Bignè – Celebrating Saint Joseph’s Day in Rome

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 19th, is one of those lost holy days which still gets plenty of attention, however, thanks to a peculiar culinary tradition. March 19th is the day when you eat the bignè di San Giuseppe, cloud-like puffs of fried dough, piped full with custard or ricotta. 

Bignè St Joseph's Day RomeBignè, St Joseph's Day, Rome, ItalyBignè, St Joseph's Day, Rome, Italy

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.

This guest post today is from Isobel Lee, a journalist and blogger who has been living in Rome for ten years. After accepting the challenge to live like the Romans do and immerse herself in local culture, she now writes regularly on Italian life for the international press. You can follow her blog at

Photos © Susan Wright

Words © Isobel Lee

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