St. Joseph Altar Celebration in Des Moines, IA

— Patricia Civitate, Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa and Director of Il Trattenimento Italiano Folk Dance Troupe

This year marked the 21st anniversary of the St. Joseph Altar Celebration sponsored by the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa. This event was successful because of the many hours that numerous volunteers spent making sure that this would be a truly traditional and spiritual undertaking. Sincere thanks to all those who made it happen.

Central St. Joseph Altar

Kathy Foggia and Mary Romanelli began early in February setting up the hall with the backdrop curtains and the three-tiered steps that formed the altar. They covered the steps with linens, attached the table skirts, and then proceeded to add the decorative breads, altar identification cards, and other symbols of faith. John Heldreth and Joseph Boehm donated additional fruits and vegetables and completed the decoration of the altars. Continue reading “St. Joseph Altar Celebration in Des Moines, IA”


From Leslie Gigliotti in New Orleans

IFAFA President Leslie Gigliotti returned home from New Orleans today, but she shared these pictures from an altar that she viewed over the weekend. From Leslie:

Local St Joseph’s Day altar in New Orleans

Saint Joseph’s day isn’t until Monday, but a hotel here put their altar up earlier this week. Churches, supermarkets, parochial schools, private homes all have viewings. The paper here puts out a listing.

Alligator made of bread and a crayfish too! And traditional wheat design that they showed us in our vestedde class that some of you may have made in the workshop at last fall’s IFAFA Conference in Rockford, IL. Continue reading “From Leslie Gigliotti in New Orleans”


St. Joseph’s Feast Day in New Orleans

(originally published by Nicole Jankowsky in “The Salt” from NPR <https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/03/18/519987433/move-over-st-patrick-st-josephs-feast-is-when-italians-parade>)

[Photo courtesy of The Italian American St. Joseph Society]
The St. Patrick’s parade is over and the Irish (and honorary Irish) have gone home to sleep off their annual bout of intemperance, but the multi-generational marchers of the Italian-American St. Joseph Society in New Orleans are only just dusting off their tuxedos and straightening their bow ties. Once the shamrocks and shenanigans have vanished from the narrow streets of the French Quarter, and the keg of green beer is empty, another parade — in honor of an entirely different saint — is beginning to gear up. Continue reading “St. Joseph’s Feast Day in New Orleans”


The Tradition of St. Joseph’s Table

March 19th is the Feast Day of St. Joseph, one of the most beloved saints in the Catholic tradition, regarded as the protector of the family. His feast day is celebrated in many ways throughout Italy, but it has a special significance to Sicilians and Sicilian-Americans.

The Holy Family

The origin of the celebration dates back to a severe drought which took place in Sicily during the Middle Ages. Crops failed, farm animals died, and famine spread across the island. The Sicilian people turned their prayers to St. Joseph, asking him to intercede on their behalf for relief from the devastating famine, and they promised that, in return, they and their descendants would honor St. Joseph each year on his feast day. Rain came and returned life to the dried land. The disaster was averted, and the Sicilian people gave thanks to St. Joseph with a celebration. The villagers gathered food and placed it on the Continue reading “The Tradition of St. Joseph’s Table”


Bring in the New Year with Lentil Soup

Zuppa di Lenticchie
Italian Lentil Soup
(as demonstrated and served at the 2017 IFAFA Conference in Rockford, IL)

Lentils are traditionally served at many New Year’s dinners throughout Italy. With their coin-like shape, they are believed to represent good fortune and money in the coming year. They are commonly served with either cotechino or zampone.

Jody Perrecone and Mary Ann Ferruggia demonstrate how to make Italian Lentil Soup to participants at the 2017 IFAFA Conference in Rockford, IL.

1 lb green lentils, rinsed and sorted
3 large yellow onions, chopped
2 leeks, white part only, chopped
1 T minced garlic (3 cloves)
3 T olive oil
salt and black pepper
1 t ground cumin (optional)
8 celery sticks, chopped
4-6 carrots, chopped
3 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
4 T tomato paste
2 T red wine or red wine vinegar (optional)
½ box ditalini (little thimbles) or other small pasta
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (to serve)

In a large stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are Continue reading “Bring in the New Year with Lentil Soup”


Christmas: The Legend of Panettone

[The Italian version – Natale: la leggenda del panettone – appears at the end of this reading.]

Our beloved panettone, sweet symbol of the Christmas season, has a rather amusing origin. Panettone, as it is understood today, is a recent gastronomical specialty in the history of Italian sweets. In fact, it is said to have been invented only at the end of the 19th century in Milan according to a truly legendary episode.

