It’s the season of religious food traditions and here is a nice one — St. Joseph’s Day. A quick primer: It’s the principal feast day of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (A “feast” does not mean a large meal, but rather an annual religious celebration of a Christian saint, although in this case it does involve food).
Italians honor St. Joseph with a feast for answering prayers to end a famine in a drought-ridden medieval Sicily. Prayers for rain were answered and the crops were saved.
St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) falls during Lent, a traditional day of abstinence. The table (tavola) is meatless (seafood, vegetables, pasta, etc.). Bread and baked goods represent sawdust, as St. Joseph was a carpenter.
Local chef/owner Mary Ann Giordano of Gigi’s Cucina Povera gives insight into the tradition that she wrote about in “The Saint Joseph Table Cookbook: Recipes and Traditions of the Giordano Family.”
“The focus of our table is the altar. It has three steps — a stairway to heaven, representing the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, pictures and statues of St. Joseph and traditional breads, shaped like crosses, crowns and staffs,” she said.
Also present are family pictures to remember ancestors along with fresh fruits and vegetables traditional to Sicily (fennel, oranges, lemons, figs, fava beans, wheat and spaghetti, etc.).
“Olive branches hang over our entrances to show all are welcome. Traditional bags are handed out with items such as a prayer card, a fava bean to keep in your pocket for luck, a crust of bread and an orange,” said Giordano.
“A portion of our proceeds will be donated to Ken-Ton Meals on Wheels. We continue the tradition of caring for those in need,” she said. “The purpose of doing a table is to show appreciation for a favor granted to you, that you are giving thanks for.”
St. Joseph’s Day tables continue today across United States cities with large Italian immigrant populations like Buffalo. Here are meals that will happen throughout the week:
*St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church (160 Court St.) will host its table following mass at 11 a.m. March 13. Donation is $25 per person. Call 854-2563 to reserve tickets so the church knows how many to expect.
*Frank’s Sunny Italy (2491 Delaware Ave.) will host its 26th annual event from 1 to 8 p.m. March 14. The sit-down meal is complimentary, donations welcome and will benefit St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy.
*Gigi’s Cucina Povera (981 Kenmore Ave.) serves a buffet-style meals from March 15 to 18; seatings on the hour from 4 to 8 p.m. The table includes a fennel, orange and olive salad, breads by Gino’s Italian Bakery, lentil soup, a variety of vegetable dishes, roasted cod, marinated mussels, calamari salad and more. Desserts include sfinge and assorted Italian cookies. Cost is $23 per adult; $10 children 6-12; younger than 6 no charge.
*The Como Restaurant (2220 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls) will celebrate on March 18 for lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and dinner (4 to 9 p.m.). Lunch is $15.95 with a choice of pasta (con sarde or marinara) and a platter with stuffed artichoke, cardoons, baccala, calamari marinara, battered broccoli and cauliflower, bread and a pastry table.
Dinner is $19.95 and includes lentil soup, shrimp cocktail, choice of pasta and then the platter, bread and pastries. Reservations required.
*The original La Nova (lanova.com) at 371 W. Ferry St., will host its annual traditional complimentary table for neighborhood from 11 a.m.to 2 p.m. March 18 with donations going to charity.
*Ilio DiPaolo’s (3785 South Park Ave., Blasdell) will host St. Joseph’s Day from 1 to 9 p.m. March 20. The meal includes Tuscan-style bean soup or minestrone, followed by a pasta course of linguine with clam sauce or pasta con sarde (scampi-style sardines with linguini) then a platter with eggplant parmesan, marinated shrimp and calamari sautéed with spinach, tomatoes and cannellini beans over fettuccine alfredo and mixed vegetables. An olive salad, bread and mini cannoli and sfinge are also part of the meal. Cost is $23.95 per person. Reservations recommended.
*Tappo Restaurant (338 Ellicott St.). Chef Phil Limina fondly remembers the St. Joseph’s Day tables of his youth and promises his version of baccala (salted cod) will be delicious as part of a buffet that will be served on March 20 at the downtown restaurant. Seatings at 2, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.
The buffet also includes a celery, fennel, olive and orange salad, traditional bread, lentil soup, pasta con sarde, calamari salad, dandelion greens, marinated eggplant and smelts, assorted “froggia” (asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli and cardoon) and desserts including sfinge. Cost is $25 per person with a portion being donated to charity. Reservations recommended.
*The Italian Village (6354 Transit Road, Depew) will continue the tradition it started at its original Grant Street location with a buffet that runs from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 20. Reservations are a must. Cost is $20 per person for a meal that includes the traditional items like lentil soup, cardoons, artichokes, pasta con sarde, caponata and haddock. Donation goes to charity.
*Sinatra’s Restaurant (938 Kenmore Ave.) will host its annual meal at 5 p.m. March 21 with a complimentary prix fixe meal that includes the traditional St. Joseph’s Day items like lentil soup, frittata con sarde, sfinge and a glass of wine. Donations to charity. No reservations.