Welcome to Episode 4 of Cooking with Mama Lombardo!
In Italy and in Italian families around the world, St. Joseph is an important saint. His feast day is the 19th of March and is full of tradition that celebrates work and the family. Since bread is symbolic for the reward for the hard work that feeds one’s family, it is used as an important part of the celebration of St. Joseph’s day. From breadwork art sculptures (as seen in the video and the photo below) to the ingredients in this episodes dish, bread is everywhere on St. Joseph’s day.
In fact, in the “old country”, the bread sculptures were (and still are) used to decorate shrines to St. Joseph. The village where my parents are from in Sicily, Salemi, is one of the main creators of these bread sculptures and draws visitors from distant lands to enjoy the artwork. Eating of course is an important part of the tradition, and St. Joseph’s day is often accompanied by many courses based in bread, vegetables and fruit picked this time of year. Traditionally, zeppoli or zeppole-- fried balls of dough hollowed out and filled with sweetened ricotta or custard cream– are served for dessert (perhaps we’ll make these in a future episode!).
It’s a great tradition, and I’m happy to share with you one of the recipes that came from my mother in celebration of St. Joseph’s day: pasta alla modiga (Sicilian) or pasta with the breadcrumbs, otherwise known as St. Joseph’s Day pasta. It is one of those dishes that I only made once per year (March 19th) and brings back special memories for me, my children and my grandchildren. It always reminds us of St. Joseph’s day and the celebration of family and our hard work.
St. Joseph was a carpenter and the breadcrumbs used in this pasta symbolizes the sawdust from the carpentry work. It’s a simple dish to prepare, requiring few ingredients and taking only about 15 minutes to pull together. In Episode 4, we walk through how to prepare the dish. We hope you enjoy it and will make it part of your own traditions on March 19th to celebrate St. Joseph, family and a special reward for all your hard work!
The recipe shared here serves about 5-7 people. You will need 1 pound of spaghetti, 1 large bag of unseasoned, plain breadcrumbs, 4-5 cloves of fresh garlic, several sprigs of fresh parsley (about 10-12), 3-4 tablespoons of freshly ground pecorino romano cheese, salt, pepper, 3-4 tablespoons of sugar and 1 cup of olive oil.
Preparing the Perfect Pasta
Cooking pasta the right way is critical for not only this dish, but any dish, so let’s review how you cook the perfect pasta. Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt to the water and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, add the one pound of spaghetti. Make sure the pasta is fully submerged in the boiling water. Cook the pasta for about 10 minutes, aiming to get it al dente. Get a large colander to drain the pasta. “Shock” the pasta by adding some cold water from the sink to the boiling water and pasta. Drain the pasta in the colander. Do not wash the pasta with water. Once completed, add the pasta to the breadcrumb mix (or if you’re cooking pasta for another dish, add whatever topping to the pasta).
Preparing the Breadcrumbs
Prepare the breadcrumbs in a large pan which will be large enough to hold all the breadcrumbs plus the all the pasta. Add the bag of breadcrumbs into the pan. Mince the garlic cloves and add to the breadcrumbs. Chop up the parsley and add that to the breadcrumbs, mixing it in. Finally mix in the sugar, salt and pepper, and then a half cup of olive oil. Make sure all the ingredients are mixed well with the breadcrumbs. If you decide to store the breadcrumbs for later, you can do so by storing in a plastic bag in the freezer, where you can pull them out to use later (they typically will last several weeks in the freezer).
The final step is to take the drained, cooked spaghetti and add it to the pan. Coat all of the pasta with breadcrumbs. Once the pasta is fully coated, sprinkle the top of the pasta with the remainder of the olive oil. The oil will help make the breadcrumbs stick to the pasta as well as add flavor.
Serve the pasta hot in large bowl. Sprinkle some of the excess breadcrumbs on top, and you’re ready to eat! Buon appetito!