Celebrating St. Joseph’s Day with a Gloucester family is like peering through a telescope that sites back over the years. Last Saturday the Tarantino family invited me to help prepare their traditional St. Joseph’s Day Feast.
In the old days Gloucester schoolchildren stayed home on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, and workers all over the city left their jobs at lunchtime to attend one of the hundreds of luncheons being prepared all over the city; some carried dishes which they would fill with leftover St. Joseph’s Day pasta. The day was as special in the hearts of Gloucester Sicilians as St. Peter’s Day and Christmas; St. Joseph, after all, cared for the sick, for workers, for fathers, orphans, and homes. It is said that if you want to sell your house bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in a corner of your property for good luck. To this, Emma Tarantino, the petite matriarch in charge of the Tarantino feast, declared she would never be able to sell her house, “How could I do that to that man?!” — meaning the saint for whom at each stage of the pasta-making someone calls out, “Como siamo tutti mute?!” — What, are we all mute?!
And the family responds in unison, “Viva, Jesus, Maria, Giu-seeeep-Pe!”
These days March 19 falls on a weekday, and modern life makes it more difficult for everyone to stop for a saint, so the Tarantino family prepared their feast — the traditional homemade pasta with fava beans, lentils, cauliflower, and fennel — for 60 on a day when everyone could be there. It was an adapted tradition, but no less absolute.
Emma never stopped smiling as one group tended the pasta in her small kitchen and she stirred the enormous pot of goranza, the Sicilian term for a pasta sauce. Friends and family filed in both her back door and front, carrying more trays of food — fruit platters, cannolis, zeppole from Jim’s Bagel and Bake Shoppe. Each time a new group of guests arrived, the cry arose from some corner of the house, “Como siamo tutti mute?!”
“Viva, Jesus, Maria, Giu-seeeep-PE!”
“They love this! Can you see it!” Emma beamed up at me, so deeply happy that the old St. Joseph Day tradition was revived. Jimmy Tarantino, his cousins Annette, Pauline, Salvatore, and his wife Laurel were all there at 7 a.m. cracking eggs into the flour, eyeing just the right amount of water to add, and kneading the dough for 20 minutes. When I arrived at 8 a.m., five or six golden pasta doughs were resting beneath a dish towel. We all began breaking off small sections and rolling them into egg-size football shapes. Each of those shapes, maybe 100 of them, were then rolled through the pasta machine. One person fed, and one person cranked. And one person, usually Annette, called out, “Como siamo tutti mute?!”
“Viva, Jesus, Maria Giu-seeeeep-PE!”
The Tarantinos call the dough “bei-sta,” the Sicilian vernacular for pasta. Jimmy Tarantino laughed, remembering when someone once asked his grandmother how to spell “bei-sta;” “P-A-S-T-A,” his grandmother answered, surprised the person didn’t know how to spell.
More cousins — Martha Moore and her children, someone carrying a curly-haired baby — arrived, and everyone began helping cut the pasta, racing the fresh ribbons to a bed down the hall covered in clean sheets, upon which we separated the strands. Sal drove to Virgilio’s, returning with bags and bags of soft St. Joseph’s rolls cut with a cross. Jimmy left to fetch his mother, Shirley, who, even with compromised breathing, insisted on being there and having a role. She sat quietly at one end of the kitchen assembling the bags of oranges, lemons and St. Joseph rolls that are traditionally handed to every guest as they leave.
“The oranges represent sweetness of life, the lemons represent the good and the bad, and the rolls mean you will never go hungry,” Annette told me.
Someone set a beautiful bowl of oranges on the table. Someone brought out the “boipi,” the treasured octopus salad — not a St. Joseph’s tradition, but everyone loves it so it’s become a special dish for every holiday. After the hours of pasta kneading, cranking, and cutting, people sat and took a break of the delicious octopus, carrots and celery in a sharp vinaigrette, into which we dipped the warm St. Joseph’s rolls.
