Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Speaking of Lenten Goodies....

So the corned beef on Paddy's is all well and good. But, to be honest, I don't eat it. Green beer? Absolutely. Jameson? Yes, please.... But not the corned beef -- that's best left to real Irish.

The treats pictured above, however, are the Almighty's gift to Italians.... We love 'em so much, we eat them in tribute to His foster-father.

On that plate there are Zeppole -- the name is a play on "Giuseppe" (that's Italian for "Joseph") and they're commonly known as "St. Joseph's Cakes." Of course, we Italians believe that St. Joseph was one of us, even though he never set foot in Italy, so Joseph's feast -- which this year, is observed next Monday (20 March) -- is celebrated among our kind much as Paddy is among the Irish.

No, we don't drink green beer, we just bulk up on the pastries. And it's a very Catholic thing to do, celebrating a Lenten solemnity in this way.

As you see, the Zep is a sugarlicious delicacy -- a fried shell with powdered sugar sprinkled on it. In its Philadelphia incarnation, it's filled with either cheese or vanilla creme. And it's so good that words can't describe it. The New York version is a very ugly, simple dough-ball. I remember seeing them at a bakery on Mulberry Street when I lived there and getting in a fight with the shopkeepers because, so I thought, they were gipping their customers.

The old Italian bakeries here make the Zeppole strictly during the month of March, in celebration of Josephmas. Period. Blink and you'll miss 'em, too -- you've gotta show up at Varallo's or Termini's by 5pm these days, or the day's supply will all be bought up. (I now have to run out in about six minutes and pick up a couple, because this post just has me salivating.)

So, while nursing the annual Paddy's hangover, I eagerly await the trays of Zeps which'll get sent my way from family and friends next week -- Joseph is my confirmation name, after all.

This has been your Italian cultural vignette of the day.