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Italian Zeppole for the Feast of St. Joseph

The Italian Zeppole. The calendar for March contains a holiday as important to Italians as St. Patrick’s Day is to those of Irish ancestry.

The feast of St. Joseph always falls on the 19th of March.

Religious Italians believe that the intercessions of St. Joseph saved the population of Sicily from a serious drought during the Middle Ages.

So, in his honor it is the custom for all to wear red on this day, in the same way that green is worn on St.Patrick’s Day.

Those who observe the holiday will attend Mass and make a contribution of food that is placed on a large altar called St. Joseph’s table.

The table, which is blessed by a priest, consists of three tiers to represent the Trinity.

The table will be laden with meatless food that will include pasta with bread crumbs, seafood and fava beans.

The beans are considered to be lucky because during the Sicilian drought the bean crop did not fail.

The bread crumbs are symbolic of the sawdust that covered the floor of St. Joseph’s workshop.



The top tier of the altar always contains a statue of St. Joseph.

The feasting begins with a traditional cry of “Viva la tavola di San Giuse!”

When everyone has had their fill, the altar is smashed and three children, representing the holy family, will knock on doors asking for shelter.

The re-enactment is called the “Tupa Tupa” or “Knock Knock.”

At the end of the celebration, everyone is given a fava bean to remind them to pray to the man who saved the Sicilians.

I know that celebrations such as these are fading into history and, sadly, the ties that bind these various communities to their emigrant roots will be lost.

I had the great privilege as a child to see the preparations for this celebration from the Italian kitchen of my childhood benefactor, Mrs. S. She taught me how to make zeppole, which are served on this day.

A true zippole is baked and filled with cream.

It is a time consuming process, so I set out to find one that would be easier to do.

I found one developed by Giada De Laurentis that I want to share with you today.

I had to smile as I prepared the recipe.

Certain foods have spread across oceans and found their way into the diets of people who have nothing else in common.

We can add fried dough, to that list.

This version of zeppole can, fairly, be called an Italian donut.

It is simple and inexpensive to make and, when served warm, absolutely wonderful.

Here’s the recipe for a delicious Italian donut.

Zeppole…from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite, courtesy of Giada De Larentis


Yield: 4 to 6 servings


  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided use
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • Olive oil, for frying



1) Cut open vanilla bean lengthwise. Scrape vanilla bean seeds into a small bowl.

Add 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon and stir to combine.

Set aside.

2) In a medium saucepan combine butter, salt, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and water over medium heat. Bring to a boil.

Take pan off the heat and stir in flour.

Return pan to heat and stir continuously until mixture forms a ball, about 3 to 5 minutes.

3) Transfer flour mixture to a medium bowl.

Using an electric hand mixer on low speed, add eggs, 1 at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding next.

Beat until smooth. If not frying immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

4) Meanwhile, pour enough oil into a large frying pan to reach a depth of 2 inches.

Heat oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 375 degrees F.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or 2 small spoons, carefully drop about a tablespoon of the dough into the hot olive oil, frying in batches.

Turn zeppole once or twice, cooking until golden and puffed up, about 5 minutes.

Drain on paper towels. Toss with cinnamon-sugar.

Arrange on a platter and serve immediately.




Buon Mangiata!

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