The Feast Day of Saint Joseph, Part I: Pasta Milanese

Celebrated on March 19th, in Western Christianity, Saint Joseph's Day is the Feast Day for Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary. In Catholicism, Saint Joseph's Day is a holy day of obligation. Traditions for this Feast Day vary depending upon location, for example, Saint Joseph's Day is also Father's Day in primarily Catholic countries such as Spain, Italy and Portugal. Traditions of Saint Joseph's Day are strongly upheld in Italy, especially in Sicily where Saint Joseph is recognized as their Patron Saint. It is said that the Sicilians prayed to Saint Joseph for rain during a drought in the Middle Ages. The people promised their Patron Saint a huge feast if he were to help them. Sure enough the rains came, and the Sicilians kept their promise by offering Saint Joseph a feast. Many Italian-American communities honor this day with celebration but the Sicilian community in New Orleans, Louisiana is most known for their strong observation of this Feast Day.

Being part Sicilian and from New
Orleans, I have participated in many traditional Saint Joseph's Dinners throughout the years. As a major port for Sicilian immigrants in the 19th century, New Orleans' Italian-American community pays homage to Saint Joseph similar to the way they do in the old country with a large meat-free meal and the presentation of altars to Saint Joseph with homemade fig cookies, cakes and breads. But in New Orleans, no holiday, Feast Day or otherwise goes without a parade, so yes, there is also the Italian-American Parade, which I had the honor of seeing while in New Orleans last weekend.

In churches throughout the city, in schools, and in Italian restaurants, you will find extensive altars to Saint Joseph. The baked goods are made and offered to the altar by the surrounding communities. Visitors observe these altars which are often quite beautiful and extravagant. The food does not go to waste; it is usually donated to those in need once the Feast Day celebrations have ended. Growing up, my Sicilian family in New Orleans, paid respect to this holiday by gathering and eating traditional Italian
foods served on this day. The Saint Joseph's Day menu is meat-free because this day does fall during the Lenten season. Some fish dishes that you may find are Pasta Milanese, an anchovy-based red sauce served with pasta, and salted codfish, which varies in preparation. Numerous vegetable dishes are served such as eggplant, carduni (cardoon), a Mediterranean thistle-like plant in the same family as the Globe artichoke, cabbage casserole, and Fava beans. The Fava beans are an important factor in this meal because this crop supposedly saved the Sicilians from starvation.

With so many dishes to discu
ss, I will focus on one, Pasta Milanese. You will find that bread crumbs have a strong presence in this meal; and there is a reason behind this. Because Saint Joseph was a carpenter, the bread crumbs represent the saw dust from Joseph's carpentry. Pasta Milanese is a rich, salty and sweet dish, often one of the most filling dishes of the whole meal. The anchovies and capers give the saltiness, while raisins, wine and a pinch of sugar give the dish its sweetness. If you don't think you will like the anchovies, then I beg you just to try it. I never thought I would like it but when I tried sardines at a tapas restaurant recently, I realized that my palate may be ready for anchovies. The flavor is mostly salty, which is why no additional salt is needed in this dish. Being Italian or Sicilian is not required to enjoy this dish or this meal. Because I have such variety in my genes being American first and foremost but also Sicilian, French, German, English and Irish, I find that I enjoy embracing the cuisines from all different cultures. I encourage you to do the same. Preparing and experiencing foods from a different ethnicity not only broadens the horizon of your palate, but also allows for you and your family to learn about other cultures.

Lizzy M.'s Pasta Milanese

Extra virgin olive oil

Dash of crushed red pepper

5-6 anchovy filets (canned in olive oil)

1 medium onion, diced

1 tbsp Italian seasoning

1 tsp Oregano

Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp capers

Handful of raisins
3 garlic cloves, grated or minced

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup dry red wine

2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1 tsp sugar

1-16oz can of crushed tomatoes

1 lb Bucatini, a thick spaghetti wit
h a hole in the center (Spaghetti will work fine as well.)

Bread Crumb Topping

1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp sugar


1. In a large saute pan, heat a liberal drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and add a dash of crushed red pepper. Once heated over medium heat, add the anchovy filets. Saute the anchovies, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. The anchovies will gradually dissolve into the olive oil, about 3-5 minutes.

2. Add the onions and saute for about 3 minutes. Next, add in the capers, raisins and garlic. Saute for another 3-5 minutes, stir often to keep the garlic from burning. Then add the tomato paste and allow to cook for another 3 minutes.

3. Next, add the wine, Balsamic vinegar and sugar to the pan. Scrape the bottom of the pan well with the wooden spoon to bring up any tasty bits stuck to the pan. Finally, add in the crushed tomatoes. Stir well. Cover and let the sauce simmer on low heat while the pasta cooks.

4. Boil Bucatini or Spaghetti according to the

5. For the bread crumb topping, in a small dry pan, add in the bread crumbs and sugar over low heat. Stir constantly until the mixture becomes golden brown, about 7 minutes. Don't walk away from this, as it could burn quickly if the heat is too high. Once done, place in a small serving dish on the dinner table to have available to sprinkle on top of the Pasta Milanese.

Enjoy this Lenten pasta dish with
fresh bread and a salad. Or stay tuned for more Saint Joseph's Day dishes if you would like to experience preparing this entire Feast Day meal.

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