Feast of St. Lucy 283-304, December 13

St.Lucy“Those whose hearts are pure are the temples of the Holy Spirit.”

Patron of: Blindness, Light, Clarity, Eye Disease, Dysentery, Epidemics, Cutlers, Electricians, Glaziers, Gondoliers, Oculists, Peasants, Writers, Vision.
Willing to give up the comforts of her privileged life in order to obtain a state of enlightenment, Saint Lucy is one of the early virgin martyrs who challenged the authority of the Roman state. Her very name means ‘light’ and as light is direct and clear, shining in the most filthy of environments, we invoke her for clarity of vision in the spiritual as well as the physical realm.

Born in Syracuse, Sicily to a wealthy family of Greek descent, Lucy’s father died when she was very young. Following the traditions of their society, Lucy had a large dowry and was affianced in an arranged marriage to a pagan nobleman. Lucy was a Christian and believed that she could best be a conduit of the Holy Spirit by remaining a virgin unfettered by husband and children. At this time Christianity was a great threat to the Roman Empire and the emperor Diocletian vowed to stamp it out wherever it arose. Lucy kept her vow a secret as Christians were considered revolutionaries against the state. Since her mother suffered from constant bleeding from a uterine hemorrhage, Lucy took her to the tomb of Saint Agatha in Catania, a place where many miracles were reported, for a healing. While spending the night there, Lucy dreamt of Saint Agatha who told her, “You have no need to invoke me, for your faith has already cured your mother. One day you will be known as the patron of your own city.” Upon awakening and finding her mother completely healed, Lucy confessed to her desire to remain a virgin and distribute her dowry among the poor. Impressed by her faith, her mother acquiesced to her daughter’s wishes.

When her fiance heard of the broken engagement he went to the governor to denounce Lucy as a Christian. In an attempt to change her mind, she was brought before the authorities. When she asked why was it so important that this man need to marry her, she was told because she had the loveliest eyes. Whereupon Lucy ripped out her eyeballs and told the governor to send them to her former fiance. The next day her eyesight was miraculously restored and Lucy was once again brought before the authorities. An attempt was made to have her taken to a brothel to be repeatedly raped, but a phalanx of soldiers could not move her. A team of oxen was brought in to no avail. Burning pitch was poured on her head, but she stood fast, predicting the downfall of the emperor. This last declaration proved to be too much and Lucy was fatally stabbed in the throat. True to her prophecy Diocletian the emperor abdicated his throne within the year.

It is said that “the longest of nights and shortest of days belong to Saint Lucy.” Because her feast day, December 13 used to be the winter solstice before the change to the Gregorian calendar, Lucy enjoys great patronage in Scandinavia as the saint who brings the coming of the light. Her relics were moved to Venice where she is celebrated in song by gondoliers. In Sicily she is credited with ending an epidemic of children’s deaths in the 14th century, today she is synonymous with Santa Claus, where children receive gifts on her feast day. When there was a famine in her native land during the 16th century, ships laden with raw wheat turned up on her feast day. The starving inhabitants cooked the wheat whole, and today it is customary to cook with raw wheat on her feast day.


Saint Lucy, your beautiful name signifies light. By the light of faith which God bestowed upon you, increase and preserve this light in my soul so that I may avoid evil, be zealous in the performance of good works, and abhor nothing as much as the blindness and darkness of evil and sin. By your intercession with God, obtain for me perfect vision for my bodily eyes and the grace to use them for God’s great honor and glory and the salvation of all men. Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr, hear my prayers and obtain my petitions.

(Mention your request here.)


An Easter Recipe from Dining With the Saints

Before I share this year’s Easter recipe, I’d like to tell you about a charming Facebook page I discovered, “Readings from the Sacro Bosco”: https://www.facebook.com/ilsacrobosco

Please stop by and like this facebook page. The nuns who write it would greatly appreciate it.



