Today, Italians and Italian Americans are celebrating St. Joseph's Day. They honor both Joseph, the earthly foster-father of Jesus, and also all fathers, so it’s a Father’s day celebration. Considering that my father was a holder of the 'Joseph' namesake along with his sister Josephine, today is a special day for our family. This feast has many ancient origins that began as the vigil of the spring equinox in ancient times. While this is one of the most significant feast days in Italy, it’s also a reason to celebrate. Typically the celebrations not only revolve around the church, but also around food. The dishes and the customs vary from region to region, even village to village. But it's always about families getting together and appreciating regional dishes.
Although not nearby me, Rizzo's Malabar Inn outside Pittsburgh will celebrate the feast with delectable specialties as served in Abruzzo & Molise Italy, including Hand-Breaded Smelts (my father’s favorite), Orange Salad a (typical dish served for the feast) and Rizzo’s signature dish, St. Joseph's Pants - The chickpea-filled fried pastries are called St. Joseph's Pants, in Italian, cavazoon, which is dialect for calzone, or pants. These are among the specialties served in Abruzzo during one of the biggest celebrations for Italians everywhere.
I’m not making any of these specialties today, but our thank you should go not only to St Joseph, but to Mother Nature to beg for for a long awaited Spring that will soon be here and all the holidays and foods of spring. Thinking of the summer season to come, I’m making a lightened up lasagna in celebration. Families enjoy familiar dishes but with a lightened up twist. My particular favorite is a take on lasagna without the usual heavy sauce and cheese-laden preparation.
Lasagna Rolls with Swiss Chard & Vegetables
While Swiss Chard is my favorite green, baby spinach serves a similar purpose
1 lb swiss chard or spinach leaves, stems removed
8 dried lasagna noodles
2 tbs olive oil
1 oz diced pancetta
8 oz cremini mushrooms, diced
½ medium onion, diced
2 tbs tomato paste
2 tsp garlic, diced
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
4 oz ricotta cheese
2 oz mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated
2 oz Parmesan cheese for topping
1 handful fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Set aside a bowl of ice cubes or chopped ice to douse the swiss chard and the pasta after cooking. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil and cook the lasagna noodles till just softened – ~5 minutes. Remove, drain and douse in the ice-cold water. Remove and pat dry. Set aside. In a saucepan, quick cook the swiss chard in a covered pan in a little water till wilted and remove from heat. Also douse in icy water to stop cooking. Remove and pat dry.
Heat olive oil in a medium skillet. Add pancetta and cook till crisp, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and crumble when cooled. Then sauté the mushrooms in the same skillet, adding garlic, onion and tomato paste. Season to taste.
To assemble, spread out lasagna noodles on a towel or parchment paper. Lightly oil an 8x8 inch baking dish. Spread the noodles with ricotta cheese, then add swiss chard or spinach in a thin layer. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients evenly atop each noodle. Roll up the noodles from the short side and transfer to the prepared dish, positioning each one upright with the seam against the side of the dish. Fill in the center last. Sprinkle with the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Remove rolls from dish, cut each one in half lengthwise and arrange on plates. Serve with a fresh green salad.