San Joseph Ricotta Pastry

(“Sfingi di San Giuseppe” – “Sfinci ri San Ciuseppi”)

 

                       

 

Spring Equinox (from the Latin: equus  meaning equal and nox  meaning night) occurs around March 20th when the earth’s axis is positioned perpendicularly to the rays of the sun and day and night have the same duration. 
Astronomic observations of the movements of the sun were made in pre-historic times and they gave origin to ancient pagan rituals, traditions and magic; the Sun was accepted as a deity and worshiped to gain his blessings and his generosity.
Spring Equinox marked the end of winter and the time to prepare for the new season, to care for the land and do all necessary planning for that time of year. 
On the previous night of the Spring Equinox, it was tradition to collect pieces of wood, or anything else that would burn and form a pile to burn for the whole night: and burn, along with it, all the misery of the past year, welcoming the new season.
This tradition was carried out since primeval times, all over the known world as far north as the Vikings in Europe, as far south as the African continent and as far east as Asia.
In more recent times Greeks and Romans celebrated this event with the sacrifice of lambs to the sun god for his blessings to the land and to the seeds planted in the ground; to the goddess of fertility, Demeter for the Greeks or Ceres for the Romans, fritters in the form of breasts of a virgin and eggs, the symbol of birth, were offered to gain her blessings so that new life would come into their families.
Those traditions were common among the Persians, Armenians, Jews, and Germans, who at this time of the year celebrated their own gods.    
When Christianity was accepted, many of the pagan feasts endured but were transformed into Christian holidays. 
This holiday coincides with Saint Joseph's day and even at the present time all over Sicily, in particular in Palermo, the night of March 18th   big piles made of wood, old furniture and junk are burned in honor of Saint Joseph.
This feast is celebrated in every house with a table full of bread called Pane di San Giuseppe, along with pasta topped with fennel sauce. The wild fennels are fresh from the countryside and the pasta is served covered with toasted breadcrumbs on top, to symbolize the sawdust in Saint Joseph carpentry. Because at this time of the year the sardines are abundant, where they are available, they are added to this pasta making the delicious and famous pasta con sarde. 
At this time, a creamy legume soup, the maccu di San Giuseppe is cooked for this occasion, as it was prepared in the pre-Christian era; it is made with a mixture of the previous year leftover dry legumes, overcooked until it becomes mush.

To commemorate San Giuseppe, the leavened dough, originally used to make the breasts of a virgin is improved with eggs to make it lighter and tastier, stuffed with ricotta cream, decorated with a cherry, symbolizing the nipple, and calledSfingi di San Giuseppe.

 

MAKES 15/20 SFINGI
 

INGREDIENTS

 

For the shells

  • 2½ cups sifted flour
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 2 oz. butter
  • 6 medium eggs
  • Pinch of salt

 

For the Cream

  • 4 cups ricotta (2 lb.)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon semi-sweet chocolate shavings or chips
  • 2 tablespoons of diced citron or assorted diced candied fruits
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 drops of vanilla

 

For Frying

  • Olive Oil, Canola or Corn Oil for deep frying
  • A deep sauce pot for frying

 

For Garnish

  • Candied orange peels
  • Candied cherries
  • Confectionary sugar

 

PREPARATION

 

The Filling
Ahead of time, in a large bowl, thoroughly mix the ricotta and sugar until smooth. Blend in the zest of an orange, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate shavings or chips and the diced citron or assorted diced candied fruits 
Store the cream overnight in the refrigerator.

 

The Sfingi
Place the water, the butter and a pinch of salt in a 4 quarts saucepan with a handle and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  
When it boils, remove from the heat and add the flour in one shot and blend well with a wooden spoon, stirring continuously until the flour is thoroughly mixed with the liquids.
Return to the stove on low heat, and simmer until mixture forms a ball, about 3 to 4 minutes and makes a frying sound. 
Remove from heat and transfer into a bowl, turning occasionally with the wooden spoon to cool the mixture. It takes a few minutes.
Add one egg, and incorporate it thoroughly into the mixture before adding more eggs.  Keep turning using a whisk or a hand held electric mixer, adding the eggs one at a time. Blend well until it becomes smooth.
The dough should be silky, thicker than pancake dough and thick enough to stand up in peaks. 
Cover and rest dough for 20/30 minutes.

 

The frying
Use a deep pot to fry the sfingi to avoid an overflow of oil.
Bring oil at 375 degrees, dropping the mixture a few spoons at the time, without crowding the fryer.  To deposit the sfingi in the oil use the help of another spoon. Deep fry the sfingi until golden.  Transfer to drain in a dish covered with paper towels.  Cool and place in a sealed container. 
If the oil is too hot the sfingi will not be light or “grow” to a nice size. While frying, tap the dough with a wooden spoon to help the sfingi expand and separate.  Keep turning the sfingi to ensure they cook on all sides.

 

The stuffing
Holding a sfingia in your hand, make a hole with your finger and fill the inside of it with a tablespoon of filling. Spread a thin layer of filling over the hole and decorate with powder sugar, the orange peel, the candied cherry and the crushed pistachio.