The feast of St Joseph, earthly father of Jesus Christ and husband of Mary, is celebrated on March 19 in Italy, which is also Father’s Day. (Which makes sense really. He’s also the patron saint of anyone wishing to sell a home and homeowners desperate to sell their homes have been known to bury a statue of St. Joe in their front yard to help it sell – sometimes upside down, although I’ve never understood the logic of that – but that is all another story.)
As with any religious holiday in Italy, there are specific dishes and desserts to celebrate the occasion, differing from region to region and town to town. In Siena, from mid-February to mid-March the bakeries are filled with Frittelle di San Giuseppe, fried pastries made with rice and orange zest and rolled in granulated sugar. Sometime in February, a small wooden hut is erected in the Piazza di Campo in the middle of Siena and retired men and women of the community take turns frying the delicacies and selling them wrapped in cones of paper, 3 for a euro.
Originally a Sicilian custom, the Italian American community in the US actually celebrates St. Joseph’s Day with more sincerity than do the Italians; many churches and families of Southern Italian heritage build St. Joseph’s tables to honor the saint. The table typically has a shrine to St. Joe or the Holy Family and is decorated with baked goods, cakes and cookies and occasionally savory dishes as well. After prayers and blessings are said everyone partakes in the bounty.
Here is the recipe for Frittelle di San Giuseppe:
1 lb rice
3 quarts water
1 teas salt
Zest from 1 orange and 1 lemon
2 tbsp flour
Peanut oil for frying
Granulated sugar for coating
Bring the water to a boil with the salt and cook the rice until it is really well done, stirring occasionally and adding additional water if necessary. Drain the rice, place it in a colander over a bowl and leave it to drain, then spread it on a sheet pan and leave it to dry out, at least 4 hours.
Mix the rice with the citrus zest, flour, sugar and egg until it becomes creamy. Heat the oil, scoop small balls of dough about 1” in diameter into the oil and fry until golden brown, turning for even cooking. Drain on paper towels and roll in sugar to coat. Served hot, warm, or room temperature.