In the current issue of Joy of Kosher, check out my articles on fancy homemade pastas and on the king of Italian herbs: basil!
In the current issue of Joy of Kosher, check out my articles on fancy homemade pastas and on the king of Italian herbs: basil!
I’m pretty sure I’ve already told you that every year, comes May, I feel quite conflicted between my desire to eat more fresh fruit, vegetables and light fare, and all the temptations of Mother’s Day, my birthday, and Shavuot - plus dozens more excuses…. (just to give you a couple of examples, last year I indulged in a pink meringue cake and a pistachio and cream Swiss roll).
After one of the longest winters that I can remember, it felt quite exciting to finally put all my winter gear in storage and switch to easy tee shirts and jersey dresses. There was, however, one downside – all the cream, cheese and butter-laden recipes I’d been posting to help you brave the elements, had left a couple of unwanted inches around my waist . Time to go easy on the béchamel, pasta and desserts for a week or so!
Today, I am treating myself to a salad made with red radicchio (probably my favorite leafy vegetable). and the exotic addition of Medjool dates to temper its slight bitterness. Let me know what you think!
My 5-year old loves Brussels sprouts and broccoli, and this is her favorite way to eat them! It’s so delicious that I thought I’d also share it with you guys.
After all the cheesy pasta dishes I posted this winter, I really owed you a recipe with some vitamins and fiber…..
Hello again! I’m so excited to share that my Levornese Almond Custards (Scodelline) are in the April 2014 issue of Cucinare Bene magazine, a special Italian Passover treat among tons of Easter treats (in Italian! But for all the English speakers, I had already posted this recipe here, last year).
I am also in the new Spring issue of Joy of Kosher magazine, with a feature on Cooking with Wine, where I really tried to crunch in everything you need to know about the topic, from techniques, tips, substitutions and recipes, to cool wine gadgets!
I think I already told you that I don’t mind a little extra padding in the winter: it’s way more practical than having to wear an extra puffer coat, and gives me a great excuse to overindulge in cheesy dishes. However, I’ve lost count of all the snowstorms we’ve had this year, and maybe – just maybe – I’ll start wiggling my way out of hibernation. This morning I even made it to a workout class, and no cheese tonight!
My latest article is all about kisses…. the chocolate kind!
With a recipe for an easy home-made treat (perfect for Valentines with a sweet tooth!): read it here
In the new issue of JOK Magazine, the third chapter of my series on Pots and Pans deals with what I once considered two diabolical appliances: Pressure Cookers and Slow Cookers!
Tips, tricks, and tidbits of their curious history…
by the way, this is what many consider the progenitor of our modern pressure cooker, invented by Denis Papin in France in the 1670s:
Our kitchen and dining room overlook a lovely garden, with a couple of old trees where lots of adorable little squirrels have made their nest. Every now and then, a big, bushy gray tail pops up on one of the windows, a sign that they are watching us and wondering if what we are putting on the table is more or less interesting than their usual fare. This week our little fuzzy friends might be paying us more visits: the ingredients I laid out to bake for Tu’ Bishvat are an irresistible attraction.
In the Jewish Tradition, Tu’ Bishvat may be technically a minor holiday, but its special eco-message that we should connect with God through nature resonates very deeply with many of us. Many people celebrate this special “Birthday of the Trees” eating dried fruits and nuts, particularly those associated with the Promised Land! A kabbalistic tradition teaches that eating three different types of fruits creates a mystical connection with the Tree of life from the Garden of Eden. The first type are those fruits and nuts with inedible exteriors and edible insides, like oranges, bananas and many nuts. The second type are those fruits that have soft edible exteriors but a hard pit inside (like dates, apricots, etc). Finally, fruit that is eaten whole, like figs and berries. You can taste all this fruity-nutty goodness in these special honey-rye breads. For more Tu’ Bishvat recipes, you can check my old posts here.
After last week’s snow storm, and Tuesday’s record temperatures (we hit a record low of 4 degrees Farenheit or -15 C here in New York City), several friends emailed us or called us from Italy expressing concern for our safety and comfort. We loved the attention, but don’t worry…. we are a tough breed! (here is what we have been doing:)
Of course, after a couple of hours of frozen fun at the park, we headed home to warm up by the fireplace ! In most families,a nice cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows would be in order. But my 7-year-old is the kind of kid who, asked by a friend’s mom at snack time: “Do you eat parmesan cheese?” replied: “Would you mind cutting it into shavings and add honey and pears on the side?”. So here is what we settled on.
My Italian fondue recipe hails from Valle d’Aosta, the smallest of all Italian regions, but dominated by two of Europe’s top peaks—Monte Bianco (aka Mont Blanc) and Monte Cervino (aka the Matterhorn) on its borders with France and Switzerland. Skiing down such impressive slopes requires serious refueling, or at least I like to think so! Fonduta Valdostana is even simpler than Swiss Fondue. No wine or kirsch here, just a good pound of fontina (or other good melting cheese), milk and egg yolks. The calequons, those little fondue sets with the tiny forks are really cute, and I couldn’t resist buying one at Zabar’s, but come on – all you really need is a double-boiler made by layering two regular saucepans.
Even if you are not a health food nut, the combination of lots of butter with cheese and bread cubes might induce some feeling of guilt. That’s where the egg yolks come in handy, because at least you are having some extra protein. Besides the bread cubes, you can dip stuff like steamed baby potatoes, slightly steamed cauliflower florets, red peppers, zucchini and pear slices, steamed broccoli or cauliflower or whatever fruit or vegetable you’re in the mood for. I find that when I add fruit and veggies to the standard Italian or French bread cubes, I can tell myself that I’m having a perfectly balanced meal. Of course, don’t forget a steaming cup of mulled wine!
Every winter, when new York City (or Venice) seems to turn overnight into one giant display of dazzling Christmas ornaments, it’s hard for those of other religious denominations not to feel at least a tinge of Christmas envy! I decided to embrace it, by making a mean Panettone Trifle, and writing about it on this week’s Jewish Week. (read)
I’m not sure if I’ve made it clear yet, but I am somewhat obsessed with saffron. It started when I was about 10 and read somewhere that in ancient Persia, saffron threads were woven into royal textiles, and ritually offered to divinities. The fact that Gualtiero Marchesi, the star Italian chef of those years, was pairing it with real gold leaves in his signature risottos, just added to the mystique, as did the fact that it takes thousands of flowers and many hours of labor to gather together just a pound of stems.
This sounded so special to me, so classy, that one of the first dishes I learned to make on my own and would treat my friends to in junior high, was the traditional Risotto Milanese. My experiments did not end here, unfortunately. As a teen-ager, I even tried using a saffron infusion as a face toner, to give my skin a beautiful golden tint. While this is said to have worked wonders for Cleopatra, the only result I obtained was that my then-crush asked me if I had jaundice (I have since limited my use of spices to food).
Adolescent traumas aside, I still think that there is something magical about saffron, with its unique, metallic honey-like aroma, and luminous yellow-orange color. From India to Persia, from Turkey to Spain, and of course Italy – it’s constantly a symbol of prosperity and holiday.
Here is how to make it even more festive….
Another special presentation here
The Thanksgiving table is exquisitely symbolic. Aside from pumpkin, and of course turkey, which clearly represent bounty, some other harvest symbols are fraught with ambiguities – and not only in American culture.
With all the hype about Thanksgivukkah this year, I also received a challenge to post something that would be perfect for both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah – and it had to be made with some type of mashed food. I normally panic when I get this kind of requests, but this time it was really brainless. These pumpkin fritters are one of my favorite recipes, and always a huge hit with guests.
This month my article in Joy of Kosher magazine reveals the secrets of cooking with cast iron, and carbon steel:
Cast iron is one of my favorites because it lasts forever (unless you drop it, in which case it will break – along with your foot).
It also has a way of enhancing rustic flavors, and it’s perfect for eggs!
This October my column in the Jewish Week featured a recipe for butternut squash manicotti with goat cheese and pumpkin. But there are so many versions of these, that I couldn’t resist posting one more! After all, for the past few weeks, I’ve been in a pumpkin frenzy. This time, I also added red radicchio, and a touch of Moscato wine. The result is slightly bitter, slightly sweet; buttery, creamy, and totally worth the splurge.
Cous cous is probably not the first dish that most of you will associate with Italy. However, if you look at a map, you’ll notice that Southern Sicily is not that far from North Africa, and the locals have been enjoying this type of semolina preparation since Roman times. Much farther North, on the coast of Tuscany, in the sea port of Livorno, “Cuscussu’ ” is also a favorite: first introduced by the Jewish merchants, who had ties in North Africa, it slowly spread to the rest of the population. Not to mention the Sardinian version, Fregola: tiny 2-mm balls of semolina dough that have been toasted in the oven before being boiled like pasta. Let’s toast to “fusion” with this easy salad, which surprisingly pairs cous cous with a staple of my region, Veneto: red radicchio!
This month I really spaced and forgot to post my recipe for my friends’ Linkup! Ops!
The theme is “Spread The Joy”, because everybody loves receiving home-made goodies. Enjoy these easy Jewish Italian Pumpkin (or butternut squash) treats: an old Jewish italian recipe perfect for this season!
At the end of Yom Kippur there is a widespread custom to break the fast joyously, since a Midrash (Jewish homiletic story) describes a heavenly voice speaking at the end of the fast with these words from Ecclesiastes:
“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine …..” (Kohelet Rabbah 9:7).
The Jews of Piedmont, Italy, take this quite literally!
My monthly column in the Jewish Week this month deals with how tradition mixes with innovation, when a “lost” Jewish tribe decides to return to Judaism… what will they make for Rosh HaShana?
In the new Fall issue of Joy of Kosher Magazine (pages 33-37) you will find my new article on “Ancient Pots for modern Flavors”, and a possible answer to why your grandma’s food always tasted best and you were never quite able to replicate it…. and this month, you can get this issue of Joy of Kosher Magazine for FREE , to read on your iPad:
Nothing in the kitchen spells summer and vacation for me the way cold rice and pasta dishes do. I grew up with no air conditioning in the kitchen and dining room: to survive the summer, we resorted to a an endless variety of dishes that can be served cold or at room temperature.
Pasta salads were always my favorite (and I just wrote about them in my monthly column for The Jewish Week NY), because they can easily be packed and eaten outdoors. Meet me in Central Park!
It’s not only that I happen to love this particular cookie recipe (which I often make myself in a slightly different version including red wine and fennel seeds) – Alice also picked the best possible time to contribute to Dinner In Venice! I’m taking a short family vacation and this guest post means: “YAY! More play time with the kids”. While Allie is not Italian herself, her trademark cuisine, showcased in her addictive blog Ally’s Kitchen, is simple but sophisticated, a perfect balance of flavors – qualities that many identify with contemporary Italian taste. Her dishes are eclectic and show many different cultural influences, but this time she is actually taking us on a virtual trip to Central Italy……
Italian roots run deep in my life—married first time around to a D’Antoni, I was very influenced in my culinary growth in early years by being in the family. With three sons who could eat you out of house and home, some of their favorite dishes were all Italian inspired—pastas especially!
Still having a close connection to this part of my life, recently Ben and I traveled to Italy and visited our D’Antoni family there staying in their gorgeous home in Poggio Mirteto where food is the heart of living and breathing. Amid the stunning olive orchards, wine vineyards and listening to the gentle crowing of roosters in early morning, each day began with deliciousness! The long table set for family and friends and prepared by the expert hands of Antonella, ‘breaking bread’ was more than food, it was layers of entertainment, hours of laughter and sharing, and all with even more family in a rustic warm setting of food, wine, good stories, and laughter!
One recipe that captured my heart was ‘Ciambellini di Magro’—Italian cookies crispy and subtly sweet with distinct hints of the rich olive oil and wine in them! I couldn’t get enough. Antonella, who spoke limited English, and I, who speak even less Italian, had no problems communicating in the kitchen—she shared with me the recipe writing it in Italian and ‘talking’ with her hands and gestures explaining how to execute. We laughed as we both knew we were in a festive game of ‘charades’ talking recipes, food, and cooking!
I’ve made these cookies three times since returning—sharing them with friends who come sit in my kitchen, I retell the story of Antonella & Ally in the kitchen—and, sharing them on my website and Facebook proved to be one of my most popular recipe posts!
My article in the current issue of Joy of Kosher magazine : the history of ricotta-making and a few easy, yummy, low-fat recipes – from dumplings, to a savory farro cake, and a decadent espresso semifreddo…
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m taking a little blogging break to recharge my creative batteries and spend some quality time with my family. That also means sticking to the basics in the kitchen. However, basic doesn’t have to be boring.
Don’t get me started. I’ll just mention that when the doctor heard how I got injured, he laughed. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it involved an epic fight with the mini-blender blade falling into the stand mixer bowl (in action), AND the unlocked dishwasher door. In case you ever wondered why I don’t teach knife skills demos. Today, the saga continues with water flooding our building through the upstairs neighbor’s apartment.
I hope I’m forgiven if I post this recipe without a proper intro!
To cheer me up, feel free to share your most surreal kitchen accidents in the comment box.
All of us have dishes we have always loved. And then there are flavors that we learn how to love, later in life. Finally, those that we appreciate because they remind us of when we were young, and/or in love.
As an Italian teenager in the Eighties, trying to fit in (shoulder pads and all), I had a hard time getting used to the new food trends that we were importing from the US, such as burgers and club sandwiches. I would have traded any Panini for a bowl of my nonna’s ribollita soup! As to the other culinary movement that was going on – namely, the spread of Nouvelle Cuisine from France to Northern Italy – I was too young and poor to experience it!
I did hear about it, of course. I was aware of its most cultured and creative representative, Gualtiero Marchesi, and of all the copycats who tried to get on board by simply sticking kiwi, vodka and arugola into everything. But all my student budget allowed me to eat out was lots of arugola pizza!
The surprises of the new cuisine were mostly reserved to the Yuppies, the young and flashy finance or law professionals who loved to impress their peers with gold Rolexes, fast cars, and dinners in exclusive restaurants with outrageous prices. The others (who couldn’t afford such extravagances) made fun of them, laughing at the idea of such adventurous and un-Italian flavor combinations.
That’s how my friends and I, having to make do with pizza or the occasional panini, totally missed on the strawberry risotto craze. At home, our moms were too traditional to venture beyond mushroom or saffron!
Finally last month, to celebrate my 44th birthday and upcoming middle age, I decided to experiment with a few recipes from that era. If my teenage years have officially made it into history books, I should at least give them the respect they deserve!
I must confess that this was not my first choice. At first I really wanted to try my hand at the symbol of Italian Nouvelle Cuisine, Gualtiero Marchesi’s signature Risotto with Saffron and gold leaves. However, I wasn’t sure how my husband might react if he saw me pop my wedding band into the microwave, and on second thought I went for this more sensible option.
Some of you might worry that strawberries could make this risotto too sweet; on the contrary, the end result is slightly tart and very fresh, perfect for summer and incredibly fragrant – not to mention the pretty color!
The episode of the madeleine in Marcel Proust’s epic novel In Search of Lost Time is probably the most famous example in Western literature of how a particular flavor can elicit a stream of rich and intimate memories. Even those of you not particularly familiar with French literature will remember the basic outline: the grownup narrator dips a cookie in tea, which causes him to reminisce so intensely about childhood afternoons at his aunt’s home, that he follows with 3,000 pages of such fond memories.
Of course you don’t need to be French to have a favorite childhood sweet. Yours could as well be brownies; while for many Northern Italians in my generation, the cliché cookie is actually a giant crumble, as big as a cake. Whether home-baked or packaged in its distinctive clear wrapping, this is what I fought over with my dad, to the point that we would each lock up our half, to protect it from the other’s attacks. This is what I munched on with my friend Rachele on countless afternoons, between homework and daydreaming of our high school crushes.
In the Veneto, we have Fregolotta (from the local dialect word for crumb: “fregola”) or Rosegota (from the word for “crunching on”), depending on the area. In Mantova, it’s Sbrisolona (from “brisola”).
The ingredients are slightly different, depending on the area and the baker, but what they do have in common is the crunchy, crumbly texture – which gives you a great excuse to dip into cappuccino, wine, or even grappa- and the fact that they are impossible to cut with a knife. Having to use your hands adds an element of playfulness that can turn any get-together from formal to fun, or even romantic.
Of course that’s assuming you are willing to share. If you have a sweet tooth, this could present a challenge.
May 22. When I was a child, the end of May marked the beginning of cherry-picking season in Italy, and for the next month or so I could often be found doing my homework with a big bowl of juicy fruit in my lap, and a few red stains on my books .
The decadence of sucking on the cherries is counterbalanced by the zen quality of spitting the pits into a saucer. Ciliegie are the perfect, meditative snack: “una tira l’altra” (one pulls the other, you just can’t stop eating them) – that’s also true of potato chips, by the way, but potato chips aren’t being touted as the next “superfood”.
Cherries are actually so good for you that they are now being marketed in the form of capsules. I find that a bit ridiculous: wouldn’t you rather stick them into a pie? At least dip them into white chocolate? Or, if you are being truly virtuous, how about using them for a colorful salad?
We all have weaknesses. One of mine is that I tend to be quite impatient. That’s why, even though I adore homemade bread, I’m not going to babysit that dough for several hours!
Enter this week’s guest, Silvia Colloca, my go-to expert (the other one is Vittorio of Viva la Focaccia) when it comes to bread making, including tips on cutting corners and reducing the waiting time.
