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 TBSP chopped fresh basil
4 cans of drained, skinless, boneless sardines

Heat oil in large pot, and sauté the garlic and pepper flakes. Add the fennel, tomatoes, paste, and basil. Cover and let simmer 30 minutes until fennel is tender. Add the sardines and simmer a few more minutes. Serve over pasta cooked al dente.

Topping:
1 TBSP olive oil
1 cup fine homemade breadcrumbs – made from your dairy free bread

Heat oil, add crumbs and heat until golden brown. Pour sauce over the pasta, and then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.

Fava Beans

1 lb. dried fava beans, or the canned equivalent
1 bunch green onions
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves
chopped parsley
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Cook dried fava beans in boiling water until tender, adding more water as needed. Sauté seasonings in olive oil until tender, then add to beans. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Every year I attend a St. Joseph’s dinner prepared by my father’s Italian club. My husband never experienced this tradition until he met me. Now he looks forward to it every year too! The dinner has that old world feeling and lots and lots to eat, most of which is milk free! Below are pictures from the dinner:

What family traditions do you celebrate? How do you make the meals allergy friendly?

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