Torta Salata Pasquale

One of my favorite Easter recipes comes from Rome, the Abruzzo, and the areas of central Italy. There are many versions of torta salata Pasquale, a savory tart. The Roman version is more of a bread; in Abruzzo it can be constructed as a two-crusted torta. It always has a filling of prosciutto or salami, often olives, and pecorino or caciocavallo cheese. It’s eaten on Easter morning or Pasquetta, the day after Easter, when Italians pack up a picnic and head outdoors. This year I’m making mine breadlike, more Roman than not, and I’ll include prosciutto cotto, mortadella, black olives, pecorino , and a hefty dose of white wine. Sounds like it would be quite heavy, but for an eggy bread it’s in fact surprisingly light.

Happy Easter to everyone.


You’ll need a ten-inch springform pan, lightly greased with olive oil.


Torta Salata Pasquale


(Serves 10)


3¾ cups all-purpose flour
A generous pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
A pinch of cayenne
Freshly ground black pepper
A few big scrapings of nutmeg
1½ tablespoons  baking powder
¾ cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup Frascati or another dry white wine
6 large eggs
¾ cup small-diced prosciutto cotto
¾ cup small-diced mortadella
¾ cup  pitted and roughly chopped black olives, such as Niçoise
¾ cup grated pecorino Toscano cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the flour into a large bowl. Add the salt, sugar, cayenne, black pepper, nutmeg, and baking powder. Stir everything around well to blend.

Mix the olive oil, wine, and a cup of water together in a small bowl, and then pour it over the flour. Stir well with a wooden spoon to blend. The dough will be quite stiff at this point.

In another small bowl, whisk the eggs lightly, and slowly pour them into the flour mixture, mixing as you do, until they’re well incorporated (use an electric mixer if you like).

Add the prosciutto cotto, mortadella, olives, and pecorino, and mix briefly.

Pour the batter into the pan, and bake for about an hour, or until the bread puffs and the top is dark golden and springy. Let cool, and then loosen the springform. Serve at room temperature. In my experience this bread loses texture when refrigerated. Just cover it with plastic wrap to keep it moist. It will stay fresh for about five days.

(Dining with the Saints is written by Erica De Mane, a food writer specializing in Italian and Mediterranean cooking. For more of her recipes, please check out her blog at http://www.ericademane.com)




Lent begins on March 5, 2014 with the arrival of Ash Wednesday. Before that, many nations celebrate Carnevale or Mardi Gras, which translates into Fat Tuesday. Dining with the Saints author and chef, Erica De Mane has presented us with a recipe for Oyster’s Rockefeller, invented in New Orleans to celebrate this holiday before the Lenten fasts begin.


Oysters Rockefeller


Oysters Rockefeller is a simple to cook but quite extravagant dish. You don’t see it around much anymore except in New Orleans, where it was created. It’s  especially popular during Mardi Gras where every New Orleans restaurant serves their version. The original came from Antoine’s, which opened in 1840 and is still going strong.

 I love this dish, and I do make it at home for special occasions. It’s very rich, which is why it’s named after John D. Rockefeller, the richest American at the time it dish was invented.

 What you need are oysters on the half shell, spinach, butter, a splash of Pernod (it was originally most likely made with Absinth), and a few other incidental ingredients.

 Here’s how you do it:


Oysters Rockefeller


(Serves 5 to 6 as a appetizer)

 3 dozen oysters, on the half shell

2 shallots, finely diced

3/4 stick unsalted butter

A large bag of fresh spinach (about 9 ounces), well chopped

A large handful of flat-leaf parsley, Leaves chopped


Freshly ground black pepper

A splash of Pernod

½ cup grated parmigiano cheese

About 2 pounds kosher salt

A handful of Chervil sprigs


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.


In a large skillet, sauté the shallot in the butter until softened. Add the spinach and parsley and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper, and add the splash of Pernod, letting it boil away. Remove from the heat and stir in the parmigiano.

 Spread the kosher salt into two large baking dishes (something you would use for lasagna). Press the oysters down into the salt. Fill each one with a tablespoon or so of the spinach mixture.

 Bake, uncovered, until the oysters are just tender, about 6 minutes. Garnish with the chervil. Serve hot.