Silvia is hands-down one of the best Italian food bloggers out there: on Silvia’s Cucina, she shares lots of tasty, easy, healthy Italian recipes that she learned growing up in Milan from her mom and grandma. Just FYI, Silvia is also a successful movie and theater actress and mezzo soprano opera singer, trained at the prestigious music academy of Milan. For the past ten years, she has been married to one of the most beloved Australian actors, producers (and heart-throbs), Richard Roxburgh, and living in Sydney, where they are raising their adorable sons. Silvia somehow manages to do all of the above with remarkable grace and ease, and to look drop-dead gorgeous even when covered in flour.
Which, in theory, makes her one of those super-women we’d all like to hate: however, she also happens to be incredibly nice, modest, and laid-back, so you stand no chance: you are going to fall in love with her, and her delicious, authentic Italian food.
I was overjoyed when my friend Alessandra asked me if I could write a guest post on her blog DinnerInVenice. Alessandra and I both started our Italian food blogs back in 2011. Like Ale, I am an Italian-born woman, recently emigrated to an English speaking country (Australia) and, just like her, I have been fascinated and enamoured with the bounty of local produce and diverse cuisines my new home-land has to offer. However, I could not help but miss my Bella Italia, the very scents of it, its flavors. My most unsatisfied craving was “real” bread, Il pane. Fragrant, crunchy and bronzed, with its inviting crackly crust and a moist and airy crumb.
I have learnt to make it at home, from slow-proving sourdoughs to yeast-risen ones, for more immediate gratification. And every time a loaf is baking in my oven, I can simply close my eyes and smell my beloved Italy from my sunny Sydney kitchen.
This week my family and I will observe one of my favorite holiday traditions, that of indulging in creamy dairy treats for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. After all, who am I to say no to extra helpings of lasagna and tiramisu, especially when our sages encourage me?
Another custom typical of Shavuot (and Simchat Torah) is eating preparations that are rolled, a visual reminder of the Torah scrolls that are read in synagogue. It may be a no-brainer to celebrate by smothering your dishes in butter and cream; however, rolling up foods can be challenging for inexperienced cooks. Take cake rolls, and raise your hand if you don’t end up buying the pre-packaged version rather than risking a disaster.
The truth is that, if you follow instructions, these guys are not that hard to make. Just don’t cheat on the pan: the only type that works is a jelly roll pan (usually a 15x10x1-inch pan, regular or disposable). This is also the kind of recipe that you don’t want to attempt if you have just ran out of parchment paper. Last, but not least, do not over-bake: the cake needs to be a bit flexible and “springy” to be rolled up.
After baking the cake, remove from the oven and loosen the edges from the pan with a knife, then turn it out the cake onto a large parchment sheet. Peel the existing parchment from the top (what was previously on the bottom of the baking pan) and discard.
Now the tricky part: starting with one of the shorter sides, roll up the parchment with the warm cake inside into a spiral. Once the cake is all rolled up into the parchment, secure it with tape or by stapling the ends of the parchment, and place it on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Unroll the cake, spread with your preferred filling staying within 1 inch of the edges; then roll it up again, but this time use the parchment only to lift and guide leaving it on the “outside’ of the cake roll. Place the roll in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving.
Tiramisu is said to have appeared for the first time at a restaurant in the Veneto region in the 1970’s, and has quickly become a world-renowned specialty.
Tiramisu is a non-denominational dessert: who wouldn’t want to eat it? Everybody can find a good excuse. For us Jews, for example, it’s the perfect Shavuot treat: layers of mascarpone cream to remind us of the sweetness of Torah, and several shots of espresso to get us through the night of learning (Tiramisu means “pick me up” in Italian!). Or what about Mother’s day? You could surprise her with something girly and new, replacing the traditional coffee with sparkling wine and adding juicy strawberries: welcome spring!
2 cups (about 1 lb) mascarpone
1/2 pint whipping cream (makes about 1 1/2 cups whipped)
26 Italian ladyfingers (savoiardi)
1/2 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 1/2 lb strawberries
1 1/2 cups Prosecco or champagne (for kids, use Kedem sparkling grape juice)
Mint and small meringues to decorate
In your blender or food processor, puree 1/3 of the strawberries with the wine or juice until smooth. Set aside in a small and shallow bowl.
Using an electric whisk, or in your food processor, beat the egg yolks with the sugar. When they become frothy, add the mascarpone; process until combined and set aside.
In a perfectly clean bowl (you can wipe it quickly with a few drops of lemon or vinegar to make sure it’s degreased) beat the egg whites (which should be clear, with no traces of yolk) with an electric whisk until they start forming soft peaks.
Gently fold the whites into the mascarpone cream with a spatula, using an upward motion. Fold in the whipped cream as well. Chop 1/2 of the remaining strawberries and add them to half of the mixture. Also add enough strawberry/wine juice to make it pink.
Dip each ladyfinger into the remaining strawberry/wine mix for 5 to 8 seconds, flipping them a couple of times (letting the cookies soak too long will cause them to fall apart). Arrange the soaked ladyfingers on the bottom of a glass or pyrex 9 x 13-inch baking dish (or two smaller square or round pans). Spread the pink half of the mascarpone mixture on top. Make a second layer of soaked ladyfingers and top with the white mascarpone mixture.
Slice the remaining strawberries and use them to decorate. You can also add some fresh mint leaves and meringues. Cover tiramisu with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. You can also make the tiramisu in individual Martini cups: tres chic!
Yield: 10–12 servings, or more according to serving size
*Raw eggs always carry a small risk of salmonella infection: to reduce the chance of contamination you can pasteurize the eggs prior to use. Or you can purchase pasteurized eggs – www.safeeggs.com. If using pasteurized eggs, it will be harder to beat the yolks frothy and especially to beat the whites stiff: you will need to add a touch of cream of tartar (or lemon juice or white vinegar) to the whites; about 1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar or 3/4 teaspoon lemon for 4 whites. You will also need to use an electric mixer and beat for twice as long as you would with regular eggs.
In some areas of Central Italy, there is still a custom of going from house to house adorned with garlands on the first night of May, playing and singing merry tunes to welcome the warm season.
I’m bringing this up – kind of randomly – because this morning I woke up with a verse stuck in my head: it’s from an Italian children’s poem about the months of the year that I learned in kindergarten, and the part about May goes “Maggio di canti risuona” (May resonates with songs).
While I’m not the type to go around the neighborhood with a lute serenading strangers (my fellow Manhattanites would call the police), I am all for celebrating this beautiful month, which I associate with a variety of pleasant concepts.
At last, the sun is out, the bees are buzzing, the birds are chirping, and the flowers in Central Park are blooming…. but not only that: at the risk of sounding very self-involved, I’m excited because my birthday and Mother’s day also come this month. I’m not sure about resonating with songs – but it sure will smell like cakes!
Now, talking about birthdays, I am turning 44 and becoming a little nostalgic. I became twenty in the Eighties, and while here in the US the cake that best represents that era of excess is probably cheesecake -in some 7-layer variation -, in Italy we had Meringata, a sinfully rich dessert made of layers of meringue combined with tons of whipped cream – the Pavlova’s Italian cousin.
Meringata was the dessert of choice to share with your date in any Northern Italian piano bar or panini bar. The main downside of those types of cakes (besides the fact that they can induce a diabetic coma) is that they need to be assembled a short time prior to consumption, or the meringue will dissolve in the cream. That’s why I picked this alternative, which tastes less sugary and can be made the day before and transported easily.
Cakes made of layers of pan di Spagna (genoise) or pastafrolla (pastry dough) alternating with whipped cream and strawberries or other berries are also served in many areas of Italy for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which coincidentally falls in May.
In case you really need one more excuse to indulge.
Today I have a special surprise for you: I am quite thrilled to introduce you to my friend Silvia Nacamulli. Silvia, who grew up in Rome, is a fellow foodie, who learned all her tricks from three generations of talented Jewish nonnas. In London, where she lives with her husband and adorable daughters, she runs the successful cooking school La Cucina di Silvia – Cooking for the Soul, and caters very chic private parties (so chic, in fact, that she was featured in Elle magazine).
However, Silvia is probably most famous for her culinary vacations in Italy (she is now getting ready for the next one, coming up in June), during which English-speaking Italophiles from all over the world learn how to cook a variety of Italian, and Jewish Italian dishes while relaxing in the gorgeous setting of Relais Nature La Tenuta dei Ciclamini.
City-dwellers, in particular, can’t get enough of the all-encompassing food experience that Silvia offers beyond the cooking lessons, including truffle or mushroom and chestnut hunts (depending on the season), lessons in cheese- and jam-making, fresh vegetable picking, and great wine. Luckily, the Relais has a giant gym and swimming pool where they can burn it all off!
Last September, Silvia and I were both part of a panel at the Museum of Jewish Heritage here in New York, organized by Jayne Cohen and including the über-talented Cara de Silva and Walter Potenza. Before the event we were exchanging favorite recipes, and I practically begged her to guest post this one on my blog. As you may have heard, Italians like to procrastinate – that’s how, between the two of us, it took about six months… but at last Silvia’s recipe is here, in all its mouthwatering splendor!
The arrival of spring always inspires me to check out the neighborhood’s farmers’ markets and even community gardens in the quest for culinary ideas. After my FreshDirect-fueled winter hibernation, I crave flavors and colors beyond the boundaries of the chain grocery stores.
I’m embarrassed to admit that when I find anything new, or that I haven’t cooked in a long time, I simply stick it into a pizza or a calzone – at least the first time. The reason is very practical: my kids will eat positively anything if it’s deep-fried, or in the form of a pizza topping.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been on what my husband has deemed a “weed-spree”: no, that’s not what you think – I’m just referring to edible plants and herbs that sprout literally everywhere, on the side of the street and in your backyard; but while they are highly prized in Italian and French cuisine, here in the US most people never take advantage of them.
Growing up in Italy, I tried countless recipes with edible weeds. My mom made salads and frittatas with dandelion greens (the scourge of any lawn perfectionist!). One of our housekeepers, Pierina, would bring us baskets of “bruscandoli“, hop shoots (yes – from beer hops) that literally invaded the street sides near her house in the suburbs of Venice: they tasted better than young asparagus and made fantastic risottos! My nonna, in Tuscany, would take me stinging nettle-hunting… armed with contractor’s gloves and “jungle boots”: her nettle soup and gnocchi were worth all the trouble. Finally, during a vacation in the Cinque Terre we discovered borage, which tastes like young cucumbers and the locals combine with ricotta in their traditional ravioli filling. Here in New York, most people consider it as a pest and will go to any lengths to get rid of it, bringing on the chemical warfare . They usually lose the battle, because borage and dandelions are among the most invasive plants. That’s why I recommend that, if you can’t kill it – you should eat it! (just make sure it’s not treated with any dangerous pesticides).
This week, the nice weather inspired me to check out my neighborhood “community gardens”, and I found a few fun things to cook with. Of course, if you live in the suburbs, you might already have a lot of these interesting greens growing in your own property.When it comes to that stubborn backyard weed… why kill them when you can eat them?
Dandelion greens, for example. They make a great addition to a salad, but you can also try something fancier. They pair perfectly with cheese. Make sure they are not treated with toxic chemicals. And stay tuned – more “weed” coming soon! Next is borage…..
Seven years ago, when I was planning my wedding and the florist asked me what I would like to put in my bouquet, I joked that my favorite flowers are those that I can eat. If I ever end up stranded on a desert island with only one food, I hope it’s artichokes! Second in my top-ten list of edible flowers are zucchini and squash blossoms. They are gorgeous and ethereal (back to that wedding bouquet idea!), and quite popular in the cuisines of the Eastern Mediterranean, from Greece to Turkey and, of course, Italy.
Here in the US they used to be pretty hard to find, but lately I have seen them at farmers’ markets and large organic supermarkets, and don’t think I’ve ever been able to pass them up. When I was growing up, my mom would serve them as a special treat stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies and then battered and fried. That’s probably still my favorite way to enjoy them, but I can see how some of you would prefer something lighter, and quicker.
Zucchini flowers (actually, any kind of squash produces this type of blossoms) have a delicious subtle flavor, slightly sweet and herbal, that will remind you of young zucchini, and a chewy texture. That’s why you will love them raw, as a colorful addition to salads, or in pastas and soup. They also make a wonderful topping for pizzas and savory tarts (tarts – not pies! Why hide something this pretty?). Make sure to check the inside of the flowers well before you add them to your food, since some bugs can also appreciate gourmet ingredients!
“Interesting” salads are not exactly what Italian food is famous for, I know. However, some time in the 1980es, when I was a high school student, many firms and stores in Italy gave up the traditional long midday break, and large salads with more than just vegetables started popping up in the local trattorias as a quick and healthy lunch option.
The other day I posted instructions for grilling vegetables, and since these keep so well I couldn’t resist giving you an idea of what you could do with them, besides serving them as a side.
After almost twenty years in America, I have come to terms with the fact that here barbecue is an expression of national pride. Barbecue expresses American identity through food as accurately as jazz does through music. It’s simple, honest, and… manly. I ’ve come to love it. However, to stay true to my origins, I always make room on the grill for some vegetables! Italians (with the exception of Tuscany) are not so big on barbecuing meat, but grilling is a favorite cooking method for everything else! Besides the obvious advantage of being quick and easy, it preserves most of the ingredients’ nutritional qualities while enhancing their flavor. The secret of a good vegetable “barbecue” is the grilling temperature, which needs to be inversely proportional to the size/thickness of the food: the thinner pieces should be grilled quickly on high heat, and the thicker/larger ones should be cooked more slowly on lower heat. We don’t usually marinate the vegetables before grilling. In order to enhance (rather than hide) their flavor and texture, we just brush them quickly with a little oil while on the grill. Each vegetable needs some individual attention: eggplants, for example, tend to dry out a bit during grilling; besides, it’s best to salt them first, to cut down their bitterness, but this also removes some moisture.
For this reason, they should be sliced pretty thick (about1/2 inch) and cooked longer. Zucchini are delicate and should be sliced thinner and cooked very quickly. If you use a mandoline or your food processor disc, you will be able to set your desired thickness and cook the vegetable slices more uniformly. Tomatoes are quite watery, and should be seeded, salted and allowed to drain for twenty minutes before cooking. They should only be grilled on the side of the peel, or they’ll fall apart. Just make sure you give all your veggies some TLC and individual attention!
In French, the term Fricassee refers to some kind of stew, usually with a white sauce, in which cut-up meat is first sauteed and then slow-cooked with the addition of liquid. However, ask any Italian (or Greek!) and they will tell you that to them “fricassea” is any type of meat or poultry served in a traditional egg-lemon sauce. The Tuscan side of my family used to make this sauce to recycle meat (usually veal) that had already been boiled. We would make soup with the broth, serve the meat boiled with a side of green sauce, and the next day we would turn the leftovers into a creamy egg-lemon fricassea. There are several regional versions of this quick and easy recipe, some made with chicken and others with a mix of different types of meat, including liver. In Rome, however, the ingredient of choice is lamb, a symbol of the spring holidays (whether you choose to celebrate Easter or Passover), often with the addition of seasonal vegetables, such as baby artichokes. Serve accompanied by your favorite starch: potatoes or rice are great.
This recipe was included in
This American Bite’s roundup of lamb recipes.
While eating matzah (unleavened bread) during Passover is a commandment, eating too much of it could turn into a curse. I won’t go into details here, but by the time you serve dessert at the end of the seder, you will be praying for a break. I will always be thankful for the fact that most Italian Passover sweets are not made with matzah meal (ground matzah).
These lovely almond custards from Leghorn, in Tuscany, are called “Scodelline” (little bowls) or “Tazzine” (little coffee cups) because of how they are served in individual portions. They are small and elegant, just what you need to end a holiday meal on a sweet note without overdoing it. They are also gluten-free, and easy to prepare with wholesome ingredients (isn’t it nice, when you are having all this sugar, to know that there is something nutritious mixed with it, like almond and eggs?) The Jews of Leghorn, drawing from their Spanish-Portuguese origins, make several interesting sweets with these, including the elaborate Monte Sinai, a macaroon-like almond cake covered with egg threads fried in syrup.
For the recipe, I turned to my friends Lea and Anna Orefice, mother and daughter, two inspiring generations of fabulous cooks. From her kitchen in Leghorn, Lea – who is 92 and still in charge of making dessert for the family seder – answered all my questions via email in real time while I was stirring my custard in New York City. Here is the result, and the detailed recipe, including Anna’s microwave version in case you are in a hurry…..
Vintage pictures of the old synagogue of Leghorn (destroyed in WWII and replaced by a new one)
My Leghorn-Style Red Mullet and some history
The Mount Sinai Cake with threaded eggs
Emiko’s Chickpea Cake, Leghorn’s beloved Street-Food
Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, is an eight-day (seven in Israel) holiday that celebrates freedom, by retelling the story of the ancient Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. Special symbolic foods are arranged on the seder table, and we read out loud the haggadah, a book that tells the story of the exodus. One of the main goals of having a seder is teaching children about the exodus, encouraging questions from them in the hope that they will learn to appreciate (and fight for – my father would add) the gift of freedom. It’s not that hard to keep kids interested and involved, as this is one of the rare occasions when they are allowed to stay up REALLY late at night, which in itself feels like a big deal to the young ones. However, if a family seder with a couple of cousins can be fun, a whole community seder with a couple of hundred people and a bunch of kids of different ages can be a total blast, and if you ever visit Venice for Passover and make sure to reserve a spot on time, you will be able to witness just that (you may want to bring ear plugs). The tradition of the public seder in the social hall in Venice goes back to 1891, making it the oldest in Italy. Apparently, it was nothing short of revolutionary, for a traditional community with an orthodox rabbi to have a public seder (which is generally more of a reform tradition, unless one is at a vacation resort). However, the Venetian mutual aid society “Cuore e Concordia” (heart and concord), which initially created the seder only for children and the poor or people left without a family, later realized that, with the increasing level of assimilation, there were many families that lacked a person capable of leading a traditional seder and reading from the Haggadah in Hebrew, and opened the event to the whole community.
