Today is a feast for St. Patrick’s Day and Happy St.Patrick’s Day… but more popular here in Italy is Father’s Day- (March 19th) in Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Lichtenstein, is celebrated annually on the feast day of St. Joseph. This feast has many ancient origins that began as the vigil of the spring equinox, in ancient times.
The courses consist of bitter orange slices drizzled with local olive oil, freshly baked bread, sweet and sour giardinera, chickpeas, beans, peas, rice, baccalà (cod), cicherchie beans, maccheroni baked with breadcrumbs, fruit, and dessert. Dessert for this meal is usually a traditional zeppole or bignè, or even a St. Joseph fritter. The bignè and zeppole are very similar and called different names in different regions of Italy.
Place the sugar, egg yolks, and salt in a saucepan and place over low heat. Use a wooden spoon to mix until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the flour, making sure no lumps form. In another saucepan, scald the milk; a skin will be formed on top and mixture will be just about to reach a boil but not quite boiling. Remove from the heat.
Add the scalded milk to the other saucepan, stirring constantly with a wire whisk so the mixture remains smooth. Stir until the mixture is ready to boil, but do not let boil. Reduce the heat, add the lemon zest and vanilla extract, and continue stirring over low heat until cooled, for 4 minutes. (The cream should be the consistency of a pudding.)
Remove from the heat, and place a layer of waxed paper on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool at room temperature for 3-4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the water in a saucepan over low heat. Add the butter and salt, and increase the heat to medium. When it reaches a boil, remove from the heat and add the flour, baking soda, and sugar all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon.
Return to the stove over medium-high heat and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture pulls away from the sides. Remove from the heat and add the eggs one at time, mixing each one in well with wooden spoon before adding in another.
Then, add the vanilla extract and blend in with a spoon. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Drop the mixture by tablespoons (forming into a cream puff shell) onto the paper and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 15 minutes.
Remove the puffs from the oven when done and let cool. Cut a small slit in the side of each puff to release steam so they do not become soggy. Let cool on a baking rack. When cool, cut off the tops, fill each with 2 teaspoons pastry cream, jam, or jelly and dust with powdered sugar, and replace the tops.
For more recipes, get your copy of The Basic Art of Italian Cooking: Holidays & Special Occasions-2nd edition