 Buon Fete from Antoine’s!

Dining with the saints is written by Erica De Mane. To see more of her recipes, go to her blog at http://www.ericademane.com

A Dining With the Saints Christmas Eve Salad

A Salad to be served after Christmas Eve Dinner, Southern Italian Style

Christmas Eve, according the the Catholic church, is a fast day. Catholics interpret this in many ways. Usually it means eating meagerly and avoiding meat. Southern Italians, always up for a grand food celebration, view this fast day as an opportunity to cook as many types of seafood as they can, often thirteen, symbolizing Jesus and his apostles. If you’re Italian-American, or have eaten Christmas Eve dinner with an Italian-American family, you know what kind of abondanza these feasts can be, with not a speck of meat in sight.

I have favorite Christmas Eve dishes I always make, such as baccala with potatoes and white wine, and spaghetti with clam sauce, but I always include at least one new one each year. Another constant is a variation on the classic Sicilian orange salad. It’s the best palate cleanser after so much fish. If you can find blood oranges, use them, but the salad is just as delicious with regular oranges. This year I’m adding mint, which is customary, but basil also goes really well with oranges, if you prefer.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Orange, Fennel, Black Olive, and Mint Salad

(Serves 4 or 5)

4 oranges, peeled and cut into thin rounds (include 2 blood oranges if you can find them),
2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced,
½ a red onion, cut into thin slices, a handful of black olives (I like the wrinkled Moroccan type for this salad),
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, your best extra-virgin olive oil, and a handful of fresh mint leaves

Arrange the orange and fennel slices on a large, pretty serving platter. Scatter on the red onion and the black olives. You can cover and chill this until you’re ready to serve it.

Right before serving, season with sea salt and black pepper. Drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil, and garnish with the mint leaves. Serve right away.

(Erica De Mane is a chef and food writer specializing in the Mediterranean diet. She has a popular blog at http://www.ericademane.com).

Image: A Neapolitan angel from a Christmas creche.


The Resurrection


Asparagus and Ricotta Tart with Thyme

Every year I make a Torta Pasqualina, an Italian savory vegetable tart, for Easter. The most traditional recipes use Swiss chard or spinach and sometimes include artichokes as well. Often they have whole eggs baked into them as well. I love this style, but I also like to experiment with other spring vegetables.

Ricotta and asparagus are two symbols of the earth’s renewal for Italians, and both of these fine ingredients figure prominently in Italian Easter recipes. This year I decided to work these well loved foods into my Torta Pasqualina. I’m happy to report, the recipe came out great and will definitely be a keeper for future Easter tables.

You’ll need a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom

For the crust:

2 cups all purpose flour


1 tablespoon sugar

A teaspoon of fresh, chopped thyme

4 tablespoons of cold, unsalted butter

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, chilled

4 or 5 tablespoons of cold white wine, possibly a little more

For the filling:

1 big bunch medium thick asparagus, trimmed and peeled (if you can only find really skinny ones, don’t bother peeling them)

Extra virgin olive oil

1 shallot, thinly sliced


Freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ cups whole milk ricotta

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons whole milk

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus a little extra for the top

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

The grated zest from 1 small lemon

To make the pastry:

Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor. Add the salt, sugar, and the thyme. Give it a few pulses to blend the ingredients. Add the butter and the olive oil and pulse 2 or 3 times to break the butter up into bits. Add the white wine and pulse once or twice more or until you have a mass of moist clumps (the dough should hold together when you pinch a bit of it). If it still seems too dry, add a tiny bit more wine and pulse again. Dump the dough out onto a work surface and press it into a ball. Give it one or two quick kneads and then wrap it in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Set up a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add the asparagus and blanch for about 3 minutes. Drain them and run them under cold water to stop the cooking and to bring up their green color. Cut the stems into thin rounds and leave the tips with about an inch of stalk attached whole.

In a small sauté pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and the asparagus rounds (not the tips), season with salt and black pepper, and sauté until the shallot has softened, about 2 minutes. Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Coat the tart pan with a little olive oil. Roll out the pastry dough on a lightly floured surface and drape it into the pan, trimming off any overhang. Stick the tart pan in the refrigerator while you’re preparing the filling.

