San Giuseppe

Recipe: Pasta e Ceci
Primo piatto, Recipes
Recipe: Pasta e Ceci
March 13, 2015 at 10:48 pm 0
Pasta with Chick Peas Recipe by Giulia Biviano Cucina di Casa Nostra Photograph by Giuseppe Biviano INGREDIENTS    Serves 8
  • 300g dried chick peas, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water
  • 1 small onion, chopped finely
  • 1 kg dried pasta, (Ditalini is good)
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 cup silvery beat, chopped
  • 5 gloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup wild fennel, chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil, for cooking
  • 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (optional)
METHOD Drain and rinse the chick peas thoroughly. Place the drained chick peas in a saucepan, then add the onion, bay leaves, garlic, a few grind of pepper and enough water to cover the chick peas by about 5cm. Add a 1/4 cup of olive oil, add the chopped silvery beat and the fennel, then cover with the lid and bring to the boil. Cook over a low heat for one hour or until the chick peas are tender. Keep checking the water level and if it reduces below the chick peas, then top up to just cover them. Remove the bay leaves from the pan. Keep warm. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of boiling water until al dente. Drain and pour the cooked pasta into the warm chick peas and mix thoroughly. Leave to stand in the pan covered for about 10 minutes so that the flavours will infuse. Serve in bowls drizzled with a little extra olive oil and chilli flakes if so desired.
Celebrating the Feast of San Giuseppe Aeolian Style
Stories & Poetry
Celebrating the Feast of San Giuseppe Aeolian Style
March 13, 2015 at 10:48 pm 0
tileIt was the year 1835. Somewhere off the coast of Naples the fishing boat, U Mulinciana, was caught in violent combat with the tempestuous god of the sea, Poseidon. Having departed from the village of Malfa, Salina, the boat was laden with a cargo of capers, Malvasia and local wines to trade in return for dried pasta and legumes. Scandalised by the seafarer’s fervent faith, the jealous god unleased wave after wave of his contempt upon their boat. He blasted the winds across their voices that implored Christ’s earthly father, San Giuseppe for his aid with a litany of promises to feed the poor. Then suddenly, with a deafening crack, the ominous clouds parted and the hand of San Giuseppe picked up the wooden boat and delivered it to safety, plonking it out of Poseiden’s way in the bay of Naples. ‘Che miracolo!’ they cried in gratitude, ‘San Giuseppe has saved us!’ homeslider23

An Aeolian Tradition Begins

Every Italian loves a miracle and the survival of a sea storm was reason enough to lay claim to a supernatural event. One can only imagine how the drama escalated once the fishermen returned to Salina and the story spread like wildfire across the island. And so it was that the tradition of u quadara (cauldron) di San Giuseppe was born. As promised, the return cargo of U Mulinciana was distributed to the poor via a minestra (soup) of chickpeas and pasta prepared by the menfolk themselves in a massive copper cauldron perched over a wood-fired pit. In the years that followed, this event was re-enacted on March 19, the official feast day of San Giuseppe by the fishermen who stored their boats at Punto Scario, passing down instruction from father to son. Nowadays, this responsibility is upheld by a select group of men who have been bestowed this honour as protectors of the secret recipe of u quadara. My cousin Roberto, a newly accepted apprentice to the group tells me that it will take years of assistance before he is entrusted with this privileged knowledge! homeslider232

La Tavola di San Giuseppe

The tavola (table) of San Giuseppe was already a strong tradition of the Sicilians that resettled the Aeolian Islands after Barbarossa had pillaged them in 1544. Legend has it that sometime during the Middle Ages, the people of Sicily were in crisis as the rains had not come for years and the land had become parched and fruitless. In desperation, the people prayed to San Giuseppe, their patron saint, to intervene, promising to prepare a grand feast in his honour. Responding to their pleas, the heavens opened soaking the lands that gifted abundant crops of fava beans saving them from starvation. In gratitude, huge, public banquet tables were dressed by wealthy families who invited the less fortunate people of the village to partake in a buffet of meatless foods that included decorative breads called cudureddi and piles of fava beans. The festivities often started with a procession lead by an elderly man, a young woman and a young male child dressed as the Holy Family, who were then seated at the head of the table. To this day, this tradition is continued with great devotion in many Sicilian villages and as well as many Sicilian migrant communities throughout the world.

