Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Ahh, The Feast of the St. Joseph. Personally, it's my favorite March holiday as I never felt quite right making a big deal for St. Patrick's Day. I'm not Irish, not even a little bit. Nor do I care for beer all that much. And I certainly have no interest in any sort of a bar crawl (which is unfortunately what the day has deteriorated to). For sure there are a few good Catholic Irish who head to church to honor their patron saint, but for most people, it's an excuse to abuse your liver and eat corned beef and cabbage (which I do enjoy once a year). But St. Joseph's Day? THAT I can get into. Saint Joseph, Jesus' step-father, the patron saint of Sicily, fathers, the sick, workers and a happy death...also the name day for people like my own father and brother. 

The day has great memories for me, from my grandmother making sure that Dad and Joseph had their zeppole, to celebrating with my neighbor's family (also full of 'Joe's') at the family catering hall in Garfield NJ.

For Italian-Americans, it's a day still steeped in tradition. A feast for sure, but no meat because it falls during Lent. Not a problem for us, put fish with the pasta! Cover it in oil and garlic! Top it with breadcrumbs (because St. Joseph was a carpenter, they represent saw dust)!  Fava beans are also a popular ingredient. Then, serve these beautiful desserts.

Airy puffs, filled with a ricotta based cream and topped with a cherry. The zeppole were created in Naples in 1840 to celebrate the feast day; and are still a treasured tradition for both Italians and Italian-Americans.  

 Dad & Joseph at Ostia Antica just outside of Rome.

Dad & Joseph at Ostia Antica just outside of Rome.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe
Makes about 20 pastries
Start the day before serving

For the Filling:
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 c. ricotta
1/4 c. sugar
2 tbs. orange liquer
1 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of 1/2 an orange
1/4 c. mini chocolate chips
2 tbs. candied citrus (optional)

Place the ricotta in a strainer and allow to drain for about 30 minutes.

Whip the heavy cream until peaks form. Set aside.

Whip the ricotta with the sugar. Add in the liquer and vanilla and whip again.

Fold in the whipped cream.

Fold in the chips, orange zest and the candied citrus if using. Cover and refrigerate the filling for 8 hours or overnight.

For the Zeppole
1 1/2 c. water
1 1/2 sticks of butter
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tbs. sugar
1 1/2 c. flour
6 eggs
zest of 1/2 an orange

Preheat oven to 400°. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Heat water, butter, salt & sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until the butter melts and the mixture starts to boil.

Use a wooden spoon to stir vigorously while pouring in the four. Continue to stir until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. The mixture should now form a smooth batter.

Mix in the orange zest.

Put the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe it onto the cookie sheets in the shape of small bird's nests. Creating a flat bottom with elevated sides and small well in the middle. Continue until all the mixture has been used.

Bake at 400° for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the pastries from the oven and allow to cool completely.

To Assemble the Zeppole:
Maraschino cherries (or cherries in syrup)
powdered sugar

Slice each pastry in half, but not all the way, creating a clam shell. The upper half should look like a small doughnut with a hole in the middle and the bottom half should be a solid circle.

Place the filling into a pastry bag. Pipe about 2 tbs. worth of filling onto each bottom half. Clover with the tops. Pipe another dollop of filling into the hole of each pastry. 

Top each with a cherry and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days. 

Buon Appetito! Happy St. Joseph's Day!