Mix all the remaining ingredients for the filling together in a bowl, seasoning it well with salt and black pepper. Add the sautéed asparagus rounds and shallot and mix everything well.

Pour the filling mixture into the tart shell. Arrange the asparagus spears on top in a star pattern. Scatter a sprinkling of parmigiano over the top and drizzle on a little fresh olive oil.

Bake until the crust is golden and the filling is set, about 40 minutes.

Dining With the Saints for Christmas Eve

U spaghett’antalina for La Vigilia di Natale

Christmas Eve dinner, La Vigilia, is a meatless holiday meal, but that doesn’t prevent Catholic families, especially in Italy, from going all out. Fish and vegetable preparation are the theme and they are lavish and numerous. U spaghett’ antalina, as it’s called in Neapolitan dialect, is spaghetti tossed with a rich walnut and anchovy sauce. It’s a classic that appears on many Christmas Eve tables, both around Naples and in Italian-American households, usually as a first course.

The annual walnut harvest in the Sorrento peninsula happens in the late fall so by the time Christmas comes around the Neapolitan markets are filled with these really fresh, flavorful walnuts that are famous throughout Italy. I seldom find these lovely walnuts in New York, but when I make this dish, I look for the freshest nuts I can find. http://www.buonitalia.com is a great source for imported Italian nuts. I often buy from them.

Merry Christmas to you, and god bless.

spaghett’antalina for La Vigilia di Natale

(serves 5 as a first course)

1 ½ cups very fresh walnut halves

Sea salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

10 oil-packed anchovies, minced

1 pound spaghetti

a pinch of sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Fra Angelico liqueur (or a walnut liqueur if you have some)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

About ½ cup very lightly chopped flat leaf parsley

4  marjoram sprigs, leaves lightly chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the walnuts out on a sheet pan and roast them until just fragrant, about 5 minutes. Make sure to watch that they don’t burn. You just want them lightly golden.  Now stick them in a food processor and pulse a few time, to give them a rough chop.

Set up a big pot of pasta cooking water and bring it to a boil. Season with a good amount of salt and drop in the spaghetti.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low flame. Add the garlic and the anchovies and sauté until fragrant, about a minute or so. Add the walnuts, seasoning them with salt, black pepper, and a little sugar, and sauté a minute just to coat them with oil. Add the liqueur and let it boil away.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it, saving about ½ cup of the pasta water, and transfer it to a warmed serving bowl. Add the butter and toss. Add the walnut sauce with all the skillet juices, the parsley and the marjoram, and toss, adding a little pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Taste to see if it needs more salt or black pepper. Serve hot.

Dining With the Saints in Honor of Our Lady of Cobre

Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre

Our Lady of Charity is the patroness of Cuba, her Basilica is situated in the village of El Cobre, near Santiago del Cuba. She may not be as well known in American culture as Our Lady of Guadalupe, but her feast day on September 8th is celebrated where ever Cuban refugees have resettled. You can now find her image in churches around the world. She is a powerful force in Cuban culture, one that has not been eroded by Castro’s long regime.

Her story, I discovered, actually has somewhat of a culinary background. Around 1600, three boys were sent to gather salt needed to preserve the meat of the town’s slaughter house, which supplied food for the workers of the Spanish copper mines near Santiago, Cuba. On their way back from this labor, their frail boat was almost destroyed by a terrible storm. The boys feared for theirs lives. But then suddenly the waters became calm and they saw, in the distance, a white bundle floating on a piece of wood. It soon became apparent that it was a small statue of the Mother Mary holding the infant Jesus in her left arm and a gold cross in her right. Inscribed on the wooden boards below her were the words, “You soy la Virgen de la Caridad” (I am the Virgin of Charity).

