It is a little-known fact that millions of Italian families, whose ancestors arrived during waves of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century, mark an ethnic and cultural celebration in mid-March. Overshadowed by the overwhelming popularity of St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th, this holiday and other traditional Italian observances are hinted at in films like The Godfather, where an iconic scene features bystanders lined up along a parade route following a statue adorned with dollar bills. On March 19th, Italians commemorate the Feast of Saint Joseph (Festa di San Giuseppe) with parades and processions throughout the northeastern states and in New Orleans. Bakeries and families eagerly anticipate the sale and purchase of special fried and baked sweets native to the cuisine of Sicily and the Neapolitan region of Southern Italy. This week’s blog honors those traditions and sentiments with an ode to Italian ancestry and a recipe for the Italian confection most associated with “the festa,” zeppole, a sweet delight which holds an honored place in the pantheon of Italian cuisine. — Editor
Patricia R. Antolino
My ancestors live in my body
Each cell remembers them
I hear their voices and feel their hearts beating with mine
I am an Italian immigrant,
I sell vacuums, insurance, girdles, vinegar, candy and vegetables
I am a barber, own laundromats, a jewelry store and a bar
I am a housewife, a mother, a phone operator, a secretary and a waitress
I am a foreman, a war veteran, an elevator operator and a pimp
I am a peasant, a pharmacist, a dress designer and a painter
I am a singer, a piano player and a hat checker
I scrub floors, wash dishes, make beds, mend clothes and prepare meals
I am the oldest, youngest and those not born
I have brown eyes and blue, full lips and thick dark hair
I am short, handsome, charismatic and beautiful
My voice is almost always raised with passion
I laugh loudly, talk with my hands, cry easily and wail at funerals
I believe in family and working hard
I am uneducated and a college graduate
I am child-like, depressed, unaware and angry
I am humiliated, tortured, beaten and raped
I keep secrets, hide my eyes and am loyal to the family code of silence
I am old before my time, my ambitions and dreams crushed
I am insane, weak and my body is sick
I have a bad heart, arthritis, back pain, cancer and diabetes
I hide my wisdom, make myself small and put myself behind my father, husband and son
I hold grudges, conjure spells, give the evil eye and drop oil in water
I am strong, athletic and determined
I sing from my soul, dance with abandon and celebrate life
I am quick to laugh, easily smile and tell silly jokes
I help my friends, family and community gracefully, serving with joy
I am creative, imaginative and sensitive
I am intuitive and have a strong connection and deep faith in God
I persevere when times are hard, making gold where there was nothing
I look at life with wonder, awe and delight
I am baptized and confirmed
I am Catholic and Jehovah Witness
I go to confession on Saturdays and church on Sundays
I believe in God and play bingo
I light candles to the Virgin and pray the rosary every day
I smoke cigars and drink anisette
I bake bread and cakes
Make fresh pasta and soups
I wear old clothes, alligator shoes, Italian suits, housedresses and aprons
I am married, single, divorced and widowed
I marry when I am young and when I am old
I marry for love, security and because it is the right thing to do
I marry a bootlegger, an alcoholic, a tile layer and a womanizer
I miscarry, have abortions, take in foster children, bear a Down child and father 27 children
I died dancing at a wedding
Singing Italian songs in the bathroom
Putting a gun in my mouth
Visiting my homeland and in childbirth
I died from breast cancer, heart attack and old age
I died from MS, a nurse’s mistake, a motorcycle accident and a stroke
I died young and I died old
I bless all those who came before me
Paving the way for me to come in
For sharing their love and wisdom in form and out
Who, as I hear their whispers, encourage me
To forgive and love
To keep my heart open through the hardest of times so love may prevail
To them, I say thank you
St. Joseph’s Zeppole
No celebration of St. Joseph’s Day can occur without indulging in the traditional sweet known as Zeppole di San Giuseppe. Dessert shop windows bulge with this donut shaped choux pastry, filled with silky pastry cream and topped with a black amarena cherry and a drop of syrup. Originally from the Campania region near Naples this treasured confection can now be found throughout Italy in a variety of guises and with different names, such as the fried bignè di San Guiseppe and sfinge. Medieval storytellers wove a tale about St. Joseph making and selling fried fritters to support the holy family during their exile in Egypt. Thus, on Italian Father’s Day (St. Joseph’s Day) Italian bakers throughout Italy and in Italian American enclaves in the US and Canada produce zeppole by the hundreds. The following recipe illustrates the “healthier” baked version that resembles a French éclair. Light as air and subtly sweet, it is a perfect tribute to ancestral bakers and immigrants. —Editor
ZEPPOLE DI SAN GIUSEPPE (ST JOSEPH’S ZEPPOLE)
PREP TIME: 10 Minutes
COOK TIME: 35 Minutes
TOTAL TIME: 45 Minutes
AUTHOR: Andrea Soranidis
2.80 oz butter cut into chunk
1/2 cup water
½ teaspoon sugar optional
a pinch salt
½ teaspoon lemon zest finely minced, optional
1 cup flour
3 medium eggs
2/3 cup Italian pastry cream*
15 black cherries (amarene) in syrup
1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
Place the butter, water, salt, sugar (optional) and lemon zest (optional) in a saucepan, whisk gently and bring to a boil over low heat.
