The last of the St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks had yet to come down before it was time for another March holiday. This time, instead of corned beef and green beer, the signature menu item is a filled confection known as zeppole, and thousands of them were consumed Saturday in honor of Festa San Giuseppe, or the Feast of Saint Joseph.
According to legend, the holiday began when medieval Italians prayed to St. Joseph to help them survive a famine, and thanked him by holding a feast on March 19 every year. Since the holiday falls during Lent, no meat is served, but egg frittatas, seafood and sugary baked goods more than make up for it.
Among these, zeppole are most closely associated with the holiday, and mid-March is the only time they are generally available. As a result, the demand at local bakeries, like Angela Mia on the Post Road in Norwalk, can grow to incredible levels.
“I’d say we’ve done 5,000 already, easy,” said Joe Agoglia, the owner, midway through the afternoon. “I’ve been making them since I was a little boy at my grandmother’s in Brooklyn. Every year it seems we sell more.”
The light, flaky pastries are cut in half and filled with custard, sometimes flavored with chocolate, and dusted with confectioners’ sugar. A variation, called sfinge, uses a ricotta cheese filling like that found in cannoli.
Is there any consumer preference between the two varieties? “It’s about 50-50,” said Karen Birch. “Most people get two custard, two cannoli.” As if to prove her point, the next three customers ordered exactly that.
The timing of the holiday can provide a welcome break to a sometimes lingering winter and the sacrifices of Lent. “A friend came in and said he’d given up cake for Lent,” said Agoglia. “I said, ‘It’s San Giuseppe,’ so he said, ‘Okay, give me some zeppole.’ ”
Did you have zeppole for St. Joseph's Day? Do you like custard or ricotta filling?