Sicilians Celebrate San Giuseppe…Deliciously!

Sfince di S. GiuseppeDuring this period, if you peek into a Sicilian woman’s kitchen, attracted by tempting aromas, you will certainly find someone mixing and frying then filling the delicious Sfince di San Giuseppe.

It is said that the tradition of preparing this pastry dates from as far back as ancient Roman times, when Saint Joseph fleeing to Egypt with Jesus and Mary sold fritters to sustain the family. Whether or not this story is true, these fried pastries are traditionally prepared for the Feast of St. Joseph on the 19th of March, considered the first festival of the Spring season, and also celebrated in Italy as Father’s Day.

The term sfincia is derived from the Latin word spongia and the Arab word isfang, both meaning sponge. This pastry in fact resembles a sponge for its softness and irregular shape. From its origins as a plain but tasty fritter, the sfincia became a richer pastry thanks to the ability of the nuns of the Stimmate Monestary of Palermo, which dedicated the sweet dainty to the Saint of the poor and humble.

The confectioners of Palermo elaborated the sfincia by adding a few typical Sicilian ingredients such as ricotta cream, ground pistachio, candied orange rind, and – why not? – a cherry on top. The result is a triumph of colours and flavors that certainly embraces the essence of the Palermo cuisine. The succulence of the ricotta cream and the aesthetic baroque of the candied fruit and pistachio creates a mix of sweet and savoury that enhances the palate and makes the Sfincia di San Giuseppe a Sicilian favourite, enjoyed throughout Italy and beyond.

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Ingredients:

180 gr. Flour
4 eggs + 2 yolks
50 gr. Butter
1 Tbs. sugar
A pinch of salt
Frying oil

For the filling:
500 gr ricotta cheese
250 gr. Sugar
Vanilla flavouring

Procedure:

In a medium sized saucepan bring to boil 250 ml of water with the salt and butter. As soon as it boils remove from heat and add the flour all at once and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon. Put back on the heat and continue mixing until the dough becomes smooth and doesn’t stick to the pan sides. Remove from heat and let the dough cool off a bit. Add eggs and yolks one by one, mixing with a blender. Add sugar and continue mixing with a wooden spoon. Cover the dough and let rest for about 30 minutes. Heat oil in a deep frying pan and spoon in little portions of dough. Considering how the sfince puff up and enlarge, give the dough portions plenty of space in the pan. Fry using a moderate heat until the sfince become golden brown. Remove from oil and let them dry on kitchen paper.

For the filling, use well-strained ricotta cheese. Add sugar and vanilla flavouring, then blend until creamy. Fill the sfince then decorate the top with ricotta cream, pistachio grains, candied orange rind and cherries.

Maria Lina Bommarito
I was born in Chicago, in 1960. We returned to Sicily when I was 14 and this time it was to stay! I am married to a lawyer and we have two children that now live and work in Milan. I have a degree in Political Sciences/International Relations and an A.I.S. Sommelier diploma. My passion for what I can “the world of wine” is inevitable, living in Sicily. My wine experiences begin in the winery vineyards. I enjoy interviewing the winery agronomists and oenologists because I find it very interesting knowing all about wine and grapes and soils and vinification. My husband is also a pilot and I enjoy flying with him on a small plane enjoying the breath-taking views and taking photos. I also enjoy cooking and my favorite dishes are Sicilan. Sicily and its people are unique, there is so much to write about and I love to share my experiences with those who want to know more about this paradise. More about my bio here

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The word “sfincia” can be found in different expressions or ways of saying. You must be careful because there could be more than one meaning for the same expression, as it often occurs in the Sicilian language. The expression “muoddu come nà sfincia” (soft as a sfincia) could be related to food as to say it’s pleasantly soft in the mouth. When the same expression is said about a person…well the meaning changes in something negative. A person “muodda comu nà sfincia” means without character and determination.

  2. I love Sicily. But mostly, I loved my grandfather who is now gone over 20 years. He took me to see his hometown in Messina, and I have wanted to go back ever since. Thank you for the recipes!

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