La Tavuliata di San Giuseppe

It is unsure whether the Sicilian tradition of la tavola was upheld as a public celebration prior to the miraculous occurring of 1835. However, miracles have the effect of changing lives and the lives of those simple fishermen stirred great piety amongst the Malfitani who still maintain the custom fervently. Today, the townspeople of Malfa prepare a variety of dishes made from local produce sourced from the earth and sea. These offerings are brought to the piazza and placed on a long table adorned with a white tablecloth and freshly cut flowers. homeslider233 Just as in other parts of Sicily, the festivities commence with the parade of the Holy Family that begins at the church of San Lorenzo and meanders to the piazza in front of the eighteenth century church of Sant’Anna. Accompanied by a small group of musicians playing traditional tunes, the Holy Family take their place at la tavuliata while the pasta e ceci prepared in the two quadare is shared with the entire community. homeslider234 The table’s offerings of all manner of polpetti, salads, fish and vegetable dishes with a variety of typical Aeolian sweets including sfinci d’ova, pasta squadata and many types of traditional biscotti are then offered to the public who represent the poor of centuries past. homeslider235 La tavuliata di San Giuseppe has become a much-loved public event, drawing crowds from neighbouring islands and Sicily. After all, the Italians love a party almost as much as they love a miracle! Viva San Giuseppe! SOURCES: Brundu, Antonio. L'Isola, Vele Bianche Editori Srl Piazza Matteotti 7, Registrazione Tribunale di Napoli n. 25 (2003). Racheli, Gin. Eolie di Vento e di Fuoco, Milano, U. Mursia editore S.p.A. (1977).   WAIT, THERE’S MORE… If you are wishing you were there, check out this youtube clip uploaded by Santino Ruggera from A Cannata to see last year’s festa in full swing. Or if you would like to try making pasta e ceci this March 19, click on this link to find a recipe although you must be aware that this is not the actual recipe guarded by the protectorate of Malfa! recipebutton
Dolce, Recipes
Recipe: Sfinci d’ovo
February 6, 2015 at 12:50 pm 4
homeslider INGREDIENTS
  • 21/2 cups plain flour
  • 21/2 cups water
  • a pinch of salt
  • 7–8 large eggs
  • a light vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  METHOD Place water, salt and sugar in a saucepan (large enough to hold all of the ingredients) and bring almost to the boil. Add the flour all at once. Beat the mixture immediately with a wooden spoon and work quickly. When the dough starts to come together, switch off the heat. Stir until the dough forms a ball and no longer stick to the sides of pan. If you prefer, at this point you can move the dough into a mix master. Allow the dough to cool for about 10–15 minutes, but stir it often or beat on low to allow the steam to escape. While the dough is cooling, mix together sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside. Add eggs one at a time, beating each egg completely into the dough before adding the next. Add enough eggs so that the batter becomes pliable enough to fall off a spoon but not be runny. Heat some oil to frying temperature – there should be sufficient oil to nearly cover the level tablespoonfuls of dough, which will be dropped into it. Fry only a few at the time or the sfinci will broil rather than fry. Perfect sfinci will turn on their own accord, however if you need to, turn once or twice until they are golden brown and have swelled in size. Remove and drain on paper before rolling the sfinci in the sugar and cinnamon mix. Note: If you are unsure of the required consistency, test a spoonful of batter by placing it in the hot oil to see if it turns. Err on the side of a thicker batter as you can always beat another egg in after you’ve tested it.
The fine art of making Aeolian sfinci d’ovo
Stories & Poetry
The fine art of making Aeolian sfinci d’ovo
February 4, 2015 at 9:03 am 4

Mention the words sfinci d’ovo to any Aeolian and you’ll see the glint of adoration sparkle in their eyes immediately. So beloved are these deep-fried spongy puffs dusted with granulated sugar and cinnamon, they have acquired cult status amongst the children of Aeolian migrants living around the globe.