So it seems only natural, given the initial reason for the boys’ journey, to celebrate Our Lady of Charity’s feast day with one of Cuba’s most famous and beloved beef dishes, Ropa Vieja. Here’s an easy and very traditional recipe. The meat needs to cook for several hours, but you can, after assembling everything, just put it in the oven and leave it unattended. After some lengthy cooking, the aroma of this stew, with its flavorings of roasted chilies, cumin, garlic, and sherry, will amaze you. Serve it with rice and fried sweet plantains and you’ll have a beautiful Cuban meal in honor of ‘La Caridad’.


Ropa Vieja


Olive oil


2 pounds flank steak, cut into 2 pieces

1 medium onion, chopped

1 Poblano chili, roasted, peeled, and cut into strips

1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, and cut into strips

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/2 cup dry sherry

1 cup light beef broth

1 small can of chopped tomatoes, with juice

2 bay leaves, fresh if possible

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

A handful of cilantro, lightly chopped

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.


In a large casserole fitted with a lid, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Salt the flank steak well on both sides and then brown it in the oil, turning it once. Now add the onion, the Poblano and bell pepper strips, and the garlic, and sauté for a few minutes. Add the sherry and let it boil away. Add the beef broth and the tomatoes, the bay leaves, cumin, and lime juice. Bring to a boil.

Cover the casserole and transfer it to the oven. Let it slow simmer for at least 3 hours (longer is even better). The meat should be very tender and falling apart. Now, using two forks, shred the meat into very thin strips. Add the cilantro and a drizzle of fresh olive oil, mixing it into the sauce. Taste to see if it needs a little more salt.

Erica De Mane is a writer and chef, check out her column at EricaDeMane.com).


Dining With the Saints in Honor of Saint Rosalia



The Feast Day of Santa Rosalia


Santa Rosalia is the patron Saint of Palermo, Sicily and her feast day on July 15th, known for centuries as Il Festino, was once on of the most elaborate events in all of Europe, stretching out sometimes to eight days of grand Baroque celebration with gloriously decorated guilt chariots, fireworks, and a passeggiata of nobility that made the throngs of spectators crazy with excitement. There was no better place to witness this extravaganza than in Palermo itself.

Il Festino, although not as lavish as it once was, is still quite the occasion, lasting two full days, beginning on July13th. The centerpiece of the feast of Santa Rosalia has always been a huge, ornate chariot shaped like a ship and decorated with golden seashells.  A modern and scaled down model of the original chariot, first unveiled in 1701, is still  pulled down Palermo’s main streets by six horses and filled with a forty piece orchestra dressed in pink and purple velvet, all in honor of the Saint the Sicilians have nicknamed La Santuzza, the little saint, the women who in 1624 appeared to a hunter in a vision, after not being seen since 1159, to save Palermo from a devastating plague.

Sicily’s unusual assortment of street food is what occupies the spectators while they wait for the golden chariot of Santa Rosalia to pass by and then the grand finale fireworks show. Small painted carts, some drawn by donkeys, are loaded with roasted fava beans and chick peas, carob pods, salty lupini beans, roasted hazelnuts, fried rice balls known as arancine, anchovies, octopus, and babbaluci, tiny garlic and parsley flavored snails that everyone digs out of their shells with toothpicks.

Sicily’s famous ice cream and sorbetti is also very  much a presence at this feast, offered in traditional flavors such as lemon, jasmine, cinnamon, mandarin, orange flower water, watermelon and cantaloupe. You can also sample Palermo’s famous gelo di melone, a classic cold watermelon gelatin decorated with chocolate, pistachios, almond paste, and candied fruits, a perfect example of the Sicilian’s love of elaborate sweets. I was once served this in a restaurant and it came presented in a pastry shell and decorated with fresh jasmine flowers. Watermelon sorbetto, also flavored with cinnamon, chocolate, and pistachios, and sometimes jasmine water, is a lot easier to make than the gelatin version. Here’s my version. It’s exotic and amazingly refreshing, the perfect way to celebrate the feast of Santa Rosalia, and to help you get through a hot July day. Choose a dark pink, locally grown watermelon for best flavor and color.