More guests arrived. The “Viva!” rang out. A batch of babies, chased by parents, crawled on the floor between grown-up legs. Wine poured. Thirty or so saints stood assembled upon a homemade altar between the kitchen and the living room. Long ago, when grandmother Pauline Tarantino died, the statues had been dispersed among the grandchildren, each taking their favorite saint or the one for which they were named. Those grandchildren, all grown, had returned each saint to this altar to be together again for St. Joseph’s Day.
For many Gloucester families the St. Joseph’s Day tradition had faded. A few years ago Emma decided to make the pasta again. When her house was suddenly bursting with family and friends, Emma realized how much everyone had missed this mid-Lent celebration. This year, Emma’s grandson, Michael Tarantino — in his 20s — stood beside his new fiance, and watched as his aunt mixed the fresh pasta with the goranza.
“It needs to marry more,” Michael admonished Annette. Even this young man, ready to start a family, with visions of living and working far away in Hawaii, stood proudly with his happy, laughing family, and already had strong feelings about the Tarantino St. Joseph’s Day traditions.
When the pasta was finally married with the goranza, rich with fava beans and lentils, softly flavored with fennel and cauliflower, the fettucini silky, Annette and Pauline served from the enormous pot; the steaming bowls of St. Joseph’s Day pasta were passed around. The altar around the corner sparkled.
Some things may change in Gloucester, but the love this community feels for St. Joseph, and the traditions around this saint, extend back over years and project to the future, joining this community. St. Joseph still heals.
While no one would ever make this small an amount of St. Joseph’s Pasta, I have adapted Emma’s recipe that serves 60 for 6 to 8; eight times this recipe was served at the Tarantino house.
Tarantino St. Joseph’s Day Pasta
serves 6 to 8
For the pasta
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 to 8 tablespoons cold water
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.
Make a well in the center of flour. Add eggs one at a time mixing slightly after each addition. Use hands for this.
Gradually add 6 to 8 tablespoons of cold water. Still using your hands, mix well to make a stiff dough. Turn dough onto a slightly floured surface and knead dough into a ball. Knead for approximately for 20 minutes.
Allow dough to rest.
Cut off small portions of dough, the size of a small egg, and shape them between your hands into a football shape.
Roll each of these shapes through a pasta machine first set on #3 to slightly flatten, and then set on #6 to flatten more. Allow to rest again on clean dish towels. Then cut a final time into fettucini shapes.
Spread pasta ribbons out again on a clean surface so that they can dry slightly, and not stick together.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta, and cook for 8 minutes. Drain.
Ladle pasta into the prepared sauce, which will still have a lot of liquid. Allow pasta and sauce to “marry,” letting it sit on a low temperature together for 15 minutes before serving. When serving, stir up from the bottom to make sure you get all the goranza.
Tarantino St. Joseph’s Day Goranza
Adapted to serve 6 to 8
1 1/4 cups dried fava beans
1 can fava beans
2/3 cups dried lentils
2/3 cups yellow split peas
1 can chick peas, rinsed
1 small cauliflower
1 can black eyed peas, rinsed
Stems and fronds of 1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
Wash dried fava beans and let soak overnight.
Rinse the canned fava beans and peel.
Drain soaked fava beans. Cover in fresh water and simmer in a very large pot until tender. This pot will hold all the sauce and the pasta.
Wash the lentils and yellow peas and pick out any small stones. Place in a medium-size pan with water to cover, and cook until slightly tender. Add salt, pepper and olive oil while cooking.
Wash and cut up cauliflower and place in a medium to large pan. Cover cauliflower with salted water, and cook also until slightly tender.
Now add lentils with liquid, peeled fava beans, chickpeas, cauliflower with its liquid, black-eyed peas, and chopped fennel into the large pot and mix everything together. Pour in oil, and taste for salt and pepper.
Rockport resident Heather Atwood writes the Food for Thought weekly. Questions and comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her blog at HeatherAtwood.com.