palmsunday16 044I get excited many times during the year in anticipation of a Holiday or Celebration and the foods that are part of that season, day, or time.  One of my most favorite is the annual Catholic celebration of the Feast of St.Joseph which Southern Italian culture has created a beautiful day of Springtime foods only eaten on March 19.  San Giuseppe is especially  revered in Sicily where he is one of their most beloved patrons.  Huge Celebrations in all the towns and homes flow out into the streets and special savory and sweet foods are made.  No where in Italy is this celebration as exhuberant as in Sicily, but don’t worry, the rest of Italy celebrates it with many different sweet and savory treats as well  This post deals with my most favorite of them all, the SFINGI DI SAN GIUSEPPE.  Sfingi is a term meaning a fried sponge of dough.  Sfingi are also the name for what people in Naples called Zeppole.  However….when the talented Sicilian pastry makers started immigrating to the USA in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s some things made some changes.  I have no idea why or how this happened because at St.Joseph’s time all Italian Pastry shops made 2 types of “St.Joseph’s Pastry”. They are now sold from the beginning of Lent thru Easter with peak production on and about March 19.  The two types are the Sicilian Sfingi which has morphed into a large, sometimes oversized cream puff, baked then filled with a Ricotta Cannoli Cream.  The top of the Cream puff is placed back on and a then a rosette of Cannoli cream added.  To this crushed pistachio or nuts, candied cherry and orange peel are added.  Crowned with powdered sugar.  The other pastry is from Naples, and is called the ZEPPOLE DI SAN GIUSEPPE.  Using a pastry bag and a rosette tip a circle of the cream puff dough is piped out then slid into hot oil and fried.  It’s split and a Vanilla Italian Pastry Cream (Crema Pasticceria) is added to the center, The top is placed on it and a rosette of the cream topped with a sour cherry (Amarena) goes on to finish it.  Both are amazing.  But so strange that the formerly fried SFINGI is now the baked one.  Whatever.  All delicious.  This is a dish that my mom made.  She loved making cream puffs.  She filled them with all sorts of fillings, puddings, whipped cream, italian creams, ricotta cream, chocolate cream.  But for San Giuseppe she made the Sicilian sfingi (she was not Sicilian!) and I watch intently as she went thru each step.  Let’s push this even further as in Palermo they leave the top off, sort of a Sfingi on the Half Shell.  These are the ones I”m showing you here.  Let’s go into the kitchen and bake!!!

First, you need to make the filling.  CREMA DI RICOTTA SICILIANA



1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon or one very very very SMALL drop of Cinnamon Oil.

3 tbs. fine chopped CITRON

2 tbs. small semi sweet CHOCOLATE CHIPS









Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Bring a cup of water to a boil.  Add the butter or shortening and the salt.  Stir until the butter/shortening is melted and comes back to the boil.  Lower the heat and gently add all the flour in at once and keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the flour leaves the sides of the pan.  Remove from the heat.  Now add one egg and beat into the hot mixture until it’s fully incorporated.  Do the same with the next two eggs beating thoughroughly after each egg addition.  Place a parchment sheet on a baking pan.  PLace the mixture in a pastry bag and press out a mound about 2 inches wide.  Or form the same with tablespoons.  Bake for 20 minutes in the hot oven.  Then lower the temperature to 325 degrees F and bake for an additional 12 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on racks. When cool slice in half.. Remove any wet dough from the inside it there is any.   Fill each 1/2 with the Ricotta cream.  Top with a candied cherry, slice of candied orange peel and some crushed Pistachio nuts.  Chill for 2 hours before serving.  Makes about 1 1/2 doz.   BUONA FESTA DI SAN GIUSEPPE!!!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier this week our local PBS Channel, WNET-13 broadcast it’s PART 2 of it’s documentary called, “THE ITALIAN AMERICANS OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY” hosted by Maria Bartiromo.  You can catch both parts 1 & 2 on the website   (
It ran before each of the installments of the PBS National documentary “THE ITALIAN AMERICANS” so there’s been a boatload of nostalgia and pride, happiness and sadness, a hope for the future and a longing for the past.  Inevitably it brings up those memories of family no longer here, of youth long gone and the grasping at things which help connect all those dots to form your comfort zone and your life.  Out of a large number of submissions of family photos and stories mine was one that was picked to be part of the broadcast, a proud picture of my maternal grandparents on their 60th wedding anniversary in 1981 along with a quote from me.  It was a proud moment for me, and I hope for them as well as they gaze down from another place.  So for the bulk of this week I’ve been thinking about the past, not in a morose way but in a grateful way to have be fortunate to enjoy pieces of their world still here in the present.  BUT…things, they are a’changing.  This year my blogs will be a mix of my stories and recipes, but some will be like this one, just a story, a thought.