Watermelon Sorbetto with Bittersweet Chocolate

(This recipe is from my book The Flavors of Southern Italy, published by John Wiley & Sons)

2/3 cup sugar

½ cup water

1 5 pound piece of ripe watermelon, peeled and cut into chunks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

The grated zest from 1 small lemon

1 egg white, whisked until foamy

A handful of unsalted, shelled pistachios

½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Fresh mint sprigs for garnish

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and the water. Bring it to a boil and let it bubble for about 2 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let this cool completely.

Add the watermelon chunks to a food processor a handful at a time, pulsing them to a fairly smooth puree (don’t worry about the seeds). Strain the juice through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl (help it along by whisking it). Continue until you’ve used up all the watermelon. You should have about 4 ½ cups of juice. Add the sugar syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, lemon zest, and egg white, mixing everything well. Chill the watermelon mixture for several hours, or until very cold.

Now pour it into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions until halfway frozen. Add the pistachios and the chocolate and continue freezing until firm. Garnish each serving with a few mint sprigs (or fresh jasmine flowers if you happen to have any).


Dining with the Saints is a monthly feature written by the chef and food writer Erica De Mane. Check out her blog at http://www.ericademane.com

Dining With the Saints


A Simple Ricotta Cake to Celebrate Easter

When I was a kid, Easter, culinarily speaking, meant Italian ricotta cake. We never made them at home, but purchased a Pastiera, the only-made-at-Easter time version of this cake from Rocco’s bakery on Long Island. The Pastiera contains whole wheat berries, candied fruit, and a beautiful lattice top. Rocco’s version was flavored with  orange flower water and vanilla, aromas that made the shop smell exotic.

This is a fabulous cake and a great Southern Italian tradition. It’s also, as I discovered when I finally decided to bake one myself, quite time consuming. This Easter I’ve decided to play around with the classic recipe, streamlining it, but without losing any of its alluring flavor. It wasn’t as hard as I thought. I did away with the crust and lightened the filling with beaten egg whites. I keep the vanilla and orange flower water flavoring which, for me, really makes this cake special. The resulting recipe, to my amazement, baked up elegant, incredibly fragrant, and almost as light as a soufflé, and this version, I kid you not, takes only 5 to 8 minutes to assemble. You think you don’t have the time or patience to bake a beautiful ricotta cake this Easter? Think again.

Ricotta Cake With Orange Flower Water and Honey

About a tablespoon or so of softened butter to grease the pan

6 extra large eggs

½ cup sugar

½ cup orange blossom honey

A big pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon orange flower water

The grated zest from 1 large lemon

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 large container of whole milk ricotta (about 30 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees

Grease a nine inch spring form pan with the butter.

Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a food processor and the whites in the bowl of the mixer (either a standing or handheld one).

Add the sugar, honey, salt, vanilla, orange flower water, and lemon zest to the food processor and give it a few good pulses. Now add the ricotta and the nutmeg and process until the mixture is smooth. Pour this into a large bowl.

Whip the egg whites until they achieve the classic stiff peak stage.

Add half the egg whites to the bowl and gently fold them in. Now add the rest of the egg whites and fold until just blended.

Pour this into the greased pan and bake until the cake is browned and puffy and feels fairly firm in the center, about 50 minutes to an hour.

Place the cake on a rack. It’ll immediately deflate a bit, but that’s normal. Let it cool and then remove the rim of the pan.

Dining With the Saints is written by writer and chef Erica De Mane. Visit her at ericademane.com.

Image: “Morning of the Resurrection” by Edward Burne-Jones  1882

Dining With the Saints


Saint Joseph’s Day

March 19th is Saint Joseph’s feast day. This is a huge holiday for Italians and for Italian-Americans. At one time it was actually an Italian national holiday. As a kid our next door neighbor always made the traditional Neapolitan St. Joseph day fritters called Zeppole di San Guiseppe. They were the most delicious sweet I could imagine and I waited for them every year. She’d hoist a big pot of oil up onto her outdoor barbeque and drop in balls of sweetened dough, cooking them until they were golden and puffy. Then she injected them inside, using a small turkey baster type thing, with a lemon custard. And just to make them richer, each one was topped with a dollop of sweetened ricotta and a cherry. There are many variations on this pastry through the South. In Sicily they’re called sfinci and are usually filled with a cannoli-like filling.

