On Your Table: Spring finally arrives along with St. Joseph’s Day

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By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

Celebrate the official start of Spring with whole fish or fishes for light seasonal eating.

Here we go – Spring 2018 officially arrives March 20th and not a moment too soon considering the flurry of Nor’Easters we’ve just been through. But first we need to pause for a moment and celebrate the most important feast day in Italy which takes place the preceding day.

St Joseph’s Day, known as “festa del papa,” is the Father’s Day of Italy and also marks the coming of Spring.  Considering that St Joseph is the patron saint of many things including frying pans what better cause for embarking on a big feast. 

While Sicilian in origin, the day now also is celebrated by New Orleans Krews, Hispanic and Vietnamese families.  This opens the door for lots of culinary invention.  But at its heart the feast with an assortment of spring dishes provides a reason for families to get together and to appreciate good home-cooked food.

According to Jack Mavraj, chef/owner of La Verona in Kennett Square, family is indeed the driving force behind this tradition of spring.  “For generations, this day brings together everybody, wherever they live.  Families enjoy really special dishes that only the grandmother or mother can make and celebrate the carrying on of family food traditions.”

Seafood figures strongly in St Joseph Day dishes, he said, since in the south of Italy, whether Sicily or Calabria, the sea is literally in everyone’s back yard.

The restaurant, located on State Street, is serving such special dishes next week in honor of the holiday.  They will feature whole fish such as branzino, more commonly called sea bass.  For dessert lovers they will offer traditional Sicilian cannoli, filled with ricotta and made more enticing by incorporating chocolate shavings.

For myself, I could not decide on whether to honor the strictly Italian take on this special day’s menu or to dive into New Orleans or other festive foods.  In the end, tradition lightened up by spring flair won out.  So did a liberal interpretation of whole fish.

This pasta is sauced with white wine, spices, fresh lemons and just a handful of diced tomatoes so it’s light and spring-like.  The use of small fishes like fresh sardines or smelts insures it remains true to St Joseph’s Day traditions.


Pasta with Fresh Sardines and Lemons

This simple dish packs a double dose of briny flavor, with capers pairing with fresh sardines or smelts and seasoned with lemon juice.


2 pounds fresh sardines or smelts, cleaned

1/4 cup olive oil

2 garlic clove, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

4 fresh tomatoes, chopped

1 1/2 cup dry white wine

Pinch of salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes

1 pound dried pasta of your choice, prepared

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Sprinkle of hot pepper flakes

1 whole lemon sliced



Heat olive oil in heavy skillet. Add garlic, parsley, hot pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Saute 2 minutes. Add lemon juice and white wine. Reduce till the ingredients reach a sauce consistency.

Add sardines or smelts and tomatoes.  Place on top of sauce and sauté till done – less than five minutes. Adjust seasonings. Remove fish from sauce.

Prepare pasta according to package directions, drain and place on large platter.

Pour sauce over prepared pasta. Arrange fish on top and garnish with hot pepper flakes and lemon slices.

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

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