New York City is changing again, for the better?  In some ways.  For the worse?  In some ways.  What made this city what is it was the neighborhood, distinct enclaves set up by ethnicity, socio-economics, religions.  You used to be able to tell a neighborhood by when the stores changed from one ethnic group to another.  At present out of control rents are being asked by landlords and in the process the old guard is being completely forced out.  Gentrification is the word.  In the case of Times Square it was a welcome change.  In other neighborhoods, like lower Manhattan’s Little Italy, it’s not so great.  Why?  Because it all looks the same.  The Restaurants which are my barometer now instead of being all Italian, or Sicilian, are turning into upscale Hipster Yuppie (not all the same but you get my drift) boutiques for clothing, food, and anything retail.  At some point Manhattan will become a single neighborhood with repetitive retail and residential zones stretching from North to South and East to West.  That brings up my reason for writing this:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA DE ROBERTIS PASTICCERIA at 176 First Ave between 11th  & 12th Sts in what was once a heavily Italian enclave in the East Village.  The family run business closed this past December after being open for 110 years.  Amazing.  The family is getting older, it’s increasingly tougher to compete and profit for the mom and pop places and real estate prices are making these decisions for tired families very tempting.  Apparently that’s what happened here, can you blame the owner?  Of course it’s sad because the old school Italian Pastry shop is becoming increasingly hard to find and this was one of the best in show for a variety of reasons.  It’s age.  That alone is a reason why it’s closing really takes a living piece of NYC’s Immigrant and Italian-American history away.  We need these places, they are living museums.  The look and aroma in the shop always took me back to “the old days”.  Everything about it suddenly brought my mom and dad, my grandparents and other deceased family members back to life if only for a moment.  For me, that’s priceless. You would step down into DeRobertis and get Punched in the face with the smell of what every Italian Pastry shop should smell like.  I still don’t know if any other Italian or Italian-American bakery in NYC bakes the array of old traditional cookies and biscotti that DeRobertis did.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


For some reason Italian bakery cookies are a much bigger connection to the past than the pastries are, but let’s just say that DeRobertis had on of NYC’s best cannoli bar none.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  The Ricotta cream filling was that right combo of cheese and flavorings, with an almost custard like mouth feel and flavor. Crisp shells in irregular shapes added to the handcrafted feel of this place. Delicious.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Have a taste of that…My last trip there was on May 2, 2013. I took home a box of Cannoli and one of their Sfogliatelle and a Pignoli tart.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Who knew then that I’d not be able to experience these pastries or walk on that ancient NYC immigrant floor again.  Is it all about the loss of some good pastry?  Certainly not,     While my Grandparents’ picture on TV the other night will not bring them back, or my posting these pics of DeRobertis will not reopen its’ doors, they make us think.  They make us realize that we must maintain certain traditions in life and in cooking that will keep up connected to the past or they will be forever lost and eventually die.  I enjoy Starbucks, but sitting in a Starbucks is not the same feeling one received sitting in DeRobertis with a house made pastry or cookie.  Seek out a mom and pop place in your neighborhood, not just Italian, but any one and enjoy what is being produced there.  Especially the ones that have been in a neighborhood forever.  Thankfully for those still pining for the old East Village’s Italian side, there is still Veniero’s on E.12 St.  Run, don’t walk, time seems to be running out for these living museums of Italian food that helped to build the City of New York.  Please , no panna cotta or trendy Gelato shop for me, I want a simply family run pastry shop making the standards.  Happy Eating!!!