BELMONT — Chances are, if you live in The Bronx and can pronounce sfingi and zeppole, you know that Arthur Avenue is the place to find them.
Pastry shops throughout the borough’s Little Italy serve up the treats — think Sicilian cream puffs — by the dozen in honor of Saint Joseph’s Day, the Catholic holiday on March 19 celebrating the Virgin Mary’s husband.
“This time of year is crazy,” said Natalia Corridori, general manager of the landmark Belmont bakery, Artuso Pastry. “We call it the holidays.”
The treats are made of a special fried dough crammed with the kind of ricotta cream found in a cannoli (sfingi) or with custard (zeppole), then topped with powdered sugar and glazed citrus fruits or Amarena cherries, explained Anthony Artuso Sr., the shop’s co-owner.
“If you’re an Italian pastry shop, you have to have them,” Artuso said, adding that his bakery sells thousands of the treats during the St. Joseph’s holiday “season,” from the beginning of January through Easter.
The pastries average about $3 each and can be found in pastry shops along Arthur Avenue or on intersecting 187th Street.
Of course, the feast day food isn’t all sweet.
Because the holiday falls during Lent, when observant Catholics avoid meat on certain days, pasta with sardines is popular on St. Joseph’s Day, said David Greco, the local celebrity chef and owner of Arthur Avenue Trattoria and Mike’s Deli.
Greco cooks up pasta with sardines, raisins and fennel and topped with breadcrumbs, a St. Joseph’s tradition that symbolizes the Biblical carpenter’s sawdust.
That said, Greco admitted that many locals outsource the pastries on St. Joseph’s Day — but not the pasta.
“The Sicilians that really love it make themselves,” he said. “They don’t trust anyone else to make it.”
Other St. Joseph’s Day traditions include attending a church service, wearing red and carrying a blessed fava bean, which, according to religious lore, is the crop the saint provided to sustain Sicilians during an ancient famine.
As for how those decadent fried-dough balls became attached to the holiday?
“That’s just the tradition,” Ugo Breda, 68, said last week as he headed into an Arthur Avenue pastry shop to pick up a zeppole.