The sun came out last Saturday; thermometers showed a little red, and the cultural riches that make this city unique in the world literally shouted and sang.
“Como siamo tutti mute?!” “Viva, Jesus, Maria, Giu-seeeep-PE!” The St. Joseph’s Day cheer rang out early in the morning at the Tarantino family gathering, where aunt Emma reigned over the preparations of the St. Joseph’s Day Pasta.
By 10:00 in the morning Jimmy, Laurel, Pauline, and Annette were just finishing rolling five pounds of dough through the pasta machine, and laying the fresh fettucini on clean fresh sheets in the far bedroom to dry. Emma’s goranza, an enormous kettle of cauliflower, favas, chickpeas, split peas, lentils and fresh fennel, the sauce that would crown the golden strands of pasta for the final St. Joseph’s Day feast, simmered on the stove.
Sal arrived carrying great plastic bags bulging with fresh St. Joseph’s Day rolls – the large fluffy breads from Virgillio’s that bear a cross and sesame seeds; the sesame seeds represent St. Joseph the carpenter’s sawdust.
Relatives kept arriving, some in the back door, some through the front. “Como siamo tutti mute?!” “Viva, Jesus, Maria, Giu-seeeep-PE!” The cheer rang out with each arrival. At 11:00, while the pasta finished drying, everyone took a break. The table was spread with Octopus Salad, St. Joseph’s rolls, Martha’s antipasto, and oranges, the latter another symbol of the St. Joseph’s Day feast.
The actual St. Joseph’s Day is March 19th, but as that falls on a weekday, the Tarantinos chose to prepare their feast not on a working day. Mid-march for some may mean “the ides,” but in Gloucester it means family crowding into a kitchen, happy about nothing more complicated than being together and carrying on the simple customs that thread years together. Golden strands of fresh pasta drying all over the house, oranges, octopus salad, Virgillio’s St. Joseph’s Rolls, and St. Joseph standing at the top of the shining family altar. These are the St. Joseph’s day customs that repeat each year. As the pasta is rolled the stories roll, too – stories of when St. Joseph’s Day was down on the Fort, when the prayers to St. Joseph healed a husband or brought a fisherman home, and so a wife promised the saint she would make the pasta for his feast for every year until she couldn’t. The stories get told, and the customs continue, and everyone connects what happened two generations ago to what may happen tomorrow.
That afternoon, down on the waterfront, a different kind of celebration was happening. Geno Mondello at The Dory Shop had lit a fire in his woodstove; an over-turned clean wooden dory being built in the middle of his shop served as a table for all the great food that began arriving.
Geno Mondello’s enormous paella – yellow saffron rice glistening in between black mussels – looked as beautiful as a Dutch painting; it warmed on the wood stove welcoming anyone to grab a bowl and serve themselves. Celtic music, played by a continuous stream of fishermen and friends, shimmered out the front door, calling at passersby. Come in; the fire is warm.
As long as the weather stays chilly, wander down to the Harbor Loop on a Saturday and listen for the music. Mondello says anyone is welcome; bring something to eat, or something to drink, or something to play.
This past Saturday was truly a day to say Viva, Gloucester!
I’ve printed a recipe for St. Joseph’s Day pasta in the past, so this year I am offering a loose interpretation of Geno’s paella, told to me as I stood by the woodstove savoring the hot, saffron rice, listening to Herring Boat Captain Peter Mullens on the accordion.
Geno Mondello’s Paella
adapted to serve 6-8
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 28 ounce can chopped tomatoes, drained
2 cups commercial rice with saffron
2 pounds mussels
1 pound cherry stones
2 cups chicken stock (additional if necessary)
1 cup seafood stock
a 10 inch section of linguica, sliced into rounds
2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 can black beans, rinsed
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 pound shrimp
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a paella pan, or the largest saute pan available, to medium. Add olive oil and heat. Add onion, and cook until it softens, 8-10 minutes. Add tomatoes, and cook gently for 5 minutes.
- Add the rice, and toss with the onion and tomato. Cook over medium heat until the rice becomes shiny, about ten minutes.
- Add the mussels and cherry stones, and cover the pan. (Geno used aluminum foil, as his pan was so large.) Cook until all the seafood is opened, tossing the pan so the rice doesn’t stick. With a slotted spoon remove the mussels and cherrystones to a bowl, and cover to keep warm while you continue with the rest of the paella.
- With the pan over medium heat, add the stock, the linquica, peas, cannellini beans, black beans, and mushrooms. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked, adding more liquid if the pan gets too dry. Keep the liquid in the pan about 1”, stirring regularly so the rice cooks but does not stick. Add the shrimp and seasonings, and more liquid if necessary, and cook until the shrimp is pink.
- If the pan is too dry, add more chicken stock or even white wine. The rice and vegetables should be cooked, and very moist, like a good risotto. Taste for seasoning. Add the seafood back into the pan, and cover to warm all.