This past weekend America celebrated its greenest holiday (though some would argue Earth Day deserves that title). While these verdant festivities were originally a chance to recognize Ireland and its patron saint in all his glory, today it’s (almost) exclusively about wearing and consuming green items. Which is all good and well–green in my favorite color, after all.
But really, I have to hand it to the Italians this time. Because just two days after Saint Patrick’s Day, Italy ignites in celebration of a different patron saint: Saint Joseph. Not only was he the father of a very holy figure, but history leads us to believe he also alleviated Sicily of a very severe drought way, way back in the day. St. Joseph’s Day, or Dia de San Giuseppe, is centered around creating an altar of food in honor of the saint, and later consuming said food in celebration of the end of the ancient drought.
I love the idea of Dia de San Giuseppe because 1.) Why wouldn’t you want to celebrate the end of a drought ~1,000 years after the fact? 2.) Who doesn’t love a good Italian-style feast, especially when the most traditional menu item is a magical fried orb of cinnamon-sugary goodness: The Zeppole.
I whipped these little guys up late one night last week for a presentation I gave about Dia de San Giuseppe the next morning. Considering I didn’t have a thermometer or an extensive history of frying experience, the Italian donuts turned out quite exceptionally. Maybe not fit for a saint–I’m working on my skills, San Giuseppe, I promise–but they were very certainly fit for a late-night sweet tooth and a professor who understands that incorporating food into a presentation is always reason enough to award an A. (She, a native Italian, spent a half hour after I gave my presentation reminiscing about Italian foods and describing her favorite version of the zeppole: anchovy-stuffed. Another post, another day. Maybe.)
Makes ~30 medium-sized donuts
Adapted from Giada’s recipe
1/2 cup sugar, plus 3 tablespoons
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 stick butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil, for frying
Combine 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon and stir to combine. Set aside. In a medium saucepan combine the butter, salt, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and water over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Take pan off the heat and stir in the flour. Return pan to the heat and stir continuously until mixture forms a ball, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the 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 the next. Beat until smooth. Pour enough oil into a large frying pan to reach a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 375 degrees F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, drop small balls of dough into the oil and make sure they sizzle but don’t burn immediately.) Carefully drop about a tablespoon of the dough into the hot oil, frying in batches. Turn the 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. Holy zeppole!