Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Saint Joseph day fritters,
called frittelle in Tuscany
Adoration of the Shepherds, 1485
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Fathers day is celebrated this Saturday on Saint Joseph’s day. Lent, the time of abstinence, couldn’t possibly mean that the Italians truly refrain from eating their delightful goodies for such a long period of time, no way! In the land of exceptions to the rule, there is of course the day given over to tasty frittelle or fritters, an indulgence eaten  to celebrate the faithful guardian to the Holy Mary.

Joseph, most often relegated to the background in the family shots, is shown here in Ghirlandaio’s wonderful Adoration of the Shepherds a little despairingly, as he is worrying about where they will be next, which will determine what type of fritters they will be eating this Saturday! Because of course the recipe changes depending on the region, and they can be either sweet or savoury.

Frittelle (pictured above) are little fried balls of rice dough, eaten in Tuscany, northern Lazio and some parts of Umbria. The ingredients are rice, milk, water, egg, rum, sultana, sugar, a little grated orange peel or lemon, flour, salt and vanilla. After frying they are rolled in  icing sugar. In Sicily, they are called crespeddi and are sweet, with a filling of ricotta and anchovies. In Campania (Naples is the capital) they eat zeppole (pictured below) shaped like a doughnut with no rice in the ingredients, but based on water, butter, yeast, flour and egg and they have a cream filling often topped with amarena cherry.

Zeppole from Naples
Father’s day originated at the beginning of the 1900’s in America and was, and still is in most countries, celebrated on the third Sunday of June. The Italians too began to celebrate it in June, however, it was then moved to coincide with Saint Joseph’s day (as it was in Portugal and Spain). The Italians have been celebrating Saint Joseph’s day with the fritelle for centuries. The day dedicated to Joseph was officially established by Rome in 1479, and it coincided with the pagan ritual rites celebrating the end of winter. Big bonfires where built with the left over residue from the fields and hymns sung to Saint Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, unborn children, immigrant workers, and of course fathers…. and all Tuscans would eat lots and lots of frittelle!


  1. Wish I were in Florence this Saturday eating fritters!!

  2. The Sicilian ones sound great!