Fast-forward more than 120 years, and every Passover, about 200 people (half of the Jews of Venice… plus some tourists, of course) celebrate with a degree of energy and joy that are rarely seen in a smaller context, culminating in the children’s loud singing of “Capretto” (Little Goat), the local version of the famous Passover song “Had Gadya“. One of the consequences of having a large public meal every year is that the traditional menu for the whole community has become crystallized, and changing any item would feel like converting to a different religion. In particular, we are all very attached to the vegetable sides: artichokes, of course; stewed fennel; and this sweet-and-sour carrot stew, which will remind some of you of Tzimmes, but it’s much less sweet. Make sure you use the best organic carrots you can find, and to cook them until they are quite soft: they are supposed to be stewed, and not sautéed.
More Vegetable Side Ideas for your Passover Seder (or any time!) from some of my favorite blogs:
Tori’s Stovetop Tzimmes
Levana’s Artichokes and Carrots
Sarah’s Passover Dumplings
Jasmine & Manuel’s Fennel & Cauliflower Soup
I can’t claim to have ever been the “meat and potato” type in the classic sense – someone who prefers them to vegetables, or even fools herself into thinking they are one. No, thank you: as a side, I’d much rather have something very green, such as artichokes, or kale .
However, I’m obsessed with potatoes as the main ingredient in more elaborate dishes: from gnocchi to pancakes, from croquettes to breads, and especially desserts.
In our carb-phobic day and age, potatoes have been accused of being too starchy, but that’s exactly what makes them so perfect for breads and cakes: yeast thrives on these starches, and the end result is a baked good with a light, fluffy, and yet moist texture. Not that I was always so particular about texture – I have to confess that my fondest memory of a potato “dessert” is actually a concoction much less refined than what I enjoy now. I was probably in 6th grade and it was a lazy winter afternoon, doing homework at my friend Rachele’s house, when her older brother, probably to fight boredom, brought a bowl of French fries and dared us to dip them in Nutella. After a few shrieks of disgust, we accepted the challenge, and discovered that the pairing was quite addictive.
My friends’ mom called us “porcelli” (pigs) for eating such a non-standard snack: if only I could send her a a photo of the ridiculously overpriced package of chocolate-covered potato chips now being sold at Crumbs bakery in New York! We were not crazy, but rather, adventurous! It turns out that there are a number of old recipes, in Italy and elsewhere, for potato desserts: from fluffy doughnuts to moist cakes, and creamy puddings. Let’s call them extra-comfort food! Last, but not least, they are gluten-free, and Passover-friendly. Which is why my contribution to this month’s Passover-themed challenge for the Kosher Connection is a decadent, almost naughty, fluffy and yet creamy Budino, an Italian custardy pudding/cake, with all the richness of potatoes, almonds, chocolate, and if you like even whipped cream. I guarantee you won’t miss the flour!
Whenever I bite into this delicious almond cake, I can’t help but wonder about the origins of its name: Bocca di Dama means “Lady’s Mouth” in Italian. Was a romantic baker in love with a beautiful customer? Or is the cake so sweet, soft and moist that it reminded someone of a passionate kiss? This Passover dessert, popular among the Jews of Leghorn and in several other Sephardic communities, is so ancient that nobody really knows. The only thing that’s certain is that, just like kisses, it’s highly addictive, and you probably won’t be able to stop at the first bite. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: if it’s just you, and the cake, you are set for failure. Surround yourself with lots of guests. My husband once made the whole thing disappear overnight. In this version, the tanginess of orange complements the mild and buttery texture and flavor of the almonds: use organic fruit for the best results.
Farro is a “cousin” of spelt, and a grain so ancient that it is said to have sustained the Roman legions with its nutty flavor, chewy texture, and high fiber, vitamin, and protein content.
When I was growing up my mom would always bring back some from our visits to Nonna in Tuscany. Our friends in Venice would taste her soups or cakes with a combination of curiosity and suspicion: at the time, in fact, farro was used only in a few Italian regions, and mostly in peasant dishes. By the way, these are the same friends who were puzzled by her use of olive oil, which they considered a heavier and less healthy alternative to butter or margarine!
In more recent years, however, farro has made it onto the chic tables of all northern Italy , and even to the United States, where it flies off the shelves of gourmet grocery stores such as Zabar’s and Citarella’s.
More with Farro:
NYT’s Farrotto with Mushrooms
Lucullian Delights’ Chocolate Farro Cake
Behind a tough, thorny covering, the artichoke hides a tender and fragrant heart. Through the centuries, this contrast has inspired a number of literary productions, from Greek legends to contemporary poetry. And with all due respect to my Israeli friends, the artichoke’s reputation in this sense even precedes that of the “Sabra”! While we think of the artichoke as a vegetable, it is technically the edible and tasty bud of a flower, which makes it even more romantic – not to mention the satisfaction of finally eating something that it took us two hours and a couple of knife accidents to clean.
In Italy, we are all notoriously obsessed with local food, and we all insist that our particular regional variety is the best (note to my Roman friends: please don’t even bother to comment and criticize under this post, our differences on the topic can not be reconciled!). Italian Jews like me are possibly even more passionate than the others about this topic, given that until at least the 1800s in Northern and Central Italy the Gentiles would not go anywhere near artichokes, which were considered some crazy Jewish ingredient.
In Venice, we buy the purple artichokes that come from Sant’Erasmo, the largest island in the lagoon. In the spring, if you are lucky, sometimes you can find the cream of the crop, the first tiny artichoke to grow on each plant, out of more than one hundred: these are called “castraure” (kas-tra-OO-reh), because they are “castrated” (cut off ) in order to encourage more to flourish. I have seen my fellow Venetians get into violent fights at the Rialto market over these treasures, which are prized for their relative lack of pricks and their tender, melt-in-your-mouth interior.
While it’s not the same as eating the real thing along the canals of Venice, you can find pretty good artichokes right here in the U.S (my favorites are the ones from Montrey County, in California). Ever since the Italian immigration wave in the early 20th century, artichokes quickly became popular, and started selling for a high price. In the 1920’s, even the mafia invested in them, and when Ciro Terranova, “the Artichoke King”, took the artichoke wars to such extremes as to terrify produce distributors all over the country, Fiorello La Guardia, the legendary mayor of New York, declared illegal “the sale and possession of artichokes” iin the City. The ban was lifted after only one week: it seems that La Guardia, himself the son of Jewish Italian immigrants, admitted that he loved the vegetable too much to prohibit it!
Sformato is a kind of savory custard, but fluffier, almost soufflé-like and usually including pureed vegetables. The name (sfohr-MAH-toh) means “unmolded” in Italian — from sformare, to turn out. It’s a very traditional recipe, found in many Italian regions and in most classic cookbooks, from “Il Talismano della Felicità” to “Il Cucchiaio d’Argento”. Tuscans, like my mom, are particularly fond of it and make it with every vegetable they can find!
MORE IDEAS WITH ARTICHOKES:
Madonna del Piatto’s Artichokes & Lemon Salad
Academia Barilla’s Artichoke Fricassee
Jul’s Omelet with Artichokes
Lidia’s Stuffed Artichokes
JOK’s Artichoke Chicken
Barbara’s Lamb Shanks with Artichokes
This post is very special: it’s a virtual wedding surprise for a young and talented food blogger, Ali (check out her yummy recipes on AliBabka), who just tied the knot with her lucky and well-fed Matan yesterday.
A Jewish wedding is not complete without 7 special blessings over the couple (Sheva Brachot). At the ceremony, they are recited by friends and family members first under the chuppa (wedding canopy) before the breaking of the glass, and then again after the meal.
Among more traditional Jews, the Sheva Berachot are recited again for the whole week following the wedding, at festive meals that friends and family of the couple take turns throwing in their honor every night. While it’s impossible not to pack on a couple of extra pounds, and the honeymoon needs to be postponed, many Jewish couples remember the week of Sheva Berachot with more affection than the wedding itself, simply because it’s so nice to be cared for and pampered by the ones we love!
In this spirit, a group of kosher bloggers is throwing a virtual Sheva Berachot for Ali and Matan. Shhhhhh! It’s a big surprise. Each one of us is posting a favorite food as a blessing for a delicious life together.
In case you were wondering, “Dinner in Venice” did not grow up with the Carnival: when I was little, all that was left of the old glories was a few fried sweets and children’s costume parties of the same scale as an average birthday. Imagine my excitement at age 10 – and my mom’s concern – when the local government announced that, in an effort to promote the history and culture of Venice (read: boost tourism and the resulting income) they were going to bring back the historical Carnival. It was 1979, and about 3 millions extra visitors have been literally flooding Venice each winter ever since.
The first record of some type of Carnival celebrations in Venice is in a document from 1094, which describes plenty of partying and dancing in the weeks before Lent, a penitential period for the Christians; however, the history buffs among you will be quick to point out that the roots of Carnivals can also be traced in those ancient pagan rituals for the passage of seasons, such as the Greek cult of Dionisus and the Roman saturnalia. Indeed, it was the Romans who best summarized the concept in their famous motto: “Semel in anno licet insanire” (it’s acceptable to go crazy, once a year).
Many scholars, like Edward Muir, suggest that far from being just for the sake of having fun, all these festivities offered our Early Modern European friends an important “safety valve”. Not that anybody would discuss “stress” back then, but think of the pressures of such a structured society! Basically, give the crowds lots of doughnuts and wine, and permission to make fun of the local lords and cardinals, and they’ll forget about actually rebelling against them. Much like the idea of the Roman circus.
Masks, the main symbol of the Venetian Carnival, are only mentioned starting in the 13th century, and we don’t really know why they were first introduced. What we do know is that, while covering up the face and the body is encouraged by many traditional cultures as a means to preserve modesty – in the city of Casanova, it always promoted vice rather than virtue!
Just to give you an idea of the atmosphere, the government even had to issue a specific law in 1339 to forbid sexually provocative disguises and “visiting nuns’ convents while in disguise”(!)
Masks provided the perfect cover for illicit romantic encounters, facilitated conspiracies, and fulfilled Cinderella-like fantasies by breaking down the usual barriers between different strata of society. The Venetians loved their new-found anonymity, and started wearing masks for longer stretches of time: in the Renaissance and Baroque ages it would have been hard to find anybody in normal attire between October and February!
Among lavish balls, plays, parades and music, people still found the time to indulge in desserts, in particular several kinds of fried sweets, from fritole to galani.
I’ve been looking for some kind of symbolic explanation for this custom, something along the lines of the Jewish tradition of eating fried things on Hanukkah to remember the miracle of the oil. It turns out that the reason behind the Carnival customs is much more prosaic: in the old days, January or February – before the restrictions of Lent – was the time when pigs were slaughtered; all parts of the animal were considered precious, and the lard (in its melted form, called “strutto”) was used for cooking and frying. Apparently, it resists high temperatures and tastes delicious – those of you who don’t need to follow any religious or health-related restrictions might want to give it a try. The rest of us will have to stick to olive or vegetable oil! Galani (or “crostoli”, “chiacchiere”, “cenci”, as they are called in other regions) are addictive no matter what you fry them in.
OTHER FRIED RECIPES THAT YOU MIGHT WANT TO CHECK OUT:
Frank’s Pizzette Fritte (yay! Fried pizza!)
Silvia’s Savory Donuts
My Recie de Amman (the Jewish version of these galani, for Purim) in The Forward
Tons of fried treats in my Hanukkah category – but they taste good any time of the year,provided you are armed with Alkaseltzer
Macaroni and cheese occupies a special place in the American heart, as the ultimate comfort food.
To tell you the truth, when I moved here from Italy and found out that people were so crazy about this abomination in a box, I thought you guys were all a bit eccentric. Really – why would you want your (processed, powdered) cheese to be orange? Not that it was a big deal: I have my own issues with junk food – namely, digging into the Nutella jar when under pressure.
However, when my children started coming back from school demanding Mac & Cheese, I went from mildly entertained to outraged (after all, I spend hours canning made-from-scratch tomato sauce!). I did try to lecture them about the superiority of fresh ingredients, the importance of vegetables, blah blah blah, but they ignored me. I needed a better strategy. Here is how I gained back my cool factor.
Meet Pasta ai Quattro Formaggi, the Italian ancestor of Mac & Cheese. While it’s probably terrible for you (I can’t imagine another dish that packs in as much butterfat), at least this homemade recipe does not include any chemicals, plus it tastes infinitely better than Kraft’s packaged version. You might still end up needing a bypass, but at least you’ll have enjoyed getting there!
Biscottini da Te’ al Cacao e Nocciole
Italy’s Langhe region, in the heart of Piedmont, produces some of the finest wines in the world. However, to many foodies, Langhe is first and foremost synonymous with nutty and chocolaty treats. The local hazelnut, “Tonda Gentile”, is in fact considered the highest-quality hazelnut in the world, and the jewel of the Italian production. Even the famous food writer David Lebovitz writes, “I do not like to speak in superlatives, so when I say that the hazelnuts from Piedmont are really the best I’ve ever tasted—believe it”.
The pure, fresh air of these vine-covered hillsides does seem to work some kind of magic on both the flavor and texture of the nut. And magic it could well be: the Langhe hills, topped by medieval churches and often wrapped in a mysterious fog, which fades the natural colors into soft purples and muted greens, inspired in the past many superstitions about witches’ gatherings! Of course, after the Piedmontese confectioners came up with Torrone (Italian honey nougat) and then with Gianduja (chocolate with hazelnut paste) , everybody figured out that those mysterious witches they feared must in fact be good fairies.
My personal Langhe fairy was my mother’s friend Matilde. Matilde, an elderly Piedmontese piano teacher with a formidable gift for baking, was solely responsible for turning my sugar-hating self (I did not eat dessert until age 10) into the cookie monster, and all with this easy recipe below.
A FEW MORE IDEAS FOR COOKIES BY SOME OF MY FAVORITE BLOGGERS:
Brutti ma Buoni by AglioOlio&Peperoncino
Nutella Cookies by SundayAtTheGiacomettis
Amazing Sugar Cookies by CouldntBeParve
Margarita Cookies by SmittenKitchen
The term “comfort food” originated in the US, and I’ve heard it used In Italy only recently, mostly by food-bloggers. That’s not to say that we didn’t have comfort food before, we just didn’t have a name for it. On top of that, our choices are often different. Where you go for hamburgers, we dig into spaghetti; when you take out the ice cream, we open the Nutella jar. There is one exception, a unifying, universal ingredient: mashed potatoes. In Northern Italy, when a mom wants to comfort her kids after a not-so-great grade at school, a broken heart, or simply a long week of rain, she will serve this crowd-pleaser as a side: Pure’ di patate (potato puree), a silky, creamy and scrumptuous blend of starchy potatoes, milk and butter.
While mashed potatoes can be dry, lumpy, hyper-garlicky, and even gloppy, puree is velvety smooth, and will win the pickiest palates over with its decadence. Not even your carb-phobic friends will be able to resist it.
* for a non-dairy version, replace the butter and milk with olive oil and vegetable broth.
* *if you are watching your weight, you could replace the whole milk with 1% and halve the butter; but do add some butter for flavor.
*** If you need to reheat it, you should add a little more hot milk or broth.
Cook the potatoes with the peel (whole, if they are small-ish, or halved or quartered if they are very large) in a pot of salted boiling water (30-45 minutes). If you are in a rush, you can cook them much faster in a pressure cooker or even in the microwave (about 15 minutes). Test them with a fork to make sure they are soft, and drain, discarding the cooking water. Allow them to cool until they are still very warm but not too hot to handle, and peel them.
Put them through a ricer or potato masher, gathering them back into the pot. Place the top over low heat and add the butter, and then slowly the hot milk, stirring with a wooden spoon.
Keep stirring until the puree is soft, smooth and silky! Adjust the salt, add a pinch of nutmeg, and serve immediately.
In spite of the many tourist traps that give Venice, and many other popular destinations, a bad rep, if you have a chance to spend some quiet days there you will appreciate how the absence of cars has crystallized this city into a different dimension, with a magical sense of time. The pedestrian way of life is not something Venetians are forced to, rather they embrace it – after all, they have access to water buses – but they prefer to leave them to the hordes of tourists. Walking to and from work does not only provide us with a built-in form of daily exercise; it makes it very likely to bump into friends unexpectedly (only 60,000 people live in Venice), which usually results into a stop at one of the city’s bàcari (wine bars) to catch up over an ombra (a “shadow”, or a small glass) of wine or a Spriss cocktail, and cicheti, the signature snacks. Cicheti is a Venetian term used to describe a wide range of bite-size local treats, from deep-fried seafood and rice croquettes to grilled radicchio and baby artichokes from the nearby island of St. Erasmo; from boiled eggs served with anchovies, to meatballs, to the legendary bacala’ mantecato (stockfish mousse) and sarde in saor (fried sardines marinated in sweet-and-sour onions).