tileIt’s true that i sfinci are revered by all that grew up at their Nonna’s heels watching them miraculously turn by themselves as the batter puffed into a golden ball as they fried happily in a sea of vegetable or olive oil. To a child, anything rolled in sweet, crunchy sugar is ridiculously enticing but add a delicately squishy interior with an exterior shell that collapses in your mouth and you’ll have died and gone to heaven. When I organized the Eoliano Heritage Study Program that brought Australian participants of Aeolian descent to the Aeolian Islands for a two week course of cultural immersion, it was the cooking demonstration of sfinci d’ovo that was most described as the highlight. Indeed, even for myself who was one of those children strapped to her Nonna’s side, the thought of attempting such a legendary treat left me nervous and doubtful. Dare I ever risk making a mess of such a sanctified family memory?

Many times I ran my fingers over the short list of ingredients I’d handwritten into the exercise book where I compiled some of the recipes I managed to extract from my Nonna Maria before she passed away. My mother had also made them but often with unsatisfactory results. Unlike myself, my mother was not privileged to spend as much time with her mother absorbing her culinary knowledge as I was. When Nonna Maria was in the kitchen behind their fruit shop in Mattraville, my mother was needed to serve fruit and vegetables to their customers. Consequently, my mother never really understood the consistency required, adding either too many eggs or not enough to ensure the perfect result. After a few mishaps and the look on her children’s disappointed faces, Mum left them to Nonna until one day, they disappeared into thin air, along with Nonna herself. When we loose someone loved so dearly, we grieve so many aspects of that person and Nonna’s sfinci d’ovo were just one of them. So when Zia Erminia flew into town recently from Palermo and asked me whether I made sfinci d’ovo for my children, I blushed and said, “I want to but I’m too scared to try in case they are a disaster.” “Nah,” she laughed in her broken English, “It’s a easy. I make a them all a de time for a mi kids… they love em! Come ona, we’ll make em together. I show a you the way an olda ladee from Lingua (Salina) taughta me ow to do it.”

A little bit of history

That evening as I excitedly awaited the next day’s agenda and my pending benediction for making sfinci d’ovo for the first time, I got to thinking about these randomly shaped sponges of dough. Who invented them? And what is their story? In Sicily, they make sfinci from a very similar dough and process and often fill them with ricotta cream sweetened with candied fruit to celebrate the feast day of Saint Joseph who is known locally as San Giuseppe. While I was unable to find any written information specifically on the history of sfinci d’ovo, I decided that investigating the sfinci di San Giuseppe was the perfect place to start. After all, when the Turkish pirate Barbarossa ransacked Lipari Island in 15441 and killed or enslaved almost the entire population the Aeolian Islands were resettled largely by Sicilians. The reigning emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V had ordered the bishop of Lipari to increase his flock of the remaining Liparoti who had escaped to Messina, by offering land to Southern Italian and Spanish families. Needless to say, the Sicilians turned up with their zappa (hoe) on their backs and their own cultural traditions in their pockets!

So what do sfinci d’ovo and sfinci di San Giuseppe have in common? Apart from the ingredients of which are practically the same (except for the addition of butter to the sfinci di San Giuseppe) and the same method of cooking the dough prior to adding whole eggs as well as frying them in oil and tossing them in cinnamon sugar, both sfinci share just that – the word sfinci. As obvious as this may seem, it is the origins of this word that tells us much about the entwined history of the Sicilian and Aeolian peoples that ultimately translates into their greatest form of cultural expression – their food.

Which came first? The Arabs, Romans or the Greeks

There exist two theories on the origins of the word sfinci, also spelt spingi or sfingi, both originating from Sicily’s distant past of foreign domination. Historian, Michele Amari wrote in his Storia dei Musulemani in Sicilia2, ‘Arabs remained in name and in fact in Sicily. Fried pastries in Sicily like those from Barbary (Maghreb) are called sfinci … from the Arab word isfang or sfang’. The isfang of Arab origin, a kind of fried pancake pastry drizzled in honey, were introduced during the tenth century CE after the Saracens and Berbers conquered western Sicily3. However, another respected authority on the history of Sicilian cuisine, Pino Correnti, ascribes sfinci to the pagan era during which time, were consumed to celebrate the winter solstice4. Correnti claims the word sfinci is derivative from the Greek word for sponge, sponghìa and the Latin spongia.

