If you’ve ever wondered what bigne di San Giuseppe are, or those cloud-like, deep-fried pastries available in Italian bars and bakeries in the month of March, read on! This guide to bigne di San Giuseppe will explain the history of these sweet treats and why bigne di San Giuseppe are supposed to be eaten on 19 March. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in broader Easter traditions in Rome, don’t miss my posts on celebrating carnival week and Ash Wednesday in Rome, or my complete guide to spending Easter and Holy Week in Rome, Italy.
Bigne di San Giuseppe: what are they?
An awful lot of saints are celebrated in Italy. They have almost twice as many bank holidays as their European neighbours, despite the fact that a number of festivals have since been done away with, returning to the status of feriali (work days).
San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day) on March 19, is one of those lost holy days which still gets plenty of attention, however, thanks to a peculiar culinary tradition. March 19 is the day when you eat the bignè di San Giuseppe, cloud-like puffs of fried dough, piped full with custard or ricotta. According to legend, Mary’s husband sold bignè between jobs as a carpenter, although there is something distinctly Italian about these soft, amber pastries, oozing gooey sweetness when you bite through their velvety dough. In Rome, you find bignè in every bar and pasticceria worth its salt on March 19th, rigorously filled with white ricotta or yellow cream, although jam was also used in older times. Further south, bignè are known as zeppole or sfinge di San Giuseppe, and are made to a slightly tougher consistency. You’ll often find them with a sweet cherry on top, as in the case in my local bar in Testaccio, Linari.