Among my favorite finger foods are these fish balls, which you can also keep cooking in a light tomato sauce after frying them, if you prefer to serve them as part of a meal, on top of polenta. Fish balls, like meat balls, are a staple of Jewish Italian sustainable cooking, and were traditionally made with leftover boiled or roasted fish. However, these are so good that when I don’t have any leftovers I cook some fish in order to make a batch.
If you read my previous post about our New Year’s traditions, you know about the importance that Italians place upon some food symbols of plenty. This occasionally verges on the superstitious, and on New Year’s Eve you will see some people stuffing themselves with lentils and grapes as if there’s no tomorrow. The Spanish also follow this custom of eating grapes at midnight, but they stop at 12, one for each month of the new year.
Both in the Judeo-Christian and in the pagan/Greek-Roman traditions, grape clusters deliver such a symbolic punch that it’s quite clear why they have become the center of our celebrations for Capodanno (New Year’s Eve); either in their natural form, which can be appreciated by everybody beyond age, cultural and religious barriers, or in the form of wine – the bubbly, sparkly spumante for the midnight toast! As proven by countless sculptures, frescos and paintings, grapes in Italy have been for hundreds of years the allegory of wealth and well-being.
In Venice and the Veneto, another food associated with images of fertility and of prosperity is rice. Rice is thrown at the bride and groom at a wedding to wish them a lifetime full of blessings (in Roman times, wheat was used for this purpose – but given the role that rice has played in Northern Italian economy and gastronomy for the past 500 years, it has long earned pride of place!)
Finally, all of these ingredients together – grapes, spumante and rice – find their place from time immemorial on my family’s New Year’s table. About half an hour before midnight, I start cooking my signature risotto, which I keep “all’onda” (like the waves, creamy and liquidy – that’s how we like it in Venice) and toss with really good butter and parmigiano. With a pomegranate salad and sides of lentils and salmon, followed by a slice of panettone and a fragrant flute of spumante or prosecco, it’s the perfect start to a delicious new year!
Happy 2013! Here are a few recipes from some of my favorite bloggers that would also be perfect for an Italian New Year’s Eve:
And Here is my New Year’s Risotto:
Directions (serves 4, about 30 minutes)
In a saucepan, bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat and keep at a low simmer.
In a large heavy or non-stick saucepan, melt 1 tbsp butter, add the shallot and cook for 3 minutes until tender. Add the rice and stir , coating it in the butter. Continue “toasting” the rice, stirring, for 3 minutes Add the Prosecco, Brut or Champagne, and simmer until it has evaporated. Add 1/2 cup of hot broth and stir until almost completely absorbed (2 minutes). Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth a ladleful at a time, stirring almost constantly and allowing the broth to absorb before adding the next ladleful, until the rice is “al dente” (tender but firm to the bite) and the mixture is very creamy. About half-way through the cooking add the halved grapes. It usually takes about 20 minutes total. Turn off the heat, adjust the salt and pepper, stir in the remaining butter, and parmigiano cheese to taste. Serve immediately.
In case you haven’t figured it out on your own yet, Italians love to party, and even if Christmas (or, as in my case, Hanukkah) has left us exhausted and bloated, we would never give up an opportunity to celebrate again – and here comes New Year’s Eve!
As opposed to the religious holidays, New Year’s Eve is usually spent with friends rather than family – which can translate into much wilder festivities! Over-the-top midnight fireworks welcome the new year in the center of most towns (Naples boasts one of the best), but people also tend to include firecrackers and sparklers in their private parties, which keeps the ERs quite busy., Talking about accidents, some places in the south follow the puzzling custom of throwing old things out the window to symbolically accept the freshness of the New Year: watch out for appliances such as washers and dryers around midnight!!!!
In Venice, where I grew up, people stick to safer games, such as playing Italian bingo (tombola), and perpetuate the suggestive tradition of wearing red underwear (for love, and good luck), hoping to be kissed under the mistletoe at midnight.
But what can’t be missed is the breathtaking midnight celebration in St. Mark’s Square, complete with fireworks, music, prosecco and bellini toasts, and exchanges of kisses at midnight. The most sophisticated make sure to by tickets for the spectacular Concerto at La Fenice Theater, while the adventurous take a chilling swim in the waters of the Venice Lido.
As always in Italy, food also plays a major role. Everybody seems to serve lentils, which, thanks to their coin-like shape, symbolize money for the coming year. The traditional dinner often includes a cotechino, a large pork sausage, or a zampone, stuffed pig’s foot, which I am going to skip since I keep kosher – but you can check them out on my friends’ websites, Memorie di Angelina and Academia Barilla (the idea is that the fat in pork also symbolizes wealth). Lastly, grapes, which everybody gorges on following the saying “eat grapes on New Year and count money the rest of the year”, and the pomegranate, which is associated with abundance and fertility. From ancient Egypt and Greece, to Persia, to Judaism and Christianity, the Hindus and the Chinese, so many different cultures have seen the pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity, that it seems to me like the perfect choice for a celebration that in Italy today unites people of different backgrounds (much like the American Thanksgiving). In the Jewish tradition we also serve it on Rosh haShana, the Jewish New Year, as a symbol of prosperity and of all things good (our sages say that all its seeds represent the 613 commandments in the Torah). What a better way to ring in 2013 with high hopes of health, peace and love?
Turkey Hazelnut Kebabs with Pomegranate Sauce
Instructions (prep time: 20-30 minutes; cooking time: 30 minutes; total time: about 1 hr)
Halve a pomegranate, and set aside the seeds. Press them with a potato masher to obtain about a cup of juice. Set aside.
In a heavy (or non-stick) saucepan or skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and add a sprig of rosemary and 1 clove of garlic.When the garlic is golden brown, discard it and add ½ cup wine and the pomegranate juice to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and allow to thicken on low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the pomegranate seeds and cook for 2 more minutes.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet, add the scallion or onion and cook until translucent, adding a little water if needed to prevent it from sticking or turning brown. Drain the scallion from the oil and let it cool. In the meantime, soak the bread in broth until soft, then drain, squeeze all the liquid out, and set aside. In a bowl, combine the ground turkey with the cooked scallion, the salt and pepper, parsley, drained bread (or mashed potato), nutmeg, egg; mix everything together, working quickly with your (if you are not on a low-sodium diet you can also add two slices of a natural salami, very finely minced). Allow to rest for two minutes until it firms up, making the mixture easier to shape. Only if necessary, add 1 tbsp bread crumbs: the mixture should be soft and wet. Shape into 1” to 1 ½” sized meatballs. Roll the meatballs into a dish filled with the hazelnuts and bread crumbs. Line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper. Brush or spray the parchment lightly with a small amount of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil (do not use baking sprays! Just transfer a good olive oil into a spray bottle). Thread the meatballs onto skewers (If you’re using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes before cooking or you’ll cause a fire.)
Arrange the meatballs on the parchment in one layer and lightly spray the top with a little more olive oil. Bake until golden (about 30 minutes) in a preheated oven at 400 F. Serve with the pomegranate sauce. Enjoy!
From Chanukkah to Christmas and of course birthdays, most of you will have to admit that part of the fun about giving and receiving presents lies in the packaging and wrap, which add an element of mystery and surprise to any gift. They conceal the object’s shape and any writings on the box, and increase our excitement and anticipation. For the aesthetes among us, the packaging can outshine the gift (or it can be used to hide a more metaphysical content – for more on this, you can read one of my favorite children’s books, “The Gift of Nothing”).
This rule of course applies to food, which is why chocolates seem to taste so much better when they come in a gorgeous box. The Japanese take this to the next level, cutting their vegetables into beautiful shapes and serving their kids’ school meals in lacquered bento boxes. This probably sounds like too much work and most of us would not be willing to do it everyday, but when it comes to holiday desserts, I know that we are all willing to go the extra mile.
So here is a special edible gift that your family will love! The mascarpone mousse, which will remind you of Tiramisu, is hidden in a treasure chest made of “Croccante” (Italian almond brittle). This type of candy, popular throughout Italy around the holidays and at fun fairs, is a mixture of caramelized sugar and almonds, easy to make, and easy to eat: you can break it into pieces and serve it with coffee, give it to kids in lieu of candy, or grind it up and sprinkle it over gelato. The only problem is that once you taste it, it will be hard to stop.
SURPRISE HOLIDAY CHEST (Scrigno di Croccante)
(For the chest)
(for the filling)
Grind the almonds very coarsely in your food processor, or chop them with a knife. In a saucepan, melt the sugar on medium heat with the filtered juice of half the lemon. Yum, caramel!
Add the almonds and keep cooking until the sugar has completely melted and has turned dark golden brown. Double-Yuml!!!
Cut a circle from parchment, about 9 ½” in diameter. Place it on top of a larger sheet of paper or foil. Now pour the caramel on top of the circle and spread it all over, it should be between 1/3” and ½” thick.
Carefully lift the circle and trasfer it onto a round 8 “ baking pan, lifting the sides and pressing them against the sides of the pan with a tablespoon dipped in lemon juice, until the caramel has molded to the shape of the pan. On a smaller disc of parchment, make a second disc of caramel (slightly less than 8″ in diameter), which will become the “lid’.
Whip the cream with an electric whisk, and combine it with the sugar, mascarpone, and amost ¾ of the chocolate. Pour into the caramel container, and top with the lid. Decorate with the rest of the chocolate, melted in a bain-marie, poured on top of parchment and cut into stars – or simply grated. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
Have you ever heard of “Caffe Viennese” or “Vienna Coffee”?
I have to confess that I never really checked if it actually has anything to do with Vienna, or if it does my version may not be the most authentic: I discovered this perfect beverage during my college years, in the historic cafes of Venice and Trieste – such as the Florian and the Tommaseo – and regarded it as my grown-up upgrade from Italian hot chocolate. My roommates and I found that it helped immensely with the cold, the fog, the all-nighters before exams, and heartless boyfriends .
While in general I find that most elaborate coffee drinks are just bad examples of “gilding the lily”, please trust me with this: it’s an improvement upon perfection!
Keep in mind that we are not talking about ordinary ingredients. Yes, chocolate tastes great, but there is more to it than what meets the lips: it’s full of chemicals that are associated with mood and emotion (phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamide and tryptophan, since you are asking), to the point that a shocking percentage of women report to prefer chocolate to sex (sorry, guys!). Daniele Piomelli, from the University of California, compares its effects to those of marijuana.
And don’t get me started about coffee. How many of us would have graduated from college had it not been for those midnight Americanos, and could we still call New York “the city that never sleeps” without the omnipresent to-go cups of joe?
Obviously, the pairing of the two is a marriage made in heaven – as long as if you don’t suffer from gastric ulcers.
Do not ask me how many calories are in a cup of this concoction. I have no idea. And besides, thinking about the calories may just make you crave it more. Go ahead and enjoy it, just try to stop after the first two cups!
Bring some water to a boil in a saucepan and place a second saucepan or heat-proof bowl on top to create a bain-marie. Add the chocolate pieces or shavings to the top saucepan or bowl, and allow them to melt, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the heavy cream and sugar and keep stirring. Add the espresso and keep heating until some bubbles form and it thickens. Remove from the heat, and add cinnamon or chocolate liqueur if liked. You can also decorate with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but… serve immediately!
Maize polenta is creamy, delicious and filling, and for centuries represented the main staple in the poor, everyday cuisine of a large part of Northern Italy. Once it cools off and hardens, it can be recycled into a variety of dishes, from a “pasticcio” with meat or cheeses, to a cake, to these savory fried sandwiches (a classic Jewish Italian recipe, and perfect for Hanukkah). If you don’t like anchovies ( I LOVE them!), you can replace them with smoked cheese.
In a large heavy pot, boil water and add salt. Pour in the corn meal in a thin stream whisking vigorously (use a whisk, not a spoon, to avoid clumping) and cook for about one minute or two before switching to a wooden spoon as the polenta thickens. Keep stirring until the polenta is fully cooked (about 30 minutes for regular polenta, and 3-5 minutes for “instant” polenta). Pour onto an oiled marble surface or cookie sheet or parchment paper. Spread out flat in a layer that’s about 1/4-inch thick, and allow to cool completely.
In the meantime, rinse the anchovies (removing any bones). Heat olive oil in a small skillet on medium heat with the garlic clove. When the garlic is light brown, discard it and add the anchovies, stirring until they melt into a paste. Set aside.
Pour about 2” oil into a heavy-bottomed wide pot with tall sides (I use my le Creuset Dutch oven) or into your deep fryer. Heat the oil until it forms many tiny bubbles around a piece of bread or cracker thrown into the oil. If you have a candy thermometer, or are using a deep fryer, the right temperature is about 355 to 365 F.
Using a knife or a cookie cutter, cut the polenta into regular triangles or rounds about 2” wide.
Spread half of the polenta pieces with the anchovy paste and cover with a second piece, making “sandwiches. Dredge the sandwiches in flour and then in the slightly beaten eggs, and fry for about 2 to 4 minutes or until golden brown, making sure to maintain the temperature of the oil and to flip them only once (if you keep turning them, they absorb more oil).
Drain on a triple layer of paper towel and serve hot.
Today I have a very special surprise for you: a guest post by my friend Jayne Cohen, a food writer and expert whose passion for Italy and its cuisine should earn her an honorary Italian passport. Among many other accomplishments, Jayne is the author of one of my most treasured cookbooks, Jewish Holiday Cooking, which includes 200 tasteful, elegant and special recipes for the holidays. My personal favorite is her hamantaschen with dates and pistachios (yum!).
A Hanukkah Story from Casale Monferrato
Text and recipe adapted from Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations by Jayne Cohen(print and e-book, John Wiley & Sons)
Like most travelers, we were lured by the taste of Barolo, the scent of truffles and extraordinary hazelnuts, but what we will remember most about Piedmont is the synagogue we found in Casale Monferrato.
The small Jewish community in Casale, located about fifty miles east of Turin, most likely began with the refugees Ferdinand and Isabella expelled from Spain in 1492. Although there were periods of crisis and some restrictions, life under the Italian Gonzaga dukes was relatively calm for the Jews, even prosperous for some. The synagogue was built in 1595.
But when the French House of Savoy annexed the district, conditions quickly deteriorated. In 1745, Jews were crowded into a ghetto around the synagogue. Contacts between Jews and Catholics were limited, and at night they were strictly forbidden. Not until 1848 were the Jews of Piedmont granted full rights.
Now there are no longer enough Jews to make a minyan in Casale, except on the High Holidays, when Jews from other communities attend the services.
From the narrow little street, La Sinagoga degli Argenti looked like one of the apartment buildings, but inside was one of the most exquisite synagogues we have ever seen. It was late afternoon in July, and light filtered through the windows of the sanctuary highlighting for us the subtle pastels, gilded carved symbols, and gold filigree work. Our guide–who like one we had had years ago in Venice, was not Jewish but extremely knowledgeable about the synagogue and Jewish life–pointed out the beautifully painted ceiling, a fresco of sky and clouds, whose panels announce in four Hebrew words, “This is the Gate to Heaven.”
There is also an impressive museum, showcasing art and furnishings acquired from other Piedmont congregations, antique dealers, and private collections, and life-size dioramas of many of the holidays. The basement of the museum, where matzoh once was baked for all the Jews of the Monferrato region, now houses the Museum of Lights, a remarkable collection of menorahs.
The Hanukkah story of the tiny flame that produced a lasting light is the story of Jewish continuity, and the Jewish community of Casale has adopted it as its own. The museum commissions new hanukkiyot from renowned contemporary artists, Jewish and non-Jewish, who, in the museum’s words, “form a bridge between the lights of the past, which must never go out, and those of the future, which must continue to be lit.” One menorah is formed of two sculpted hands, the thumbs entwined to form the shamash, the flames shooting up from the fingertips; another was inspired by the notes people insert into the cracks of the Western Wall.
In the courtyard, our guide told us that for the past several years, the synagogue has invited members of all the other monotheistic faiths in the area when Hanukkah begins. Another Hanukkah story–a miracle too, perhaps–that has particular resonance for Casale.
For it would be dark, of course, when the Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, and Jews gathered to light the menorah candles here between the elegant colonnaded courtyard columns–where once upon a time any contact between Jews and Gentiles after nightfall would have been prohibited.
“Hanukkah,” as Antonio Recalcati, one of the Catholic menorah artists has said, “celebrates life and light after centuries of darkness.”
Fried Chicken Cutlets, Italian-Jewish Style
”The logs of Jerusalem were of the cinnamon tree, and when lit, their fragrance pervaded the whole of Erez Israel.”–Babylonian Talmud: Shabbat
Jews have appreciated sweet-smelling cinnamon since ancient times. Centuries later in Europe even poor Jews usually had access to the spice: inhaling its heady aroma was central to the Havdalah ceremony that ushered out their Sabbath every week.
This fried chicken lightly flavored with cinnamon is a traditional Hanukkah specialty in Italy. Used without any sweetening, the cinnamon acts in concert here with savory garlic and lemon to produce a very fragrant yet subtle marinade. Because of the Havdalah connection, it makes an especially lovely main course on the Saturday night that occurs during Hanukkah week.
To accentuate the delicacy of the dish, I dip the chicken in egg after dusting it lightly with matzoh meal. And I fry each batch with a few pieces of celery–a trick sent in to Cook’s Illustrated magazine by one of its readers–which makes the chicken beautifully golden and more flavorful.
Yield: 3 to 4 servings
In a large bowl or nonreactive baking dish, whisk together the cinnamon, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and marinate for 2 to 3 hours in the refrigerator, turning the chicken occasionally. Or marinate the chicken in a large, resealable plastic bag.
