Feast of St. Joseph
St. Joseph’s Day is a big Feast for Italians because in the Middle Ages, God, through St. Joseph’s intercessions, saved the Sicilians from a very serious drought. So in his honor, the custom is for all to wear red, in the same way that green is worn on St. Patrick’s Day.
Different Italian regions celebrate this day differently, but all involve special meatless foods: minestrone, pasta with breadcrumbs (the breadcrumbs symbolize the sawdust that would have covered St. Joseph’s floor), seafood, Sfinge di San Giuseppe, and, always, fava beans, which are considered “lucky” because during the drought, the fava thrived while other crops failed.
Below is my sfinge di San Giuseppe recipe. I baked these. These baked sfinge turn out VERY light and are very delicate. Next time, I think I will fry them, they might be a little sturdier to handle. Makes about 24- 2 inch size sfinges.
1 cup water
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 TBSP sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
1 cup sifted flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 TBSP vanilla
2 cups drained ricotta cheese
1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate (or mini chocolate chips)
2 TBSP finely chopped pistachios (optional)
Put water, butter, granulated sugar, lemon rind, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, and as soon as the butter has melted, remove from heat. Add the flour all at once, stirring constantly and with vigor.
Return the pan to the heat, and stir constantly until the mixture forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the pan. Cook just a little longer (1-2 min,) stiring all the time until you hear a slight sizzling, frying sound. Remove the pan from the heat, and cool slightly.
Add the eggs, one at a time. Be sure that each egg is thoroughly blended into the mixture before you add the next. Stir until smooth and thoroughly blended. Stir, stir, stir then add the vanilla and stir some more. Cover the dough and let it stand for 15 to 20 minutes.
Baked version: Preheat the oven to 400º F. Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls (pile high because they deflate when you take them out of the oven) on a parchment-lined sheet, leaving about 1.5 inches between the sfinge. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool. I piped mine out in the pictures below but I think using a heaping Tbls piled high is better.
Fried version: In a heavy, 3-quart pot, heat the vegetable oil until a deep-frying thermometer registers 350 degrees F. Carefully drop rounded tablespoonfuls of the batter into the oil, about 6 at a time. (There should be enough room in the pot for them to float.) Turning as necessary, until golden brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Remove with a skimmer and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining batter allowing the oil to return to 350 degrees F before continuing.
Filling: A day before preparing the filling: Line a sieve with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta over the cheesecloth and the sieve over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Discard the liquid that drains into the bowl. Mix the ricotta, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate, and pistachios. Just before serving (so they don’t get soggy), cut sfinge in half leaving it attached on one side. Spoon some filling inside; place top back on after filling. Arrange on platter, sprinkle with powdered sugar to make them pretty.