Celebrating San Giuseppe with sfinci

One might consider the Aeolian sfinci d’ovo to be the poorer cousin to the Sicilian sfinci di San Giuseppe. Even Susan Lord and Danilo Baroncini refer to sfinci d’ovo as sfinci di San Giuseppe in their collection of anecdotal recipes from the Aeolian Islands titled Pani Caliatu5. Celebrated on the 19th of March, the Festa di San Giuseppe on the island of Salina features la tavuliata (a festive table) dedicated to the saint. The long table adorned with a white table cloth and flowers is prepared outdoors, laden with typical Aeolian foods prepared by locals including generous platters piled high with sfinci d’ovo that are presented as an offering to the holy family and as tradition has it, to the poor. San Giuseppe has particular significance to the town of Malfa. Legend tells that in 1835, a boat called U Mulinciani was caught in a menacing storm as it approached Naples where it was to deliver its load of Malvasia wine and local produce. Fearing for their lives as the violent sea thrashed them about, the pious fishermen implored San Giuseppe for their salvation, promising to feed the poor in gratitude. There is a lot more to this story but I’d like to save that for another time. The point is that San Giuseppe was as important to the Aeolians as he was to the Sicilians.

So, if sfinci d’ovo are in fact, derived from the traditional fritters of the sfinci di San Giuseppe, why the variation in ingredients? I have asked many Aeolians for their version of sfinci d’ovo and the basic ingredients are incredibly simple: one part flour, one part water, a pinch of salt and as many eggs as required. Some add a small amount of sugar, perhaps a tablespoon but this is basically it. Interestingly, the recipe given in Pani Caliatu and supplied by Eugenia Renda from Stromboli includes 2 tablespoons of butter but I am told emphatically by some of my Aeolian migrant friends that this is not traditional. Whatever the case, the mystery of the missing butter ingredient can be easily explained. Butter was not produced on the islands nor did the islanders of yesteryear have regular access to Sicily to purchase it. Sure they produced cheese but this was made from goat or sheep’s milk. This would explain the ‘or olive oil’ in Eugenia’s recipe. The Aeolians produced their own high-grade olive oil and traditional Aeolian biscuits use olive oil as the fat component, not butter or lard as used on Sicily.

When Zia Erminia arrived the next morning, she swung into full action. Wait! I’ve got to set my video camera up. Aspetta, Zia! I was determined not to miss a second of this inaugural moment but unfortunately, there was no taming the lion once she’s escaped the clutches of feeling useless in somebody else’s house. Consequently, if you’d like to watch the video published with this article, you’ll notice that my head is often cut of the video frame – I simply couldn’t get Zia to wait for me to check anything! Never mind, after all, it’s all about sharing the recipe with all of you enthusiasts. So without further ado, click here for my idiot-proof step-by-step instructions. Enjoy!


(Sorry, I'm still working on the video footage – stay tuned)



  1. Racheli, Gin. Eolie di Vento e di Fuoco, Milano, U. Mursia editore S.p.A. (1977), p. 186.
  2. Amari, Michele,Storia dei musulmani di sicilia, Catania: Dafni, (1986), (3) pt. 5, 892 n. 2.
  3. Previté-Orton, William Carles. A Short History of Medieval Europe: Volumes I and II, Cambridge Unviersity Press (1971), vol. 1, pg. 370.
  4. Correnti, Pino. Il libro d'oro della cucina e dei vini di Sicilia, Mursia; Nuova ed. riv. e ampliata edition (1992).
  5. Lord, Susan and Baroncini, Danilo. Pani Caliatu, Centro Studi e Ricerche di Storia e Problemi Eoliani (2001), p. 165.



Miracolo! Saved by San Giuseppe!
The tradition of the quadara di San Giuseppe of Malfa, Salina


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