As a greeting for a Merry Christmas or Happy New Year, here is the delightful story of the famous panettone. Once upon a time there was a bread-maker named Toni. One fine day, Toni fell madly in love with a certain peasant girl named Lucia. Lucia went to town every morning to sell eggs. Toni, every morning, awaited Lucia’s arrival with longing and enthusiasm, and then, when he saw her, so strong were the feelings that he felt for this young country girl that he never knew what to say and he remained dumbstruck. So many loving glances exchanged, so many sighs, and so many broken eggs, just because this poor devil was unable to express his love. Finally, Toni had a brilliant idea: he decided to prepare a dessert for his adored Lucia, not just any dessert, but a special dessert never made before!

So, Toni prepared a dessert made with eggs, butter, and candied fruit in a Continue reading “Christmas: The Legend of Panettone”


Calamari  al Forno – Baked Squid

Look for squid that has already been cleaned to shorten prep time considerably. The squid used for the recipe should be 4-6 inches long. Anything smaller makes for tedious stuffing. Serves 4.

1 ½ pounds cleaned whole squid, including tentacles (Separate squid bodies from tentacles; finely chop tentacles)
½ fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese
3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
Continue reading “Calamari  al Forno – Baked Squid”


A Christmas Eve Tradition

— by Leslie Gigliotti

Although Christmas is commonly viewed as a commercial holiday, for many families it is still a religious holiday steeped in tradition. This is especially true for the Italian-American population. In Italy, it is often said, Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi (Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you wish). One of the many family traditions, alongside decorating the tree and attending midnight mass, is preparing seven types of fish dishes for the Christmas Eve meal.

The tradition of the seven fishes prepared for meals on Christmas Eve lends itself to a Central and Southern Italian tradition and is not prevalent in the Northern region. Some argue that this may be due to Southerners being a bit more superstitious than their Northern counterparts. Of course, you don’t have to look too far for an explanation of why fish is an obvious choice on Christmas Eve: Catholic rules prohibit the consumption of meat on Christmas Eve.

But, like many traditions, the Christmas Eve fish dish has many explanations. There are several arguments provided as to why there are seven fishes consumed, rather than say, six, or even ten. Some reasons are overtly religious: seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; seven sins: pride, envy, anger, gluttony, sloth, lust and greed; seven sacraments of the Church: baptism, penance, Holy Eucharist, Continue reading “A Christmas Eve Tradition”


Celebrating Chestnuts: l’Albero di Pane

— by Anne Robichaud – An Umbrian tour guide in Italy most of the year, Anne also teaches Umbrian rural cuisine in private homes in the U.S. in February and March (see www.annesitaly.com/united-states-events/u-s-cooking-classes)… and lectures.

San Martino, Umbria – Rural people baptized it l’albero del pane (“the bread tree”) for this tree grew on the mountains where wheat would not grow (and if elevation was also too high for olive trees, walnuts gave oil). The chestnut has starred in the culinary history of many civilizations and nowadays, highlights many a central Italy food festival.

To discover the apex of chestnut culinary creativity, don’t miss the mid-November Festa del Vino e delle Castagne (Wine and Chestnuts Festival) of San Martino in Colle, a minuscule castle-village near Perugia.

As you enter the village through the medieval arch, you’ll see red-cheeked Signor Agostino roasting chestnuts over an open fire. At a stand nearby, a volunteer sells il vino novello (new wine, i.e. of this year’s harvest). Chestnuts and wine are inextricably linked in central Italy’s rural culture. A much-loved saying, “San Martino, San Martino, castagne e vino” (“San Martino, San Martino, chestnuts and wine”) comes to life here in Umbria on November 11th, the feast of St. Martin, when rural families gather to inaugurate their new wine with roasted chestnuts.

Continue reading “Celebrating Chestnuts: l’Albero di Pane”


Poem: Sunday Morning Ritual

This poem, by Pat D’Alessandro, winner of the 1975 California Writer’s Poetry Award, has appeared in NETWORKS (Vortex Editing, 1979) as well as numerous other journals.

I look at my hands and remember

how she mounded the flour on the kitchen table
with her peasant hands
cracked the eggs
one by one
and counted
“una, due, tre, quattro,
cinque, sei, sette, otto”

filling the well she channeled down the middle
and gently beat the eggs to yellow
with her hands

how she kneaded the flour, yolks and whites
until they blended and shaped and formed
a golden ball

Continue reading “Poem: Sunday Morning Ritual”