Set up a work station near the stove. Spread 1 cup matzoh meal on a large sheet of wax paper or a plate and season it with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, or to taste. Next to it, in a wide shallow bowl or pie pan, beat the eggs with a few drops of water until well blended and smooth.
Dredge the cutlets well with the matzoh meal, rubbing it lightly into the chicken. Make sure each cutlet is covered all over with meal. If necessary, add more matzoh meal, remembering to add more seasoning.
Heat about 1/2 cup olive oil in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot and fragrant but not smoking. Shake a cutlet to remove all excess matzoh meal, then coat it thoroughly with the egg and slip it quickly into the hot oil. Being careful not to crowd the pan, add more chicken, dipping each piece in the egg just before placing it in the pan. Slip a few pieces of celery in between the cutlets as they fry. Using two spatulas (tongs would ruin the delicate egg coating), carefully turn the chicken when it is light golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Sauté the other side for 2 to 3 minutes longer, until cooked through. Turn the celery pieces when you turn the chicken. Transfer the cutlets to a platter lined with paper towels so they can drain. Discard the cooked celery. Keep the chicken warm in a 200 degree F oven until the remaining pieces are done. Continue frying any remaining chicken in batches, in the same way, adding fresh celery to the pan with each batch. Wipe out the skillet and replace the oil if some of the coating falls off and burns.
Serve the chicken right away, accompanied by the lemon wedges and garnished, if you’d like, with fresh parsley. It really needs no sauce.
Panna cotta (cooked cream in Italian) is a traditional dessert from Northern Italy, prepared by simmering milk, sugar and cream and mixing them with gelatin. It literally takes minutes to make, but never fails to “wow” the guests. For a holiday version, I spiced it up with ponegranate seeds – a symbol of prosperity and good luck in many different traditions, not to mention a perfect contrast of color and flavor with the cream. Serve it for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year, or a romantic anniversary dinner!
Soften about 2/3 of the gelatin in a few spoonfuls the cold milk. Heat the rest of the milk with the sugar and the cut vanilla bean. Once it’s hot, stir in the gelatin mixture and mix until smooth. Allow to cool, discard the vanilla bean, and stir in the heavy cream. Pour about 3/4″ of this mixture into 4 glass cups and transfer into the freezer for a few minutes until the mixture thickens.
Soften the remaining gelatin in about 2 or 3 tbsp of the pomegranate juice. Heat the rest of the pomegranate juice, stir in the softened gelatin, mix well and allow to cool. Once the first layer of cream mixture has thickened, pour in a layer of pomegranate mixture, mixed with a few pomegranate seeds, and put the cups back into the freezer. Repeat with one more layer of cream and one of gelatin and pomegranate seeds. Top with a few more pomegranate seeds right before serving.
In contrast with today’s rampant carb-phobia, bread was considered for many centuries the most sacred of foods. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, bread was always a symbol of God’s generosity toward mankind and of the fecundity of the earth- it’s still the center of countless religious rituals, not to mention superstitions and everyday idioms.
As a consequence, in many cultures there was always a stigma associated with wasting it or throwing it out, not only among the poor, but even in wealthier households; which is how bread became the main protagonist of the history of sustainable cooking.
Growing up in Italy, I learned how to store bread in paper bags so it wouldn’t become moldy. Rather, it dried out: after a couple of days it could be soaked in water, milk or broth and turn into thick soups or bread cakes, or add fluffiness to meatballs. If we waited a bit longer, we would simply grate it into crumbs. Each region has its traditional recipes, but it was during my vacations in the Italian Alps that I discovered what became my personal favorite.
In northeastern Italy, mountains and glaciers soar to almost 13,000 feet, contributing to a panorama so majestic that some say it makes you feel closer to God. My dad loved rock-climbing, and ever since I was a little girl, he would take me along for his more leisurely hikes. This was our special time together, while my mom would wait for us down in the chalet because she suffers from vertigo! That would give her plenty of time to experiment with the local cuisine, which she learned from the local women, in particular the phenomenal Nonna Plava, an old lady who used to run a small hotel with her son and daughter-in-law, and loved sharing her recipes. One of the best is the Strangolapreti, gnocchi-size stale bread and greens dumplings that are served with melted butter and cheese.
In the Italian Alps, especially in the Trentino region, you can find many different versions of dumplings made from stale bread; the most famous are canderli (similar to knoedels, and to matzah balls), and strangolapreti. This curious name, which literally means “priest-stranglers” (!) is also used to describe different types of pasta and dumplings in other regions. When I was little, I thought that the recipe must have been invented by some anti-clerical, communist grandmother!
I later learned that after the Council of Trent (1545-1563) prohibited the consumption of meat on Fridays, this became one of the traditional dishes for that day, and the legend goes that the clergy enjoyed it so much that they almost choked on it. Who could blame them? These dumplings are simply addictive, and I’ve risked the same fate more than once.
The most important thing to remember when making them (as with potato gnocchi) is to keep a light hand with the flour, and add it only a little at a time; if you add too much, rather than with priest-stranglers, you’ll end up with weapons.
Place the bread in bowl, cover with the milk, and mix.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt and the greens, and blanch for about 3 minutes. Drain, and dip in ice water to preserve the green color. Drain and squeeze well trough a colander and chop finely.
Squeeze any excess milk out of the bread; combine with the greens, eggs, flour and nutmeg until the mixture holds; if necessary, add more breadcrumbs rather than flour, but the mixture should be very wet. On a floured surface, divide the dough into 5 pieces. Dust your hands with flour, and roll the pieces into 1/2 inch thick logs. Cut the logs into 1-inch lengths, and place the dumplings onto a floured pan or parchment..
Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add salt, and cook the dumplings in batches without overcrowding them. They are ready when they rise to the surface; remove them with a slotted spoon, and place on a sheet pan (in a single layer).
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the sage leaves and cook until the butter begins to brown. Remove from heat, toss the dumplings, and serve, garnishing with the whole sage leaves. Drizzle with remaining butter and top with little black pepper and abundant grated cheese.
One of the immediate consequences of receiving a Syntia machine as a thank-you token after my lecture for Lavazza Coffee and Philips Saeco at Eataly last September, was that I started putting espresso into everything.
Literally: I experimented with stews, fish, fennel, fresh pasta, smoked cheese… with a couple of exceptions, everything seemed to taste more interesting. It’s probably because our sense of smell is responsible for about 4/5 of what we taste – that’s why we lose our appetite when we have a cold and our nose is blocked! With its intense and unique aroma, high-quality coffee is an extraordinary ingredient and can add sophistication to a variety of dishes, savory or sweet. However, I have to admit that it was its performance in desserts to really capture my culinary imagination. You see, I wasn’t really born with a sweet tooth and I can truly appreciate sugar only when I mix it with something different, whether it’s sour (lemon gelato), salty (chocolate pretzels!), or bitter (any espresso-spiked desserts!).
Tiramisu, one of the most recent and successful “classics” of Italian cuisine, is my favorite example of the perfect marriage of sweet and creamy (mascarpone, cream and sugar) with deep and bitter (espresso and unsweetened cocoa powder). A match made in heaven! Unfortunately, it’s a bit rich, and after seeing me down it for breakfast for three days in a row, my husband politely pointed out that I was showing clear signs of addiction. Switching to a ricotta-based coffee treat seemed like a better option if I wanted to indulge myself so often. Whole milk ricotta is a cheese by-product, not a cheese, and naturally low in fat and high in protein, while still very rich and creamy in texture (cannoli, anyone?).
Let me know what you think of this espresso-spiked chocolate almond mousse. It’s light enough that you can enjoy it after a multiple-course meal without feeling too guilty!
Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with the sugar until light and frothy. Add the ricotta liqueur, coffee, cocoa and chocolate and combine well. Add the crumbled cookies.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and incorporate them into the ricotta using a spatula.
Pour the mix into individual bowls, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Decorate with chocolate shavings and slivered almonds before serving.
*RAW EGG WARNING and PASTEURIZING EGGS: some people are uncomfortable consuming raw and lightly cooked eggs due to the slight risk of food-borne illness. To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly refrigerated, clean grade AA eggs with intact shells. Still nervous? If using pasteurized eggs, it will be harder to beat the yolks frothy and especially to beat the whites stiff: for the yolks, you will just need to beat them longer with an electric mixer; as to the whites, you will need to add a touch of cream of tartar (or lemon juice or white vinegar); about 1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar or 3/4 teaspoon lemon for 4 whites. You will also need to use an electric mixer and beat for twice as long as you would with regular egg whites You can buy pre-pasteurized eggs in many stores (test are not the egg-beaters but actual whole eggs, that can be separated at home into whites and yolks); or you can pasteurize them following this method.
* Disclosure: I was not paid for my review of the Philips Saeco espresso machines, apart from being given one Syntia machine to try and review. All comments are my own, honest opinion after my experience with the machine.
It was eight years ago, just a few months after moving to the City, that I experienced my first Manhattan Thanksgiving: ironically, I ended up celebrating the quintessential American holiday at an Italian friend’s home. Daniela had arrived in New York one year before me, and was so smitten with it that she scored higher on the Time Out Magazine test “Are You a Real NewYorker?” than all our American friends. It was her idea to throw an Italian-style Thanksgiving dinner, incorporating the various traditional foods of the holiday into Italian recipes. Given that she is a superb cook, carrying the extraordinary legacy of three different Jewish Italian culinary styles – the Piedmontese, the Venetian and the Ferrarese – it’s no surprise that the meal was an absolute masterpiece. I had the impression that for the American guests, eating these Italian delicacies instead of the classic turkey with cranberry sauce also felt a little naughty! While I can’t replicate the special atmosphere of that night, after Daniela moved to Israel I adopted her tradition of remembering the Pilgrims with the regional dishes from my own country.
I’m used to cooking around symbolic foods for Passover and Rosh haShana: turkey and pumpkin, the most recognizable Thanksgiving ingredients, also appear on my Rosh HaShana table, and again on Sukkot. The connection with Sukkot runs even deeper, as both holidays are harvest festivals: some historians have gone so far as to trace the roots of Thanksgiving in Sukkot, based on encounters the Pilgrims supposedly had with Sephardic Jews in Holland before they left for the Americas.
But whether or not this story is true, Jews celebrate Thanksgiving Day with an intensity usually reserved to our most sacred holidays: it’s easy for us to empathize with the pilgrims, who had to flee religious discrimination and persecution and travel across an ocean to find freedom – and with their sweat and faith, fought against illness and scarcity, finally turning America’s wilderness into their “Promised Land”.
While the turkey and pumpkin are symbols of bounty, one food on the table is meant to remind us of the harsh winter before the first harvest, when the pilgrims barely had enough to eat. It’s the corn, as it is said that at one point there was so little food that each person was given only five kernels of corn per day. Corn bears a similar type of double-symbolism in Italian history: when it found its way to Italy from the Americas, it immediately spread through the North, and landowners started reaping huge profits by feeding their workers only maize polenta – creamy, delicious and filling, but so poor of vitamins and protein that it caused an epidemic of Pellagra, the same deficiency disease that spread in the American South during the great Depression, leading to deterioration and death. Somehow, native Americans had avoided it because they added wood ashes and lime to cornmeal, correcting its nutritional imbalance.
Cranberries can also be read as a symbol of suffering: of course we combine them with a lot of sugar to make them palatable, but their nature is extremely sour. This reminds me of the symbolism of sweet and sour dishes in Jewish Italian Cuisine, in which the sugar or honey represent the need to appreciate our present and future, while the vinegar or lemon keeps us rooted in our people’s past suffering.
While giving thanks for the plentiful new crop, and the many blessings that we enjoy each year, we also remember those who didn’t make it through that terrible first winter. Have a meaningful Thanksgiving!
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Prepare the polenta with one scant cup of maize according to instructions on the package, using only about 1 1/4 cup boiling water (traditional polenta tastes better than instant, and you can make it quickly using a pressure cooker… however, instant is OK! Beretta makes a nice product). The polenta has to be on the thick side. When cooked, pour it over a large cutting board or platter in a wide and low heap and allow it to cool (feel free to pop it into the fridge). Plump the cranberries or raisins in the grappa or brandy. Dice the candied fruit very small. Discard the film that has formed over the polenta. Cut the polenta into pieces and place it into a food processor. Process it with the eggs, salt, sugar, oil, sifted flour with baking powder; add the raisins in their liqueur, the candied fruit, pine nuts, and the lemon zest and mix well. If the batter is so thick that it’s hard to pour into the pan, you can add just a couple of spoonsfuls of water or non-dairy milk. Grease a 9″ springform pan and dust it with corn meal. If you have parchment, you should line the bottom of the pan before greasing it: this type of batter is very sticky. Pour the mix into it and bake in a pre-heated 400 F oven for about 15 minutes until it forms a golden crust, then lower the heat to 350 and bake for another 30-45 minutes (the cake should bake for 45-60 minutes total). Allow to cool before turning out. Serve warm, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar.
In Italy, creamy soups – or “vellutate” – are not usually made with cream (an ingredient that we like to leave to the French): the texture is given by the addition of a simple potato or a handful of rice.
The starches in the rice are slowly released during the cooking, and act as a thickener and an emulsifier at the same time. Slowly-released starches are what gives creaminess to authentic risottos, and also the reason why we add the pasta cooking water to our sauce (the starches released by the pasta turn the cooking water into an emulsifier, and a thickener). Better than fairy dust! This method obviously helps limit saturated fats, but it’s also a great resource for the dairy-intolerant, or the kosher cooks who need dairy-free dishes to serve with meat.
If you love smooth textures, you can turn any vegetable soup into a vellutata simply by throwing in a boiled potato and some water and processing everything in the blender. An easy way to recycle your second-day minestrone!
Ingredients (serves 4 to 6):
Peel the carrots and slice them thinly.
Chop the celery, onion and garlic very finely.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy pot and cook the mix of celery, onion and garlic ( “il soffritto“) on medium/low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and the bay leaf and cook for 5 more minutes. Add 2/3 of the hot stock and bring to a boil, then add the rice, lower the heat, cover almost completely, and allow to simmer for about an hour.
Discard the bay leaf, process with a hand mixer, add the rest of the hot stock and the herbs, and allow to simmer uncovered for 5 more minutes, stirring continuosly. Drizzle with 2 more tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and serve.
My grandmother used to serve a lot of simple, not-too-sweet fruit desserts such as baked fruit and compotes. After the spread of commercial bakery products, many of us have forgotten about this option: it always seems easier to buy a box of cupcakes… however, when you start feeling like you’ve had way too much sugar, and you need a break, it’s time to go back to the good oldies! While you may choose them mostly because they are waistline-friendly (especially if you are switching from cupcakes), cooked fruit desserts have the added bonus of vitamins and fiber, and many find them more appealing than raw fruit on cold fall and winter nights.
Wash the pears and cut of a small slice from the bottom so they can stand straight. Without peeling them, place them in a parchment-lined pan. Sprinkle them with brown sugar, and a few flakes of butter (or brush with the almond or coconut oil).
Bake in a pre-heated 350 F oven for about 30 minutes or until soft, but still firm.
Allow to cool off for a few minutes. When they are still warm, but not hot, slice off the top and core the inside. Fill the cavity with the lemon sorbet and the berries. Put the tops back on and decorate with lemon zest.
* if you don’t feel like anything frozen, you can replace the sorbet with a mix of ricotta, greek yogurt, and honey.
I grew up in Italy being told not to take candy from strangers, and still find it a bit shocking when strange kids knock at my door on Halloween night! While the more religiously conservative are offended by Halloween’s pagan roots, the holiday seems to have become completely secularized and to focus on pumpkins, spooky costumes and tons of candy. Many people love it because it seems to address children’s natural fears (monsters, darkness, etc), and by presenting them in a social and funny context, it could help diffuse them. I’m not making this up, it’s called “virtual reality therapy”: basically, people who are afraid of spiders pay big bucks to a psychologist to be put in a room full of them… well, if it’s so effective, it might be worth a try, even for those of us who would rather do it at a different time of the year. It works with grown-ups too: here are the cutest little spiders, created by my friend Lucilla to address my own proverbial fear.
Ingredients (makes 6 spiders):
Bake the pumpkin, covered, in a 375 F oven for about 20 minutes or until soft, then mash it with a fork. Using your food processor or hand mixer, combine the ricotta with the pumpkin, honey and zest. Halve the cake horizontally with a long and sharp knife. With a round cookie cutter, cut about 12 discs from the cake. Spread the pumpkin/ricotta mix over the bottom discs, and top with the other discs.
Spread the vanilla pudding on a large serving platter. Melt the chocolate in your microwave then use it (with an icing syringe) to draw concentric circles on top of the pudding. Draw “rays” with a toothpick starting from the center of the circles, creating a web. Place the discs filled with pumpkin/ricotta cream on top of the web, make the eyes with red M&Ms or jellybeans, and legs with licorice sticks. YIKES!
The combination of hazelnuts and chocolate is wildly popular in Italy – I’m sure you have heard of Nutella! The original version is Gianduja – a concoction made of chocolate and hazelnuts invented in Turin during the Napoleonic blockade, when the precious cocoa beans had become scarce and the famous Piedmontese chocolatiers had to find a way to make them go further-. It didn’t hurt, of course, that their hazelnuts (from the Langhe area of Piedmont) were said to be the best in the world, and that Turin was the birthplace of solid chocolate. As you can imagine, the result was much more interesting than other hard-times-inspired products (such as the French chicory “coffee”), and even after the end of the blockade the Torinese kept enjoying their new delicacy, and named it “gianduja” after a local marionette character.
