Today is St. Joseph’s Day, a big deal here in New Orleans, but my advice to you is quite different this week then it was last. Last week I was encouraging you to visit St. Joseph altars and restaurants: This week I am encouraging you to stay home, hopefully with loved ones, and share a meal and an attitude of gratitude.

Whether or not you are Catholic – or of any religion at all – each of us has something to be grateful for even in these trying times when things can seem so bleak. If you are reading this be grateful for eyes that work and the device you are reading on. If you are in your home be grateful for that. If you are reading this at work be extra grateful for your job, stop reading NOW, and come back later. If only we could all be so lucky to still have our regular jobs. Right now I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to share this missive with you. Thank you, Renaissance Publishing.

People of Italian heritage have been in New Orleans since its founding in 1718, but the greatest influx started following the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves, most of whom wisely walked off the fields to live their lives in freedom, leaving crops to rot. The Louisiana Dept of Labor then recruited Sicilians to work the crops. Famine and organized crime were taking hold in Sicily and people there, many of whom had both agricultural and carpentry skills, had the impetus to leave. These incoming New Orleanians arrived at the Port of New Orleans, bypassing Ellis Island. The greatest influx happened roughly between 1885 to 1915.

According to Liz Williams, founder of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum and author of “Nana’s Creole Italian Table: A Memoire of Assimilation” (working title, LSU Press), to be released late this year or early next year, Sicilian immigrants (who included Williams’ maternal grandmother) introduced pasta to New Orleans and built “macaroni factories” all over the French Quarter. What we call “red gravy,” a roux based tomato sauce, came about in New Orleans as Creole culinary heritage merged with incoming Sicilian culinary traditions.

Those Sicilians also brought with them the annual tradition of the St. Joseph’s Altar . Catholics recognize St. Joseph (San Giuseppe), as the husband of the Virgin Mary, and he is credited with having prevented a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages after they prayed desperately to him to send rain, promising in return to honor him with a large feast. The rains finally came, allowing the people to sustain themselves largely on fava beans, which play an integral part in any devotional altar.

The feast day always falls during the penitent season of Lent, when Catholics are to abstain from eating meat. Hence, the altars are covered with lavish spreads sans animal protein, though seafood is acceptable. The foods upon the altar and any donations collected from visitors are then distributed to the poor.

This week, instead of visiting an altar, at which you might inadvertently end up either sharing or contracting a certain virus no one wants, consider making a small altar or another memorial in recognition what you have to be grateful for. Add pictures, flowers, and tokens representing people, places and things you hold dear. The share a meal with friends, family, or neighbors – but please not more than 10.

Have a great week, everyone. Use it to celebrate the people and the community you love, even if you are doing it from afar, digitally, or over the telephone. We need each other more than ever so take the time and make the effort to reach out.


Three Generation Olive Salad

Makes about 2 quarts

“I call this “Three Generation,” because this is basically my grandmother’s olive salad, but my mother and I have each tweaked it in our own kitchens to make it this salad today,” Williams said.” Of course it is great to use traditionally on a Muffaletta, but also is great on an antipasto platter or in a tossed green salad.

  • 1 anchovy filet
  • 2 cups, coarsely chopped black olives (The better the olives, the better the salad: This does not mean what is sold in a can as chopped black olives, it means black olives that you have chopped)
  • 3 cups, coarsely chopped cured green olives with pimento
  • 1 cup finely diced celery
  • 1 cup finely diced raw carrot
  • 1 very, very thinly sliced lemon, including any juice that can be saved, plus additional juice as needed
  • Boiled, quartered baby artichokes, about 10 artichokes, fresh is best. (This is about two packs of frozen, boiled and cooled. Canned can be substituted in a pinch, but the taste is inferior)
  • 1 cup finely diced raw cauliflower (optional)
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup capers, coarsely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped, or 6 tablespoons dried oregano
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Fruity extra virgin olive oil
  1. Mash the anchovy with a tablespoon or two of olive oil in the bottom of a bowl until it dissolves into the oil.
  2. Add all ingredients except remaining olive oil and oregano. Mix the ingredients.
  3. Add enough olive oil to just barely cover the mixture. Stir thoroughly to blend ingredients. Cover and allow to rest for one hour.
  4. If it needs more acidity add a bit more lemon juice to taste.

This recipe is very forgiving and flexible. It will keep, sealed in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.

Creole Italian-Style Stuffed Tomatoes

Serves 4 as an appetizer or side dish
  • 4 medium-sized vine ripened Roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 – cup Italian-style seasoned Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup shredded (not ground or powdered) Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Cut the tomatoes in half vertically. Use a small, sharp-tipped spoon or knife to carefully to remove the tomato pulp, keeping the skins and a thin layer of pulp intact. Set the shells aside in a small baking dish so they fit tightly against one another. Reserve the pulp for another use.
  3. In a small bowl combine the breadcrumbs, cheese, and olive oil. Blend thoroughly.
  4. Mound the breadcrumb mixture into the reserved tomato shells. Bake until the cheese is melted, the tomatoes have softened, and the tops are golden, about 20 minutes
  5. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving two tomato halves per person. May also serve chilled.

St. Joseph’s Day Pasta with Bread Crumbs & Garlic

Serves 4-6
  • 1 pound Cappellini (angel hair) pasta
  • Salt for pasta
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 2 heaping tablespoons minced garlic
  • Water from cooking pasta
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions in salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving water. Leave pasta in colander.
  2. Add the olive oil and garlic to the same vessel in which pasta was cooked. Add bread crumbs and cook over medium heat until slightly golden.
  3. Reduce heat to low, add the cooked pasta and toss until all pasta is coated in the bread crumb mixture. If the pasta is dry add some of the pasta water into the pan by tablespoons until pasta is moist. Serve at once.

Creole Red Gravy

Makes 2 1/2 quarts
  • 1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil or bacon drippings
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 28-ounce cans Italian crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Grated carrot as needed
  • Red wine or broth (beef, chicken, seafood, or vegetable as needed
  1. Cooked pasta and grated Italian cheese for serving
  2. Heat oil in a large pot with a heavy bottom. Slowly cook the flour, stirring constantly, until it is the color of mahogany.
  3. Add the onions, increase the heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until caramelized. Add the celery and bell pepper. When the vegetables are soft, add the dried herbs, salt and pepper. Stir. Add the garlic, stir, then immediately add the crushed tomatoes. Stir and cover. Simmer over low heat for about 2hours, stirring occasionally.
  4. Taste. If the sauce needs to be sweetened add grated carrot, cover the pot and resume cooking, tasting from time to time and adjusting seasoning. If the sauce is too thick, add wine or broth to thin it out.
  5. Serve over pasta with grated Italian cheese.



Recipes Courtesy of Liz Williams