Pasta Milanese with Saint Joseph’s “Sawdust”

013This pasta dish is a classic for New Orleanians of Sicilian descent.

It is the ritual meal (a cena di San Giuseppe) that is traditionally served on March 19th for Saint Joseph’s Day (San Giuseppe).

This version is adapted slightly from John Besh’s recipe in his cookbook, My New Orleans.




  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bulb fennel, diced
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 2-14 1/2 oz. cans diced tomatoes
  •  28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed toasted, ground
  • 4 large fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano  or (leaves from 2 large sprigs)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon Creole spices
  • 1 pounds spaghetti or bucatini
  1. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil, add fennel and onions, cook until browned and caramelized (stirring occasionally).
  2. Add the garlic, cook briefly, then stir in the anchovies and cook for a couple of minutes.
  3. Stir in the diced tomatoes and the can of San Marzano tomatoes, (crushing them with your hands or a fork).
  4. Add the sugar, tomato paste, ground fennel, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes and Creole spices.
  5. Simmer sauce for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  6. In a large pot, cook the pasta, (reserve 1 cup of pasta water) drain.
  7. Combine some of the sauce with the pasta. If the sauce is thicker than you like add the reserved pasta water until you get the desired consistency.


To serve, place in large serving dish or individual bowls, ladle additional sauce on top, sprinkle with Saint Joseph’s “Sawdust”.

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9 Responses to “Pasta Milanese with Saint Joseph’s “Sawdust””

  1. February 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

    Can’t wait for St. Joseph’s Day again this year–love this spaghetti!

  2. March 13, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    Thanks for this great recipe. we have back-linked to it for our upcoming article on St. Joseph Altar Traditions.


  1. Saint Joseph's "Sawdust" | Sicilian GirlSicilian Girl - March 17, 2013

    […] This tradition commemorates the relief Saint Joseph provided during a famine in Sicily. In addition to the elaborate altars, many families pay tribute to the Sicilian carpenter saint by sprinkling this flavorful bread-crumb “sawdust” over pasta. […]

  2. Creole Spices | Sicilian GirlSicilian Girl - March 17, 2013

    […] The flavor of Creole cooking in a jar, this mixture of spices makes it easy and convenient to prepare your favorite New Orleans dishes (Pasta Milanese). […]

  3. Wonderful St Joseph | Pulchra Doctrina - March 17, 2014

    […] – Pasta Milanese […]

  4. Pasta con le Sarde - Sicilian Girl - March 9, 2015

    […] traditional meals served on March 19th for the Feast of San Giuseppe, the patron saint of Sicily. Pasta Milanese with Saint Joseph’s Sawdust is the […]

  5. Sfinci di San Giuseppe | Sicilian Girl - March 1, 2016

    […] Of course, as is with all holidays, there is a whole lot of eating with family and friends. Traditional dishes include Pasta con le Sarde and Pasta Milanese with Saint Joseph’s Sawdust. […]

  6. Feast of San Giuseppe (March 19th) | Sicilian Girl - March 22, 2017

    […] San Giuseppe) that is traditional on this feast day is Pasta con le Sardi (pasta with sardines) or Pasta Milanese with Saint Joseph’s […]

  7. Celebrating St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans | Eating The World - March 15, 2018

    […] Typical St. Joseph’s Day altars are decked out with tons of food, including citrus, fanciful breads in shapes representing Joseph’s trade as a carpenter (or even fish or figures), whole fish, dozens of varieties of cookies, fava beans, and more (You may even see a lamb cake or two). And if you visit a church on St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans you will probably be treated to a bowl of Pasta Milanese or other meatless favorites. Pasta Milanese is similar to pasta con sarde, but with tomatoes, and of course you have to top it with breadcrumbs, representing the Joseph’s carpentry sawdust – check out this recipe from Sicilian Girl. […]

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