Besides enjoying the tasty combo in the form of a spread or in confections (the delicious gianduiotti – the first-ever chocolates to be individually wrapped!), make sure you try my gianduja puff cake!
1 pound of puff pastry (home-made, or 1 package store-bought)
3 medium pears
5 ounces dark chocolate (I used 70 % Scharffen Berger)
½ cup ground hazelnuts
6 chocolate-flavored tea biscuits, or small biscottis
2/3 cup (scant) sugar
pinch of salt
1 organic lemon
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons butter, or hazelnut or almond oil
2 tablespoons milk (or non-dairy almond or soy milk)
flour (to dust the counter)
Peel and core the pears, slice them thinly and combine them with the lemon juice, the sugar, and the grated lemon zest. Grate the chocolate and coarsely chop the cookies. If using butter, melt it in a pan or in your microwave.
On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a rectangle and brush the top with the melted butter or oil; top with the crumbled cookies, the drained pears, and the grated chocolate. Roll up the pastry as if making a strudel, sealing the edges and closing the ends.
Brush the top with the yolk (mixed with a couple of tablespoons of milk or parve almond or soy milk) and bake in a pre-heated 250 F oven for about 30 minutes or until golden. Enjoy warm or at room temperature, on a cold winter night .
The chestnut tree can live for up to 500 years, and its fruit has been a staple in the Italian diet since ancient times. In some Northern and central regions, people ate mostly chestnuts until well into the twentieth century! While this is no longer the case, towards the end of October stands pop up in most cities selling hot caldarroste (roasted chestnuts), which people enjoy while walking with friends when it’s too cold for gelato. However, they are just as tasty when boiled with some fresh herbs (try bay leaves), or mashed and used to make very special gnocchi! In Tuscany, where my mother grew up, chestnut flour is also widely available and used to make the traditional castagnaccio, a rustic cake with raisins, pine nuts, rosemary and olive oil. My nonna used to serve it with a little warm ricotta mixed with a few drops of honey, which was a killer pairing and so much healthier than whipped cream. Try it with my apple cake! You won’t believe it’s gluten-free…
Ingredients (serves 8)
1 lb chestnuts
4 eggs, separated
1 and 1/3 cups granulated sugar or brown sugar
1 heaped tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
4 ounces graham crackers or tea cookies (you can use GF cookies if you prefer)
2/3 cup milk (or parve soy or rice milk)
butter or oil to grease the pan
Wash the chestnuts, make a slit in the side of each one, and cook in boiling water for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender but firm. Skim them out, and the brown skin should come off easily. Taste them, and if they are not well cooked you can put them back in the boiling water or in the microwave for a few minutes until tender.
Using a food processor, grind the graham crackers into a powder; add the grated apples, and the mashed chestnuts (you can use a potato masher. you can also mash them in your food processor, but it won’t get rid of any residual peel, which is why I prefer the potato masher).
Add the cocoa, sugar, milk or soy milk, salt, and egg yolks, and combine well.
In a separate, clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and incorporate them carefully into the mix.
Pour the mix into a greased baking pan dusted with brown sugar, and bake in a pre-heated 350 F oven for about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve cold.
Last fall I gave a demo on healthful and elegant Italian cuisine at the JCC Manhattan during their Fitness for Everybody Fair. One of the ingredients I presented was barley, a grain with many beneficial properties. Unlike wheat, it contains a high amount of soluble fibers (betaglucans), which have a positive effect on cholesterol and provide an immediate sense of satiety – something that will be appreciated by those of you who are trying to keep their weight in check. It’s full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and has been shown to help liver and kidney function. What’s not to like? This way of cooking barley, with the same technique that Italians apply to rice in risottos, is typical of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in the North-East, and I tried it in dozens of variations when I was a student in Trieste.
Ingredients (serves 4)
Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy-bottomed or non-stick pot over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté until translucent, adding a tablespoon of water if it starts sticking to the bottom. Add any of the vegetables that require a longer cooking time, such as carrots, peppers or potatoes, and cook stirring for 4 minutes. Add the barley, and cook for 2 minutes on higher heat, stirring . Add the wine, and allow it to evaporate. Season with salt and pepper, and begin adding the hot stock ione or two ladlefuls at a time, stirring frequently, and adding more stock as soon as the liquid is absorbed. After about 10-15 minutes add the diced zucchini and/or asparagus (or any quick-cooking vegetables) and keep cooking, stirring and adding hot stock, until al dente, about 30-35 minutes. It should be creamy and not too thick: add enough liquid. When cooked, remove from the heat, season with more salt and pepper, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of your best extra-virgin olive oil. If you are eating dairy, add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of freshly grated parmigiano or grand cheese, and serve immediately.
(At the JCC I made this dish with onions and fennel, added at the start, and an exotic touch of saffron)
The long marathon of Jewish Holiday ends each Fall with Simchat Torah: on this day, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and paraded around the synagogue while people dance and sing around them. Every Shabbat a different portion of the Torah is chanted in synagogue, and it takes a year to complete the cycle: on Simchat Torah, the end of Deuteronomy is reached, and we start again from Bereshit (Genesis).
Because its shape resembles that of Torah scrolls, one of the most traditional foods for Simchat Torah, found in Jewish communities all over the world in different variations, is stuffed cabbage. Italy is no exception: in Venice, we cook it in stock; in Rome they use oil, onion and tomato; others make a Sephardi version, using lamb instead of veal/beef; some add raisins and pine nuts. If you’d like to try something different, instead of stuffing each leaf you can make a large meat loaf and wrap it in several leaves: Italian Jews have many versions of “Polpettone” (meat loaf) made with beef or poultry and stuffed with different vegetables, frittata or boiled eggs, and encased in turkey or chicken skin, or in a goose neck.
Ingredients (serves 6)
Preheat oven to 350°.
Soak the bread in meat stock and set aside. Blanch the best leaves of a cabbage in boiling water for 1 minute, drain and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft.
In a large bowl, combine the ground turkey, bread mixture (liquid squeezed out), nutmeg, salt, pepper, the egg, and after everything is well combined, fold in the carrot and peas. Allow to rest for five minutes and the mixture will firm up. Only if it’s still too soft, add some breadcrumbs to thicken it. Shape the mixture into a meatloaf and wrap it in the cabbage leaves.
Tie well with kitchen string (to make sure it won’t break you can also place the meatloaf in a muslin bag.
Place in a deep pan, cover with stock (enough to reach the top of the cabbage), and cook on medium/low heat, covered, for 1 and 1/2 hours (checking every 30 minutes and adding stock if it’s drying out). Uncover the pan and if there is still a lot of liquid, allow most of it to evaporate.
Serve with the juices from the pan.
Most of us know that the Mayas and their ancestors were already gobbling unsweetened hot cocoa 2000 years ago. Some historians believe that we also have to thank the Jews – for introducing sweet, hot chocolate drinks to Europe. In fact, many Conversos fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition ended up in South America in the early 1500s, where they learned how to grow and process the cocoa beans, which they started exporting to the Old Continent, together with cane sugar. Hot chocolate and coffee were both such a hit In many parts of Europe, that they put many wine bars out of business. In Venice alone, where the first coffee house in Europe was opened around 1645, some 400 (!) more sprouted in the next 150 years. However, while most could afford coffee, because it was imported directly from Arabia, chocolate (which came from the Americas and had to pass through many intermediaries) was expensive, and for a while it remained an exclusive habit enjoyed by the aristocracy, the wealthy merchants and the high clergy. I hope I’ll make you feel just as fancy as you slowly sip a cup of this thick Italian-style cioccolata!
With Cocoa: Place the cocoa, potato starch, salt and sugar in a small and heavy or non-stick saucepan. Add the milk very slowly, whisking continuously (use a whisk, not a spoon to avoid clumps). Move the saucepan to the stovetop, and bring to a boil on low heat, stirring continuously; allow to simmer for about one minute or until it thickens and serve accompanied by small cookies.
With Chocolate: use only high -quality dark chocolate (at least 60 percent cocoa – the more, the merrier!); place a saucepan with the chocolate in a large pan of shallow warm water, and bring the water to a gentle simmer on top of a range until the chocolate has melted. Add the milk, sugar, salt and potato starch to the chocolate very slowly, stirring continuously; discard the pan of water and place the saucepan with the chocolate on the flame; on low heat, bring to a boil and allow to simmer until it has thickened to perfect creaminess.
Last month I was invited to give a lecture on the history coffee in Venice at New York City’s Italian Food Wonderland, Eataly (a place that everybody who calls him/herself a foodie needs to check out at least once!). I could hardly contain my excitement, because the event was co-sponsored by Lavazza Coffee and Philips Saeco and I was dying to see their new bean-to-cup coffee machines in action!
Before I start telling you all about it, I actually have a confession to make, a deep dark secret to share: I’m a late bloomer. Until my late thirties I was one of those rare Italians who prefer tea – a calm, ritualistic beverage that I had romanticized since my days as an exchange student in England…
Enter the two adorable pests, their 2 am “bad dreams” and their 6 am awakenings on weekends: in my forties, I finally turned to coffee as my legal drug of choice, as a matter of survival.
Which brings me back to the excitement about the Syntia, which reached new heights when the Philips guys gave me one to take home: for those of us who grew up on the Jetsons, like me, it’s a dream come true: you throw a handful of coffee beans into the top, press a button, and voila’ – the perfect cup of espresso or cappuccino! The machine does everything- it grinds the beans, measures the right amount of grounds, tamps them, extracts the flavor at a professional pressure, and froths the milk if required. Now, if it could also be programmed to brush the kids’ teeth…. seriously, you get the quality of a barista’s espresso machine and the convenience of a capsule machine, rolled into one.
Once you get used to making perfect coffee, it will be hard to stop, and soon you won’t be satisfied with your 7 am double shot: you’ll want to pour it over gelato, stir it into cocktails, add it as a secret ingredient to your winter stew … not to mention that used coffee grounds are great as a deodorizer, insect repellent, plant food, and even (I kid you not!) cellulite reducer!
However, the first recipe you should master – whether you want to wow your family and friends, seduce a date or win over his parents – is Tiramisu! Who could resist alternating layers of sweet and creamy mascarpone and espresso-soaked ladyfingers?
In a large bowl, beat the yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale (about 2 minutes). Beat in the mascarpone until smooth. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt in a clean bowl with a clean electric mixer or whisk, until they form peaks. Add the remaining sugar in a slow stream and continue to beat the whites until they hold stiff peaks. In a third bowl, beat the cream until whipped. Fold the cream into the mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in the whites. Dip the ladyfinger in cooled coffee, one at a time, about 4 seconds on each side (if you soak them for too long they’ll break); transfer them to an 8-inch glass tray or baking dish at least 2″ high. Arrange half of the dipped ladyfingers on the bottom of the pan, then spread half of the mascarpone mixture evenly over them. Make another layer of ladyfingers and top with mascarpone mixture. Sprinkle the top with the cocoa and the chocolate shavings. Chill for at least 3 hours before serving.
*RAW EGG WARNING and PASTEURIZING EGGS: some people are uncomfortable consuming raw and lightly cooked eggs due to the slight risk of food-borne illness. To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly refrigerated, clean grade AA eggs with intact shells. Still nervous? If using pasteurized eggs, it will be harder to beat the yolks frothy and especially to beat the whites stiff: for the yolks, you will just need to beat them longer with an electric mixer; as to the whites, you will need to add a touch of cream of tartar (or lemon juice or white vinegar); about 1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar or 3/4 teaspoon lemon for 4 whites. You will also need to use an electric mixer and beat for twice as long as you would with regular egg whites You can buy pre-pasteurized eggs in many stores (test are not the egg-beaters but actual whole eggs, that can be separated at home into whites and yolks); or you can pasteurize them following this method.
* Disclosure: I was not paid for my review of the Philips Saeco espresso machines, apart from being given one Syntia machine to try and review. All comments are my own, honest opinion after my experience with the machine.
How could we possibly welcome fall, and celebrate Thanksgiving, without pumpkin? For me, this also one of the symbols in my family’s Rosh haShana seder and under the sukkah. One of my favorite ways to serve it is in a creamy and delicious risotto!
Those who were born in the Veneto region, like me, also celebrate red radicchio and like to incorporate it into many different recipes. While a similar type of lettuce was already grown in North-Eastern Italy before the 16th century, the exact kind we eat today, with its white-veined leaves, was engineered in the late 1800s by a Belgian agronomist. The different varieties are named after the Nothern Italian regions where they are cultivated: the easiest to find here in the United States is radicchio di Chioggia (maroon and round), and sometimes the radicchio di Treviso, which looks like a large red Belgian endive. Its mildly bitter flavor blends beautifully with the sweetness of the pumpkin or squash!
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet. Add the pumpkin and half of the onions and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes. Season with salt, nutmeg, pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the pumpkin is tender, another 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor and puree the pumpkin. Rinse the skillet and heat another tablespoon of oil in it. Add the radicchio (sliced into thin stripes) and cook for 5 minutes, seasoning with salt. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat and keep it hot.
In a heavy pot, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the remaining onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, for a few minutes. As soon as it starts sticking to the bottom, pour in the wine and allow it to evaporate. Immediately lower the heat and pour in one ladleful of the hot stock and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Gradually add more hot stock, 1 ladleful at a time, stirring frequently until absorbed before adding the next. After about 15 minutes, stir in the pumpkin puree and continue cooking, adding more stock, 1 ladleful at a time, until the rice is tender but “al dente” (about 5 to 15 minutes longer, depending on the type of rice). The risotto should be creamy and loose. Add the radicchio, and more salt if necessary. The risotto will be quite loose. Spoon the risotto into warmed soup plates and drizzle with little balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately. Of course if you want to be really fancy and impress your guests, you could also serve the risotto in the pumpkin shell.
*** For a slightly different result, you can also cook the pumpkin with the rice. Just add the pumpkin to all the onion at the beginning, and then add the rice. Try both versions, and see which one is your favorite! In the context of a dairy meal, this risotto tastes delicious with the addition of butter and parmigiano. On the other hand, the creaminess and sweetness of the pumpkin make it very enjoyable as a Parve (non-dairy) dish!
*(Bucatini are very thick spaghetti with a hole in the middle. Most major Italian brands make them, but if you can’t find them you can substitute linguine)
Clean the leeks, discarding the green and harder parts, and slice them thinly. Heat the oil or butter in a skillet, add the leeks and cook until soft. In the meantime, toast the hazelnuts in the oven for a few minutes, and grind them coarsely.
Place the cheese in a heavy or non-stick skillet with the milk and cream, and allow it to melt, stirring frequently. Remove the skillet from the heat, and combine the cream/cheese mix with the cooked leeks and the ground hazelnuts.
Cook the pasta ‘al dente’ (for instructions, check my article here) and drain it, setting aside a few tablespoons of the cooking water. Toss the pasta with the cheese sauce and a little cooking water; sprinkle with pepper, decorate with thyme and serve hot.
** If you are watching your diet, you can play with the proportions of milk and cream (or just skip to one of my vegetable-based pasta sauces
Sukkot is an eight-day harvest holiday that starts four days after the fast of Yom Kippur; it is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles.
In ancient Israel Jews would build huts (Sukkah = hut) near the end of their fields during harvest season, so that they could spend more time in the fields and harvest more efficiently. For us, Sukkot is a reminder of how our ancestors lived while wandering in the desert for 40 years (Leviticus 23:42-43), moving from one place to another and using tents (sukkot) for temporary shelter. Associated with these two meanings are three main traditions:
1 – Building a sukkah.
2 – Eating inside it.
3 – Waving the lulav and etrog.
(above, Sukkot seen by Italian artist Emanuele Luzzati)
Between Yom Kippur and Sukkot , those observant Jews who have the space construct a sukkah in their backyards or decks (in cities like Manhattan or Venice with a lot of small apartments, it’s normal to just share meals in the synagogue’s sukkah). In ancient times most people would just “move” to their sukkas for the whole holiday and even sleep there: nowadays few do, especially in colder climates, but it’s still customary to eat meals in the hut, or at least snacks, reciting a special blessing.
Since Sukkot celebrates the harvest, there is a custom of waving the etrog and lulav: (a kind of citron, similar to a big lemon/lime, and a bunch of myrtle,willow and palm twigs). The lulav and etrog are waved in all directions representing God’s power over the whole creation. All kids love decorating the sukkah with drawings, and mine are no exception!
As a fall harvest holiday, Sukkot celebrates the bounty of the new crops, and its food traditions revolve around seasonal vegetables and fruit. In this sense, some believe that the pilgrims may have come up with the idea of Thanksgiving inspired by the Biblical descriptions of Sukkot: after all, the Puritan Christians had landed on American shores in search of a place where they would finallly be free to worship as they pleased – a recurrent theme in Jewish history. Besides, just like the ancient Israelites, the pilgrims also had to dwell in makeshift huts (built with the help of the Indians) during their first cold winter in Massachusetts!
That’s why so many of you, unfamiliar with Jewish traditions, will immediately notice how Thanksgiving’s culinary themes mirror those of Sukkot.
All kinds of vegetables and fruit grace our tables, together with stuffed pies and pastries: stuffing one food inside another is in fact another metaphor for abundance. Many of these symbolic foods have already appeared on our Rosh haShana table, often in the form of a seder (served in a specific order and reciting blessings on each one).
