Many New Orleans area Italian Americans celebrate St. Joseph's Day (March 19) by setting up altars laden with Sicilian cookies and baked goods. The altars honor St. Joseph, the patron saint of Sicily, and fava beans from the celebration symbolize the good fortune of surviving a drought and famine.
Amici Ristorante and Bar (3218 Magazine St., 504-300-1250; www.amicinola.com) will create a St. Joseph's Day altar in its dining room, and guests can view it from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, when it will be blessed by a priest. The altar will hold more than 3,500 Italian cookies baked by the family of Amici owners Phil and Jack Rizzuto. There also will be specially baked breads, artichokes, whole fish and fava beans on the display.
"We're trying to bring back the tradition," says Amici chef Chad Matrana, who grew up in the Irish Channel and celebrated St. Joseph's Day with his family.
From noon to 4 p.m. on St. Joseph's Day, Matrana will serve complimentary pasta Milanese to guests visiting the altar and making a donation. Guests also can sample the Sicilian cookies and claim a fava bean. The food on the altar will be donated to Ozanam Inn (843 Camp St., 504-523-1184; www.ozanaminn.org). Collected donations will go to Children's Hospital of New Orleans (200 Henry Clay Ave., 504-899-9511; www.chnola.org).
Pasta Milanese is a dish traditionally served during St. Joseph's Day celebrations. Matrana is preparing spaghettini with pine nuts, sardines, anchovies and marinara with golden raisins.
Matrana and the Rizzutos want to build a St. Joseph's Day tradition at Amici. When Matrana was young, he and his family volunteered to work on the large-scale altar and celebration organized in the Warehouse District by the Greater New Orleans Cultural Center and the American Italian Cultural Center (537 St. Peters St., 504-522-7294; www.americanitalianculturalcenter.com). A massive outdoor altar was constructed in the Piazza d'Italia, and the blessing was often given by New Orleans Archbishop Philip Hannan, Matrana says. Matrana and members of his family helped prepare pasta for St. Joseph's Day visitors, and they typically fed more than 2,000 people, he says.
The Italian American Cultural Center now creates an altar in the lobby of the Loews Hotel (300 Poydras St., 504-595-3300; www.loewshotels.com/new-orleans). It will be on display March 13-22.
There also will be St. Joseph's Day events at the International House Hotel (221 Camp St., 504-533-9550; www.ihhotel.com). From 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 19, there will be sfincione, a traditional Sicilian pizza, from Bellegarde Bakery, Italian apertifs by Loa bartender Alan Walter, an accordion performance and more. At 5 p.m. Saturday, March 21, a panel including Arthur Brocato of Angelo Brocato Ice Cream and Confectionery (see 3-Course Interview, p. 29), Sal LoGiudice of United Bakery, Mardi Gras Indian Cherice Harrison-Nelson and others will discuss New Orleans' St. Joseph's Day traditions.