Posted on

Patrick isn’t March’s only saint

Patrick isn’t March’s only saint
Patrick isn’t March’s only saint
Suetta Tingler

After the shamrocks and trading in the Irish green comes along another interesting tradition where wearing red, not green, is the custom. Out of the shadows of dear St. Patrick comes a different saint that brings Italian-American communities to the table, a feast in celebration of St. Joseph, recognized as the patron of workers, pastry chefs, guardian of families as well as believed to be the foster father of Jesus.

Legend tells of a severe drought during the Middle Ages when the people of Sicily were dying of famine. After praying to St. Joseph, eventually the rains came to save the fava bean crop, sparing the people of further starvation. Once the problem subsided, the Sicilians feasted in thanks and promised to honor the saint each year with a feast called St. Joseph’s Table celebrated on March 19, said to be the birthday of St. Joseph.

St. Joseph’s Table is celebrated around the world and is especially big in American cities with high proportions of Italians as New York City, Niagara Falls, Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y. Chicago, Rockford and Elmwood Park in Illinois, Gloucester, Mass., Hawthorne, Lodi and Hoboken in New Jersey, Tampa, Fla., Providence, R.I., San Pedro, Calif., St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., as well as New Orleans seriously share in the “wearing of the red” festivities.

For a long span of years, I called Rochester, N.Y., home and attended several St. Joseph’s Table events put on by the public school in which I taught. In my case, it was the mission of the foreign language department to sponsor such cultural-teaching opportunities. Specifically, the Italian language teachers were the ones in charge of set up and organizing food donations from among staff and students, all while keeping in mind the original Sicilian tradition to donate leftovers to the poor at the close of the celebration.

St. Joseph’s Table works much like an open house in that guests are encouraged to mix and mingle but are free to come and go as they wish. Able guests are expected to contribute to “the table”: meatless casserole, assorted pasta dishes, salads, even a pot of hearty soup or stew. Recipes containing beans, especially fava, are favorites since they hold symbolic meaning. Olives, fresh and dried fruits, pastries and homemade breads make wonderful offerings. In Italy, dishes using fish as an ingredient, particularly anchovies, are popular.

Now, with the knowledge of what a St. Joseph’s Table is about and having thoughts of hosting, don’t hesitate to file the simplified guides offered as you begin thinking about doing so next March. Take the step to be the one to spread the idea of this cultural-diverse experience that could engage your church, school, private home, club or other community space.

Simplified Guides

Table preparation (think simple): Set up or assemble the main table to represent three tiers in homage to both the Trinity and the Holy Family. Table coverings usually are white or muted shades of green, yellow and brown to represent the saint’s clothing colors. Decorate using either a picture or a statue of St. Joseph, votive candles and a single stalk of white lily flowers (real or plastic). Food should be arranged on the main table but accessory tables likely will be needed. When hosted as a religious observance, the food table is blessed, often using incense along with prayers for the unemployed seeking work, at the start of the celebration. Often, a container on the table is for donations to the poor.

Food: Because March 19 falls during the season of Lent, the custom is to serve meatless dishes. Casseroles and pastas are often sprinkled with bread crumbs to represent the sawdust of the carpenter. Dried fruits like dates, figs, raisins and fresh fruits often frequent the table. Assorted olives, cheese and crackers and sandwich spreads are good. As patron of pastry chefs, bring forth the doughnuts, creme puffs, cookies and cakes. Savory and sweet breads as well as colorful Easter breads work great. Dishes with fish as an ingredient are welcomed. Common beverages include wine, grape juice, bottled soda and water. Table attendants need to address the refrigeration of perishable foods for safety.

A couple of Lent-friendly meatless recipes follow; all four are easy to prepare and delicious.

For easy stuffing of the shells in this first recipe, add the ricotta mixture to a large disposable food storage bag, snip off one corner; squeeze to fill shells.


12 jumbo pasta shells

10 ounces frozen spinach

15 ounces ricotta cheese

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

26 ounces spaghetti sauce, like Ragu or Prego

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Fresh basil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Meanwhile, microwave frozen spinach 2 to 3 minutes. Break up with a fork and cook for an additional minute, if necessary, to heat through. Rest spinach in a metal strainer set over a bowl; allow to cool before squeezing out liquid. In a bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, salt, pepper and egg; combine well. Mix in well-drained spinach. Chill in refrigerator until ready to use. Drain pasta. Add roughly 1-1/2 cups tomato sauce to the bottom of a 2-quart rectangular baking dish. Divide ricotta mixture among 12 shells. Top off with additional sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is fully melted and shells are heated through. Garnish with chopped fresh basil. Serve warm.

This next recipe is a great fast and easy meatless meal when served with a tossed green salad and a chunk of crusty bread.


1 pound linguine

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 stick butter

3 cloves garlic, pressed and minced

4 (6-1/2-ounce) cans minced clams, including liquid

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper or to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Grated Romano cheese

Cook linguine according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat oil and butter in small sauce pan until butter melts. Add garlic, cook just until golden. Stir in clams with their liquid, oregano, pepper and parsley. Cook to heat through, about 5 minutes. Drain linguine, return to pot. Add clam sauce and gently mix. Remove from pot and plate; add a heavy sprinkle of cheese.

Your taste buds will think they’re eating at Fazoli’s restaurant when they chow down on the following recipe.


1 (16-ounce) package spaghetti

1 pound ground beef

1 medium onion, chopped

1 (24-ounce) jar meatless spaghetti sauce

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt

2 eggs

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

5 tablespoons melted butter

2 cups (16 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef and onion until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in spaghetti sauce and seasoned salt; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, Parmesan cheese and butter. Drain spaghetti; add to egg mixture and toss to coat. Place half of spaghetti mixture in a greased 3-quart baking dish. Top with half of the meat sauce and mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake 20 to 25 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

I’ve had no luck in finding fava beans locally; therefore, lima beans or edamame can be substituted. When out of the area, look for fava beans in both the Italian and Middle Eastern food sections of larger supermarkets; they’re worth the search. I keep on hand both dried and canned.


For the pork:

1/4 cup olive oil

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

2-1/4 pounds pork tenderloin

For the favas and pork:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound fava beans (use frozen or canned)

1 cup white wine

1 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced

Marinate and refrigerate pork overnight in large zip-close bag, mixing well with olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and rosemary. Seal tight. When ready to cook, heat oven to 375 degrees. In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high. Remove the tenderloin from the marinade and add to the pot; sear until brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer tenderloin to a plate. Add fava beans, wine, broth, salt, pepper and garlic to the pan; toss well. Set tenderloin over the favas. Cover pot and roast for 25 minutes or until pork reaches 145 degrees at the center. Remove pot from the oven, transfer the pork to a plate, cover with foil and set aside to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, set the pot of favas over medium-high heat on stove top and bring to a simmer. Cook until the liquid has almost entirely evaporated. To serve, cut the pork into thin slices; favas are served alongside the pork. Serves 6.