Among these seasonal offerings, both the pumpkin and pomegranate stand out: in Venice we like our favorite local variety of pumpkin so much that we call it “suca baruca” (from the Hebrew “baruch”, “blessed / holy pumpkin”); as to pomegranate, it is so important in the Jewish tradition that Torah scrolls are decorated with silver ones – apparently because this fruit contains more or less 613 seeds, the number of the Mitzvot (commandments) that Jews are given to observe.
Why not combine these two symbols into a super-pretty and super-festive soup?
Ingredients (serves 4)
Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion and allow it to cook until soft (add little water if it starts sticking). Add the pumpkin and allow it to cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Add the orange zest and 1/3 cup of pomegranate juice (you can skip the juice if you prefer a less tangy flavor and a lighter color). Keep cooking until the juice has evaporated, then add enough hot vegetable stock to barely cover the pumpkin, salt and pepper, and cook until very tender. (at least 30 minutes).
Process with a hand mixer; adding more salt and stock as needed, and pour into individual bowls; decorate with the hazelnuts (if using), a few pomegranate seeds and salt. In the context of a dairy meal, you can decorate it with a little sour cream or Greek yogurt. Serve warm.
Most American Jews love to mark the end of the Yom Kippur fast with a spread of smoked fish, lox, whitefish, herring, and of course bagels and coffee.
In this spirit, last year I had posted a recipe for a simple fish with raisins, which is served in several Italian communities on the same occasion. However, this year I couldn’t resist sharing with you a more elaborate option, one of my favorites: Fish “in Saor”.
“Saor” means “flavor”, in our dialect, and indeed this sweet-and-sour preparation bursts with such flavor that over the centuries it has become THE signature dish of Venice: it’s served as “cicheti’ (tapas) in the many osterias, and as hoers d’oeuvres in the finest restaurants, or passed from boat to boat under the fireworks at the traditional Redentore festival in July.
Many Italians believe that the raisins and pine nuts in savory dishes (as in our stewed carrots, or our spinach frittata for Passover, and dishes with salt cod) always betray Jewish origins. However, Saor was known in Venice long before the expulsion of Jews from Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy, as witnessed by a recipe in the Libro per Cuoco, compiled by an anonymous Venetian at the end of the 14th century. Obviously it’s still possible that the recipe was introduced by some Jews who passed through venice before the expulsion, but it’s not the only explanation.
Venice after the Crusades (1069-1270) had become the most prosperous city in Europe thanks to international commerce. At the peak of its power, it had more than 3,300 ships: the merchants would bring spices from India and China, olive oil from Southern Italy and Greece, sugar from Sicily, unusual fruit from North Africa, and Venetians in general were experimenting with culinary “fusion” like nobody else in Italy or Europe!
The fact that it made fish last for weeks without refrigeration made the Saor a huge hit with the Venetian merchants/mariners, who spent months at a time at sea. As to the Jews, they might have known it from the countries they had to leave, and may have contributed to its increasing popularity in Venice. Besides featuring some of their favorite ingredients, Saor could be made in advance and eaten cold for Shabbat and the holidays!
HERE IS A STEP-BY-STEP:
Ask your fishmonger to wash the sardines (or soles) accurately, gut them, scale them, take the heads off. At home, rinse them in fresh water and lay them well on paper towel.
Soak the raisins in the wine for at least 30 minutes. Heat oil in a 4-qt. pan over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook until browned, 10–12 minutes. Add vinegar, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until soft, 6–8 minutes. Stir in raisins, nuts, and salt and pepper; let cool.
Drench the sardines in flour (I do this by placing flour in a plastic bag. I add the fillets and shake the bag), and fry them in hot oil for about 3 minutes or until slightly golden. Drain them well on paper towel and salt them.
When both the fish fillets and the onion marinade have cooled off, start layering them in a serving pan: start with a layer of onions, then a layer of fish), then again onions, fish, etc to end with the onions.
Seal with plastic wrap or foil, and refrigerate for al least 1 or 2 days before eating. It actually tastes even better before 4 or 5 days, and I’m told that with this preparation you could even forgo the refrigeration……
Bollo is a sweet-but-not-too-sweet bread with raisins, candied zest, and/or anise seeds (depending on which city you live in), served in many Italian and Sephardic communities to end the Yom kippur fast. Its name means simply “cake” in Spanish and Portuguese, a sign that we need to thank the Iberian exiles for yet another yummy treat!
In Venice, we are literally handed a slice as we are walking out of synagogue at the end of services, on the steps. Obviously, even a piece of cardbord would taste great accompanied by a tall glass of lemonade after 25 hours without food or water! However, this cake keeps being served over and over all through the fall holidays, upon entering the sukkah and until Shemini Atzeret. By then, we are usually stuffed, and I still love it – especially with jelly, for breakfast.
The Bollo is also one of the key elements of the “Tavola dell’Angelo” (the Angel’s table), a ritual table setting that several Venetian families prepare on the eve of Yom Kippur in their homes. The table is dressed in white, and decorated with harvest symbols such as pomegranates, flowers and corn. Jewish ritual objects, like prayer books Kiddush cups and candlesticks are also present. Finally, many families use sprouting wheat grains to write auspicious messages such as “Shana Tova”, or to draw symbols (like hands with the fingers spread out for the priestly blessing).
The center of the festive table are always the bollo and a cup or pitcher of water: a tease to humans during the long fast, these treats are in fact strictly reserved to a mysterious “angel”, in case he/she decides to pay a visit: Yom Kippur is, in fact, the holiest day in the Jewish year, the “Shabbat Shabbaton”, and… you never know!
If you happen to be in Venice around the fall holidays, don’t forget to try the bolo from the local kosher bakery, Volpe . You can also pop into the Giardino dei Melograni kosher hotel (by the Hosteria del Ghetto kosher restaurant) and check out their beautiful Angel’s Table.
But back to the Bollo….
In a bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water and only about 1/4 of flour and 1/4 of the sugar . Mix well, cover with foil and allow to rest in a warm place for at least 1 hour (even overnight) or until doubled in size. If your apartment is cold, you can turn the oven on and then off: once the oven is warm but not scolding hot, place the bowl with the mix inside, covered with aluminum foil.
Once the mix has more or less doubled in size, add the rest of the flour, the sugar, 3 eggs, and mix well by hand or in a stand mixer. Cover again and allow to rest again in a warm place for 2 hours or until it doubles in size again.
Add the rest of the ingredients and knead again for a few minutes, then shape it into two oval breads.
Cover again with a towel and allow to rest and rise for at least 2 more hours or until light and fluffy and doubled in size.
Brush the top with the egg yolk (slightly beaten with very little water). If your oven tends to be dry, you can also spray lightly with a fine mist of ice water (to prevent it from darkening too much), and add a small pyrex pot or pan full of water in the oven, to keep the air moist. Your oven should be preheated at 450F. Bake at this temperature only for the first 5 to 7 minutes, then lower to 360 for another 35 or 40 minutes. Baking time varies depending on your oven.
***P.S. if you are not much of a baker, there are quicker ways to break the fast Italian-style: try quince paste with any simple cookies, or – if you can tolerate alcohol – the Piedmontese “Bruscadela“: layers of toasted challah soaked for a few hours in mulled wine (simmered with cinnamon, cloves and sugar). I had this once and it made me sleep for 13 hours.
In Italy, “Miele” (honey), is classified as compulsively as cheeses and olive oil – by area of origins, type of flower, and depending on whether pieces of honeycomb were included… we have strawberry-tree (corbezzolo) and Eucalyptus honeys from Sardinia, chestnut honey from Piedmont, millefiori (thousand flowers) from Tuscany, orange blossom from Sicily, acacia from the Pre-Alps, and many more. Every fall, I take a trip to Zebar’s or Eataly where I stress out about which kind will grace my cake this Rosh HaShana!
Rather than blaming this on my all-Italian obsession with ingredients, you should try for yourselves! After all, when the Almighty promised our forefathers that they would be freed from Egyptian bondage, the Promised Land was described as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus. 3: 17, etc.) – and not with “milk and sugar”!
In this cake, the orange balances out any excessive sweetness of the honey.
Using a hand mixer, beat the yolks with the honey until frothy and thick (about 3 minutes). Very slowly add the oil, and beat until creamy. Add the honey, the potato starch, orange zest and the liqueur. Now add the flour (mixed with the baking powder) a bit at a time, alternating it with the orange juice.
In a separate, clean and degreased bowl, or in your stand mixer, beat the whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Now combine the egg whites with the batter, with the help of a spatula, using upward movements.
Pour into a 9.5″ or 10″ Savarin or bundt pan (well greased and dusted with flour). Since honey cakes tend to darken more than sugar-based ones, I prefer these cake pans, with a hole, because the inside will cook faster, before the outside has time to darken. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 30-35 minutes, or until done when tested with a toothpick. To keep the color lighter, you can cover with aluminium foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.
Quinces are from the same family as apples and pears. They are much uglier than both, and they taste horrible when eaten raw (I tried!). Feed them to the geese? Think again: as usual, our great-great-great grandmothers were able to turn even this ugly-duckling of a fruit into a delicious treat. So delicious, in fact, that many communities in Italy and elsewhere eat them instead of apples and honey as Tapuach, the first element in our Rosh HaShana seder symbolizing a sweet new year.
(Other Italian traditions begin with dates – in Aramaic,Temareh – for the first blessing, and conclude with figs, apples or quinces).
I hope you try this easy recipe and offer it next to your apples and honey. You will understand why, when quinces were still hard to come by in Manhattan stores, a friend of mine’s 80-year-old Italian grandmother (who shall go unnamed) would be found climbing up the trees in the garden of the Cloisters in Upper Manhattan before Rosh HaShana. We saw her in action and she was quite agile.
– 2 pounds quinces
– 1 and 1/2 pound sugar
– 1 organic lemon
– 4 or 5 cloves
Clean the quinces, eliminating all the fuzz and any parts that are damaged..
Cook them in a pot of boiling water with half an organic lemon and the cloves.
When they are as soft as boiled potatoes (about an hour) drain them, discarding the lemon and cloves and setting aside about a ladleful of the cooking water.
Halve the quinces and allow them to cool off; then peel them, eliminate the cores, and reduce them into a smooth puree using a food mill or an electric mixer.
Combine this puree with the sugar and 1/2 a ladleful of the cooking water. Cook on low heat for about an hour, stirring regularly. The paste is ready when it sticks to the spoon.
Wet a large cutting board or your countertop, and pour the cotognata on top, forming an even 1/2-inch
layer.. After it has started to dry, you can cover it with parchment paper. After at least 24 hours (48 is better), cut into shapes with cookie cutters.
Frittata is the omelette’s Italian cousin: just like the omelette, it can be a great vehicle for using up any leftovers you happen to have around (even cooked pasta!), but it’s quicker and easier to make.
It tastes great warm or cold, and once cut into wedges it is easily transportable, which is why in Italy it’s common to take a wedge to work for lunch. Of course it works just as well on your day off, whether you are having a picnic or hitting the beach. Frittatas are usually cooked on the stovetop, but if you dread the flip… feel free to bake yours in a regular oven! They are really quite foolproof, not to mention a quick, easy and inexpensive way to add some protein to any vegetables you have in your fridge and make them into a meal.
In Italy, we don’t usually serve frittatas for breakfast, but at either lunch or dinner. They can be a main course at a light meal, or an appetizer before several other courses. While Italians in general love this kind of food, Italian Jews are particularly fond of them because eggs are “parve”/ neutral, and can be consumed with either dairy or meat (incidentally, frittatas were probably introduced by the Jews exiled from Spain and Portugal, who also brought much more complex egg preparations, especially desserts).
Such a traditional Italian recipe deserved an Italian color theme, which is why we are going with green, white and red.
2 green peppers
2 tomatoes or one small basket cherry tomatoes
½ cup diced mozzarella or feta cheese
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons milk
1 handful flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice the leek thinly. Seed the peppers and dice them, or cut them into thin strips. Seed the tomatoes and dice them (if using cherry tomatoes, cut them in half). Mince the parsley, discarding the stems.
Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet. When the oil is hot, add the leeks and the peppers and saute’ until soft (about 3-4 minutes). In a bowl, slightly beat the eggs with 2 tbs of milk, salt and pepper. Combine with the diced tomatoes, the parsley, and the diced cheese.
Pour the egg mixture into the skillet over the peppers. Allow thbottom of the frittata to cook, using a spatula to lift the sides to allow more liquid to run under. When the bottom is cooked, carefully flip the frittata with the help of a platter, and cook the other side.
If using an oven-proof skillet, you can also transfer the pan into the oven and cook the top under the broiler for a few minutes, to avoid flipping.
Bruschetta (which, by the way, should be pronounced [bru'sket:ta] ( listen) and not [bru’shet:ta], please!!!) is a snack that Italians have been enjoying for centuries. It’s a simple slice of roasted bread, rubbed with fresh garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh tomato and basil. Tuscans, always the chic minimalists of Italy, skip the tomato and stick to olive oil and garlic; they call it Fettunta, “greased slice”. Of course they use the very first and very best oil of the season, which makes everything else seem redundant!
Just like bread soups or bread puddings, bruschetta was born as a way to salvage bread that was going stale (note to Americans: real bread does get stale!), at a time when it was considered precious and nobody was watching their carbs and worrying about Atkins. Some Italian peasant, who never reached the fame of the Earl of Sandwich but remained nameless, had a culinary epiphany that would revolutionize the concept of snacking.
Who doesn’t like giving their fork a rest and eating with their hands at picnics and cocktails? Although most of us tend to think of bruschetta in terms of tomato and basil, it’s actually a great base for most Mediterranean appetizers and salads, which it turns into finger foods. Just pick your favorite summer ingredient and build your own! Here is mine:
One of the things that don’t cease to surprise me, after 18 years in the US, is how strongly, deeply, philosophically anti-air conditioning my fellow Italians can be. It’s not only about being more ecologically aware than our American counterparts – we really hold on to our grandmas’ belief that artificial cooling can cause a plethora of maladies, from headaches to stomach congestion (whatever that is), to pneumonia. Of course, when it’s 100+ degrees outside, we have our own cooling methods.
1) (also called: Italian air conditioning) leave your windows open from about 10 pm to 7 am, to allow the cool breeze to come in. Keep them shut during the day. Grab a fan.
2) Limit “real food” to dinner time; the rest of the day, eat mostly fruit and vegetables and indulge often in frozen desserts.
To those of you who are cringing at the idea of daily ice cream, I’d like to point out that Italian gelato is made with milk instead of cream. Not only that, artisanal gelato includes real eggs, real fruit: it’s definitely more “real’ than a box of mac & cheese! On the other hand, in this land of advertising and additives, it might sound about as interesting as broccoli to the younger ones. Try to explain to your 4 and 5 year olds that home-made is better than the treats from the local ice cream cart with its hypnotizing chime.
Even when I can convince mine to forgo the colorant-laden packaged Dora stuff, they still demand at least cones. This has been a problem for me when trying to serve them my home-made gelato…. I was not thrilled about storing wholesale quantities of cones in my Manhattan apartment, and the idea of what could happen to our Persian rugs gave me the shivers.
My “Eureka” moment came when I saw something that my talented and sophisticated friend Lucilla served at a dinner party…. gelato in edible cups! It made me realize that, for my two demanding little customers Gabo and Bianca, it was all about being able to polish off every possible trace of their dessert. Lucilla was kind enough to share her secret, and here it is. Enjoy your Summer!
Cut the phyllo into 16 squares. Place 4 of them into 4 muffin pans lined with parchment, and brush the top with melted butter. Top each square with another square (without making the corners overlap), and repeat with 4 phylo squares for each muffin pan, brushing with butter in between. Bake in a pre-heated 360 F oven for about 10 minutes or until slightly golden. While the phyllo nests are baking, melt the chocolate in a saucepan on low heat with a few tablespoons of milk (enough to make a smooth but thick sauce). Allow the nests to cool off before unfolding them. Before serving, place a large scoop of vanilla gelato in each nest, and decorate with warm chocolate sauce and red berries. Enjoy!
The word minestrone derives from the Latin verb ministrare, which means ‘to administer’.
Maybe because, as any Italian mother can witness, it is the most efficient way to administer lots of healthy vegetables to picky children, with few complaints!
In many households, minestrone is made at least weekly and (thanks to the fact that it tastes even better when reheated), served several times as a primo piatto (first course) with both dairy and meat meals. I usually serve it plain on the first day; on the second day, I reheat it with some leftover cooked rice, pasta or even spelt. If it’s cold outside, or I’m simply too busy for multiple courses, I just throw in some beans to transform this light soup into an earthy meal. At the end of the week I add a boiled potato and turn the leftovers into a creamy passato (blended soup) with my hand blender.
Just keep in mind, if you plan on stretching your soup over the course of a week, that you should skip tomatoes or it will spoil too quickly. In Italy we have countless regional and seasonal variations for this soup, depending on the local produce! Just to give you a few examples, the Genoese minestrone is flavored with pesto; my Tuscan grandmother liked to add rosemary, and the Lombard one preferred Arborio rice in it.
The only key rules are that all the ingredients should be very fresh and the oil high quality; the soup should be cooked very slowly, on low heat; and finally, the vegetables should be chopped very small, Israeli salad-style…. other than that, have some fun!
