Fast on the heels of St. Patrick’s Day comes the lesser known St. Joseph’s Day or The Feast of St. Joseph, a day to honor San Giuseppe, the Patron Saint of Workers. Many Italian-Americans, especially Sicilians, celebrate St. Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary and Jesus’ stepfather, for saving their island from famine in the Middle Ages. The Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph asking for rain, promising a feast in his honor. The rain did indeed come, the Sicilians prepared a giant celebration for their patron saint and it has since become an annual traditional feast. There are many modern customs associated with March 19, among them, wearing red, building a 3-tiered altar decked out with seasonal delicacies that are then given to the needy, eating a zeppola—that irresistible, sugar-coated Italian confection also known as fried dough—and carrying a dried fava bean in your pocket for good luck.
The fava bean is at the center of the Feast of St. Joseph, since that was the magical crop that saved the Sicilians from starvation. It’s featured in pastas, salads and soups. Another must-have dish on March 19 is the Sicilian classic, pasta con sarde, that sweet and savory combination of sardines, fennel, pine nuts, and raisins dusted with breadcrumbs that undoubtedly tastes best while eaten on a patio overlooking the Ionian Sea. Meatless dishes prevail on this occasion since March 19 always falls during Lent. Dishes with breadcrumbs are also common, as they are meant to represent sawdust in a nod to St. Joseph’s profession as a carpenter. And don’t forget the citrus: it is believed that a woman who secretly steals a lemon from the St. Joseph’s Day altar will find a husband.
Fava Bean Puree with Bitter Greens
Since the mighty fava bean is the star of the feast, we decided to prepare this classic peasant dish, Fave e Cicoria. We love this for its simplicity and sophistication. It can be served as an appetizer or a side dish, but we adore it so much, we’re happy to have it as a main course served with plenty of crusty Italian bread. Dried fava beans can be found at most good supermarkets or Italian specialty stores. We like Bob’s Red Mill fava beans http://www.bobsredmill.com/fava-beans.html for their quality and availability.
½ pound dried fava beans, soaked overnight
1 clove garlic
2 tsp salt, or to taste
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for serving
1 tbsp lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound bitter greens, dandelion greens, tuscan kale, or chicory
1 loaf of italian bread, sliced
Drain the fava beans and place in a large saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover the beans. Bring the pot to a slow boil, skimming off the foam that rises to the top. Once the foam subsides, add the salt and garlic clove. Stirring occasionally, simmer the beans uncovered for about 1 hour or until they have mostly dissolved into the water. Using an immersion blender or hand held mixer blend in the olive oil and lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a serving bowl. Don’t worry if the puree seems thin as it will thicken up substantially as it cools.
While the beans cook, prepare the greens. Chop the greens in thirds or leave whole if desired. Wash the greens well, but don’t dry them. Cook them for a few minutes, or until tender in a pan coated in olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove greens from the pan and place in the center of the puree.
Serve with plenty of bread.