Considering that Saint Joseph’s day falls during Lent, a period of liturgical fasting that coincides with the fasting imposed by nature, this extremely decadent pastry always seemed to me a bit inappropriate for the occasion. That’s Southern Italy for you.

But before anyone gets to bite into one of these treats, everyone sits down to a bowl of bean soup. In Sicily Maccu di San Guiseppe, a soup made from dried favas, chick peas, and chestnuts is one of the bean dishes served, and many families cook up large pots of pasta e fagioli, serving it to anyone who happens to drop by. Here’s my version of an old pasta e fagioli recipe from around Naples. It’s made with a home-made, eggless pasta called lagane and chick peas flavored with hot chilis, parsley and garlic. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph.

Lagane e Ceci

(Serves 4)

For the lagane:

1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups fine durum wheat flour

For the sauce:

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cool water to cover
1 bay leaf, fresh if possible
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 small, fresh red peperoncino pepper, minced
A sprig of rosemary, the leaves chopped
A splash of dry white wine
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves lightly chopped
A chunk of firm Caciocavallo cheese (optional)

To cook the chickpeas:

Drain the chickpeas and place them in a large pot. Cover them with cool water by at least 2 inches. Add the bay leaf and turn the heat to high. When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat and let them simmer gently, partially covered, until tender, about 1 1/2 hours, but it really depends on how hard your chic peas are. Some can take longer, so start testing them after about 1 1/2 hours. Add more warm water if needed to keep the chickpeas covered. When they’re tender, season them with salt and a generous drizzle of olive oil, and turn off the heat.

To make the pasta:

Pour the water and the salt into the bowl of a food processor and give it a few pulses. Start adding the flour a little at a time, giving it a few pulses each time to work it in. When the flour is incorporated and everything has formed a slightly sticky ball, dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (if the dough seems too dry, drizzle in a tiny bit more warm water and pulse a few more times). Knead until the dough is smooth and shiny, about 8 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set it aside to rest for about 1/2 hour.

Cut the dough into 4 parts. Flour the first piece of dough lightly and run it through a hand-cranked pasta machine several times at each setting until you get to the third-to-last setting. The lagane should be a little thicker than standard fettuccine. Do this with each piece of dough. Lay all the pasta sheets out on a floured surface and let them sit to firm up for about 5 minutes. Now cut the sheets into approximately 1/4-inch-wide strips. Cut the strips into 2-inch lengths. Sprinkle the lagane with a little flour and lay them out so that the pieces don’t touch.

To make the sauce:

Drain the chickpeas, saving all their cooking liquid.

Set up a large pot of pasta cooking water and bring it to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt.

In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the peperoncino, rosemary, and the garlic, and sauté a minute longer, just to release their fragrances. Add about half of the chickpeas, and sauté them in the oil for about 3 or 4 minutes, letting them turn a little golden. Season with salt. Add the splash of white wine, and let it boil way. Add 1/2 cup of the chickpea cooking water, and let the sauce simmer. You’ll have some chickpeas left over to use for a salad or a side dish (it seems to me if I’m going to take the time to cook dried chickpeas, I might as well make a good amount and use them for different dishes).

Drop the lagane into the water and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain well and add them to the skillet. Toss everything together briefly in the skillet, adding a generous drizzle of fresh olive oil and the parsley. Add more salt if needed. You can also add a little extra ceci cooking liquid if it seems dry (the consistency shouldn’t be too soupy, but a little moisture is the traditional texture). Transfer to a warmed serving bowl, and serve with grated Caciocavallo if desired. Often in Southern Italy dishes that contain hot chilies are serves without cheese, but this is not a hard rule, so just follow your taste. I like my lagane e ceci with a little cheese.

(Dining With the Saints is written by chef and writer Erica De Mane. Check out her blog: EricaDeMane.com)