When the water is starting to boil add the sifted flour all at once. and vigorously mix the flour in. Using a wooden spoon mix until the dough comes together into a smooth ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Using a wooden spoon mix until the dough and cook for 1-3 minutes, until it comes together into a smooth ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Transfer the dough onto a marble surface and spread it to let it cool. You can also place the dough in a bowl, and then flatten the dough along the sides of the bowl.
Transfer the dough into a bowl. Whisk the eggs in a jar, then slowly incorporate them into the dough, whilst whisking, until you have a creamy, dense shiny dough that is pipeable.
Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C and arrange the oven tray onto the middle shelf.
Transfer the dough to a pastry bag with a large star-shaped tip. Pipe the dough into 3-inch sized circles (you can make one circle or two overlapping ones) onto a tray covered with parchment paper.
Bake the zeppole for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 360°F/ 180°C and bake for 20 minutes. Open the oven door slightly and let the zeppole bake for another 5 minutes.
Transfer the zeppole on a cooling rack, then cut them horizontally, and fill them with pastry cream. Close, and pipe more cream on top, decorate with cherries and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
• For best results use a kitchen scale to measure the ingredients.
• Cut the butter into small cubes, and make sure it’s melted before the water starts to boil.
• Don’t add the eggs while the dough is too hot. This can cook the eggs and impart a fried taste.
• To pipe the pastry dough and the pastry cream use a large star tip or use what you have.
• Make sure you leave enough space between the zeppole as they’ll double in size in the oven.
• Do not open the oven while the zeppole are baking, this could make them collapse.
• The non-stuffed zeppole can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
• Once filled, keep them in the refrigerator and consume within a couple of days.
*PASTRY CREAM–CREMA PASTICCERA
• 6 medium egg yolks
• 0.8 cups sugar
• 1 vanilla bean, or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
• 3 Tablespoons (generous) corn starch
• 17.64 oz fresh whole milk
• Whisk the egg yolks with sugar and vanilla for about 2 minutes, until light and fluffy.
• Slowly incorporate sifted corn starch into the egg mixture, and whisk until it’s fluffy, smooth and well combined, about 2 minutes.
• Heat milk over low heat until you see the first bubbles, then immediately remove from heat.
• Drop the egg mixture gently over the hot milk and return the pan over low heat. Do not stir.
• Wait a few seconds, the egg mixture will float over the milk surface (because the whipped mixture has incorporated enough air to remain on the surface).
• In about 30 seconds milk bubbles will pierce the surface of the egg mixture and it will slowly incorporate it.
• When most of the surface is covered with milk, turn the heat off, take the pan away from the heat, and immediately whisk the mixture vigorously for about 30 seconds.
• While you whisk, the mixture will almost immediately turn into pastry cream. It should be thick, creamy and smooth.
• Transfer your crema pasticcera into a ceramic or glass casserole dish or a baking pan, and cover with plastic wrap, making sure it touches the surface of the cream.
• Once cooled down, the crema pasticcera has a thick smooth texture and holds its shape, and it’s ready to be served or used in other dessert recipes.
• If you use flour instead of corn starch, you need to cook the cream for a few minutes, bringing it over 185° F, stirring constantly to prevent it from sticking. This can easily result in a lumpy cream or an overcooked cream, so be careful. This won’t happen with corn starch, which makes the recipe faster and easier, and naturally gluten-free.
• Remember to remove the egg and milk mixture immediately from the heat right before you whisk the cream, to avoid cooking the mixture (a mistake that can turn your cream grainy or lumpy).
• If the mixture still appears unstructured, move away from the heat anyway, turn quickly and place it again on the stove for a few seconds on very low heat.
• Using a baking dish or pan to cool down the cream will make it cool down and set much more quickly than in a bowl.
• Cover the prepared pastry cream with plastic wrap making sure it adheres perfectly to the surface of the cream. Otherwise, as the pastry cream cools down and makes contact with air, it will form a thin crust over the surface.
As we reminded you last week, April is National Poetry Month, and we’d like you to help us celebrate. And while drinking a glass of wine would be appropriate, we were hoping you’d help us by contributing a poem. Most of the poetry we’ll share during April will be written by OLLI-USF members. Why not you?
The first rule is: there are no rules. The poem you create is your poem, and we’re not going to argue with you. We tried that with Ezra Pound, and lost big time. But to make things a bit easier this time around (We’ll be tougher on you in 2024.) we invite you to start with a Haiku, if you’d like to.
You can be serious …
A Poppy Blooms
by Katsushika Hokusai
I write, erase, rewrite
Erase again, and then
A poppy blooms.
… or playful …
My cow gives less milk,
now that it has been eaten,
by a fierce dragon.
Save whatever flows from your fingers into your keyboard and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. — Editors
Patricia R. Antolino was born and raised in the Bronx in the 1950s. A self-avowed hippie, she couldn’t have asked for a better time to grow up. The civil rights movement, protests against the Vietnam war, and the women’s movement kept her engaged and solidified her desire to bring peace and remembrance of our connection to each other. After she retired, she moved to Tampa where she considered herself lucky to connect with Marilyn Myerson’s Imaginative Writing Group, and became a member of her “Crew.” Patricia’s lifelong desire is to bring hope, joy, and a smile to those she meets and through the stories she shares.