Ingredients (serves 8-10 as an appetizer, 6-8 as a main course)
Peel the carrots and potatoes with a vegetable peeler and wash and clean all the vegetables, discarding any outer leaves and inedible parts. On a chopping board, cut all the vegetables into regular dice max 1/2″ (except for the peas, obviously). In a large pot with a heavy base, heat 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the minced onion and the whole garlic cloves and cook until the onion is translucent. Discard the garlic (if using – I usually don’t), add the vegetables and little salt, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes on medium/low heat, making sure they don’t burn or change color. Cover the vegetables with the vegetable stock and cook, in a partially covered pot and on low heat, for about an hour or until the vegetables are soft and the liquid has absorbed all their flavor. If using asparagus tips, add them later, about 15 minutes from the end. If you are pressed for time, you can also cook minestrone in a pressure cooker (it should take less than 15 minutes). When ready, pour into individual bowls, drizzle with some more extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a touch of freshly ground black pepper. It also tastes great with some freshly grated parmigiano on top, if you are in the mood for cheese!.
Few things are more American than a PB & J sandwich. However, jelly itself has been a staple all over the world since antiquity, when someone figured out that even quince (a fruit that looks like an ugly apple, and that’s too hard to be eaten raw) could taste delicious when slow-cooked with honey (incidentally, the word Marmalade derives from the Portuguese Marmelo (quince). Unlike our American children, spoiled by constant sugary snacks, it seems that people back then actually PREFERRED fresh fruit, because they didn’t attempt to make jelly with anything other than quince for centuries!
It was the Persians or the Arabs, who had been producing sugar from cane, who finally came up with the idea of syrup and started using it to manufacture various preserves, experimenting with pectic fermentation and creating the first citrus fruit marmalades. With the conquest of Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy, the Arabs introduced all their confections, changing the European palate forever, much to the joy of children and… dentists.
Preserving fruit or vegetables in syrup, just like drying or pickling, also prolonged their shelf life; this became critical in the Age of Discovery, starting in the 15th century, for the sailors, merchants and pirates (!) who had to spend months at sea with no access to fresh produce.
However, jam makes me think of far more familiar adventures, such as climbing up my grandmother’s fig, apple and peach trees as a child. I didn’t mind a scraped knee if I could feel that I was part of our little production line: I picked the fruit, nonna stirred the jam, my mom (the pharmaceutical chemist) jarred it, and my dad kept stealing spoonfuls from the pot.
peel the eggplants, cut them in 2-3 pieces each, and pierce them with a fork. Place them in a bowl of salted water for 1 hour. Rinse and cover with fresh, unsalted water. Let rest for another hour. Drain and lace in a large (it will froth up like crazy) copper or stainless steel pot, with the peeled and sliced apples, and the orange and lemon juice and zest. Add the sugar and 2-3 tbsps water,bring to a boil, and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. remove from the heat and pass through a food mill or sieve 9even a potato masher will do!). return to the pot and simmer for 30 more minutes, or until it has thickened. Pour into sterilized glass jars and close them tightly. Store in a cool, dark place.
Ask any Southern Italian, or Italian American, to imagine cooking without the color and the fragrance of tomato, and they will probably tell you it’s impossible.
However, the use of tomato spread in European kitchens fairly recently: although it was first introduced in the 16th century, the vast majority of people treated it as a pretty, but possibly poisonous, decorative plant for at least the next two hundred years. In Peru, Mexico and Chile, where it originated from, the natives also treated it as unedible.
While nobody was stirring Marinara, alchemists were concocting plenty of potions featuring the new fruit, which was believed to have aphrodisiac powers when ingested in small amounts. This accounts for the romantic names the plant was given, from England and France (Love Apple, Pomme d’Amour) to Italy Pomo d’Oro, Golden Apple) .
It’s still unclear where and when, in Baroque Europe, someone first tasted the mysterious fruit. Maybe it was a brave and hungry farmer in Southern Italy, in times of famine. Maybe the Sephardic merchants of Livorno, who had first imported the seeds (this may be the reason why many tomato-based local dishes are called “Jewish-style” or “Moses-style”). Or it could have been a bored aristocrat in France, where tomatoes were only eaten at the Royal Court until well into the 18th century.
In any case, once Europeans actually bit into it, there was no way back! According to Neapolitan screenwriter Luciano De Crescenzo, “ The discovery of tomato represented, in the history of food, a revolution comparable to what the French Revolution constituted in social history”.
As much as I love America, there is one thing food-wise, that I haven’t gotten used to in almost twenty years: salad dressings! Besides the fact that most store-bought dressings include a lot of processed ingredients, I find that most of these concoctions (even when home-made) combine so many different flavors that they hide, rather than enhance, that of the salad itself. Another issue is texture: most dressings are so thick that, rather than enveloping the leaves, they sit on them. In Italy, we dress salads very simply with oil and vinegar, or oil and lemon,and in some cases just oil and salt, in a similar way to the French. The proportions are simple: one part of vinegar or lemon to 4 of oil for a milder dressing, or one part of vinegar or lemon to 3 parts of oil (and some salt) if you like tart flavors. Most Italians don’t actually measure, but you should calculate about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons oil per person, or just 1 if you are on a diet. Skipping oil altogether and going fat-free is not as healthy as it sounds, because some of the vitamins in vegetables are lipo-soluble and can only be absorbed when accompanied by a fat. Choosea nice extra-virgin olive oil, and not the cheaper, “light” varieties. As for vinegar, balsamic is very popular these days, but its complex flavor works only with very flavorful vegetables and can be overpowering on simpler types of lettuce. Simple white or red wine vinegar is much more versatile, as is lemon juice. Other great options are apple cider vinegar, and rice vinegar. I must confess that most of us don’t even bother to blend the ingredients for our everyday meal. Right before eating the salad, we just sprinkle with salt, and pour some oil and then vinegar straight from their bottles. But this is not necessarily the best method, and you should blend the ingredients first for a better result.Everybody knows that vinegar and oil do not emulsify well and tend to separate. The best way to combine them, reducing them into micro-droplets, is in a blender. Honestly, I only do this if I have guests. For everyday, I just put the salt in a stainless or glass bowl, add the vinegar or lemon (do not add the salt after the oil, or it won’t dissolve), and combine well with a whisk or simply a fork. Gradually add the oil, whisking well, and use immediately to dress a salad. The ingredients should be at room temperature, and never cold, or they won’t blend well. Remember that you should never dress salads in advance, except for very “resistant” vegetables such as cucumber or radicchio – delicate salad leaves tend to react to vinaigrette and wither. Sometimes, when I want my salad to be really special, or if I need to plate it for a picture, I add a touch of honey to the dressing: honey stabilizes the emulsion for a long time, so that the oil and vinegar will not separate all over the plate.If you do use your blender and add honey, it’s actually best to let the vinaigrette rest for a few minutes or even an hour before using it, so that all the flavors can meld; but don’t refrigerate it!Last, but not least: even if you are using bagged salad, always rinse it first – not only because… you never know!!! but also because if the salad is too dry you will end up using way to much dressing.
Buon appetito, and let me know how it goes!
“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town” (Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses).
One of my first olfactory memories features a lemon lavender crostata, baked by my grandmother on a summer afternoon about four decades ago.
When we think of lavender fields, most of us conjure up images of Provence: maybe because they were often depicted by French impressionists. However, this plant (a member of the same family of savory herbs which also includes sage, thyme, and oregano) is cultivated all over the world, from England to Brazil, from Russia to Japan and new Zealand – and of course, Italy.
My grandmother lived in Pistoia, a town about 30 minutes North-West of Florence, and just over an hour drive from the Chianti region and its stunning landscapes of rolling hills lined with cypress trees, vineyards, olive groves and (surprise!) lavender fields, in a patchwork of incomparable natural beauty. That’s exactly where my parents and I used to pick our flowers. Only after a generous tip to the farmer we would be allowed to leave with a large bundle.
I remember that I would often come back with a bee sting, promptly treated by the local pediatrician, Dottor Federico: lush lavender shrubs are always humming with fuzzy bees, and the product of this romantic relationship is the most elegant of all honeys.
My grandmother was never a remarkable cook or baker, but somehow this particular tart, made using her next-door neighbor’s recipe, and almonds and lemons from her own orchard, always came out so delectable that it was gone in five minutes – however, its exquisite memory has lingered on for over 40 years….
Grease a springform pan (about 9″ to 9 1/2″) and line the bottom with parchment. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees if using puff pastry, 360 if using short pastry.
Roll out pastry and transfer pastry to the prepared springform pan, trimming edges using a paring knife
Prepare the custard: beat the egg yolks with the sugar until foamy. Add the lemon zest and juice.
Growing up in Venice, I was always fascinated with glass mosaic – an ancient art that can create, through the careful rhythm of colored enamels and gold leaf, a magical world where time seems to stand still.
Why not experiment with summer fruit? Your kids will love this project!
… and the Cosmopolitan Cooking of the Jews of Livorno.
This article and recipe appeared in The Jewish Forward.
Click here to view it.
For years, I had been intrigued by this curious cake from Livorno (Leghorn), a dessert that features sweet egg threads on top – a sign that it was introduced by the egg-loving Portuguese Jews and marranos who were invited to settle in the city by the Grand-Duke of Tuscany in the sixteenth century. With the help of the Jewish merchants, Leghorn became one of the most important port cities in Europe (but also a center of the printing press), and became known as “the city with no ghetto”.
I was already familiar with the local cuisine, and decided to try my hand at this tart, which looked like no other. Unfortunately, the yolk threads proved to be a huge challenge: I didn’t seem to be able to control the flow through the colander (the tool of choice in all the books that listed the recipe). My Livornese friends couldn’t help either: apparently they had always encountered the same problem and ended up with a sticky blob or with burns… they said that they used to buy the cake for Shavuot and for Purim from a well-known patisserie, but that when the owner died his tricks were buried with him. I had to wait until the blogging and YouTube era to figure this all out, with the help of some non-Jewish foodies from Portugal, where threaded eggs are often featured on Christmas recipes… in particular, thank you chef Fernando Canales for teaching me that in the 21st century it would be silly to use a colander when most of us have easy access to a pastry syringe (or at least a large syringe to dispense pediatric drops)!
The ancient Jewish community of Rome maintains many traditions that will never fade. One of its highlights is this double-crusted tart, stuffed with ricotta cheese and sour cherry jam.
If you visit Rome, try it at Boccione’s, the famous kosher bakery in the ghetto! Theirs is made with really fresh sheep milk ricotta, and it’s worth putting up with the long lines….
The milk and honey are a reference to the divine love described in the Song of Songs; the rose water is linked to the tradition of Shavuot as the Feast of Roses; finally, the rice symbolizes the marriage between God and His people.
Can you find a more symbolic dish than this lovely cake of clear Sephardic origins?
Shavuot commemorates the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai, and Jewish communities around the world have developed special culinary customs to give due honor to the holiday.
Meals are characterized by dairy dishes, as the Bible itself compares the Torah to milk and honey (“honey and milk shall be under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11). Some commentators add that, before the revelation at Sinai, the Jews were allowed to eat meat that was slaughtered normally, but after the Torah was given on Shavuot, they became obligated to follow the rules of kasherut . Until the end of that first festival, they had no alternative but to indulge in dairy foods! Mystics also like to mention that the numerical equivalent of halav ( Hebrew for milk) is forty – the number of days Moses waited on Mount Sinai.
Another tradition is eating foods that are rolled, to remind us of the shape of the Torah scrolls that are read in synagogue. Among Ashkenazi jews, the most popular Shavuot food incorporating both customs is cheese blintzes. However in Italy, it’s all about pasta, creamy ricotta and aged parmigiano cheese! Buon appetito….
One of the most traditional Italian pasta dishes for Shavuot has ancient roots and a mysterious name: “Masconod”. The original recipe features parmigiano mixed with sugar and cinnamon (the same unusual combination used to dress gnocchi in some areas of North-Eastern Italy), although the less adventurous palates replace the sugar and cinnamon with black pepper. The pasta is rolled-up manicotti-style, but tighter, like Moroccan cigars: since Shavuot commemorates God’s giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, it’s customary to eat some “rolled” foods, resembling Torah scrolls. This is also true of Simchat Torah (which marks the conclusion of the annual Torah reading cycle and the beginning of the next), but the rolls of Shavuot are usually filled with cream or cheese, since “Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11)….
While Masconod is traditionally made with fresh lasagna sheets, this year I’ve tried it with crespelle (Italian crepes) and it was love at first taste! Move over, blintzes! Here are both options:
A super-fresh and delicate salad to celebrate the arrival of spring!
When using edible flowers in your food, make sure they are not treated with dangerous chemicals. The best are the ones from your own garden!
What’s with chicken and prophets? Several Jewish Italian recipes for poultry have Biblical names. Here is one of the most popular examples, which appears in different variations in most cooking books on the topic, from Vitali Norsa, to Servi-Machlin to Joyce Goldstein. It’s not a surprise, because chicken cooked with this technique stays moist and juicy and keeps well for Shabbat! It’s a variation on the basic “pollo in umido”, which Americans call “chicken cacciatore”. The classic recipe is made with a cut-up whole chicken, but if you are in a rush or if you prefer boneless meat, boneless thighs also work well. When I cook boneless meat, I always add the bones to the pot (wrapped in a cloth) and discard them at the end. The bones add tremendous depth to the flavor. You can also add a couple of (koshered) chicken livers.
The Jewish community of Rome dates back to the second century BCE. Its history is known from several Latin and Greek sources, the Talmud, and inscriptions found in the catacombs. “Rabbinical” Judaism, whose core thoughts are collected in the Babylonian Talmud, originated towards the end of the first century CE, after the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. Its center was the academy of Yavneh, which in theory was also in charge of the Jews in the Diaspora. We know from the Talmud that at the beginning of the 2nd century CE, a certain Rabbi Matthias was sent from Yavneh to Rome. However, the Romans did not always accept his authority: the Talmud reports that the leader of the Roman community, Theudas, refused Yavneh’s instructions to modify the way the Passover lamb was butchered. We gather from these passages that in Judaea the ritual must have been changed after the destruction of the Temple. In most communities around the world, the custom of eating lamb at the seder was eventually abolished “until the Temple will be restored”. However, because of Theudas’s refusal to follow the dictates from Yavneh, the Roman community continued to prepare the Passover lamb as always (until even Yavneh gave in and accepted the difference). To this day, Roman Jews (who are very proud to be neither Ashkenazic nor Sephardic) serve lamb at their Seder.
My husband lived in Japan for one year and is obsessed with sushi. When we got married, I introduced him to Italian raw fish dishes such as crudo, carpaccio and tartara.
Many cultures like to serve the freshest fish raw, and it’s very quick and easy to prepare – but it’s vital to use only the best, sushi-grade fish, purchased from a fish monger you trust. As an extra precaution you can also freeze your fish for 1 hour before you use it. Salmon, in particular, is very susceptible to parasites.
This is a simple recipe, but it requires (besides very fresh fish!) very good olive oil and organic lemon and lime.
This recipe was my contribution to my friend Tori’s Passover Potluck project 2012. Check out the more detailed intro and my step-by-step pictures on her blog, here (you will also love all her yummy recipes!).
We all overeat every once in a while, and end up feeling bloated or with a stomach ache: what a Jewish Italian mother would prescribe in such cases (backed up by Maimonides’ medical treatises) is a nice bowl of fennel soup. Fennel (Anise) is one of those ingredients that until the late 1800s were shunned by non-Jews in Italy and considered lowly and vulgar. By the time this delicious vegetable was accepted into general Italian cuisine, Jews had already discovered countless ways to prepare it, raw or cooked, as an appetizer or side.
Fennel soup is to indigestion what chicken soup is to a cold, and it’s also said to help with bloating, detoxify the liver and even increase lactation. Just as your Bubbe did with the chicken, we use all parts of the fennel: we eat the bulbs, we make tea with the leaves, and we use the seeds as a spice. Curious fact: fennel seeds have such a powerful digestive effect that in (non-kosher) Italian cooking they are often used to enhance the least digestible of meats (pork)!
In the Jewish Italian tradition we also add them to many different kinds of dishes, and of course cookies and biscottis – which acquire that special exotic flavor. I have mixed feelings about making biscottis more digestible, because my husband and kids already polish them off as they are and do not need any encouragement, but you should try at least once!
Back to the soup: it’s light, parve, gluten-free if you skip the toast, and literally takes only minutes to make. Here you go.
A great matzah-free option if the first Seder has left you feeling stuffed like a Passover turkey and you need a break! You can also serve this at the seder as an alternative to your matzah balls for gluten-intolerant guests.
If you like macaroons, this indulgent and festive tart will become your favorite way to welcome Passover. If you are celiac and need to follow a gluten-free diet, you have a great excuse to make it much more often! Remember that nuts are very sticky, and it’s always best to line your baking pan with parchment.
There is a rabbinic commandment stating that on Purim, one should drink until they can’t tell the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai. Instead of gobbling down glasses and glasses of wine, you can get a bit tipsy more efficiently with sweet Italian liqueurs, which also happen to pair really well with all the cookies and confectionery we end up inhaling on this gluttonous holiday. My paternal grandmother was a pro at making these, with lemons or rose petals, chocolate or coffee, and she called them “liquori da signorine” (“young ladies’ liqueurs”) as they were very sweet, which always cracked my dad up because they are actually as strong as a good scotch. Here is my favorite:
According to the detailed descriptions in many Italian Purim songs from the 16th and 17th centuries, Purim at the time was quite a production! In particular, the wealthier Jews hosted over-the-top banquets, which included up to 30 courses, alternating savory and sweet dishes. But the highlight was always the desserts! Among the prettiest Purim sweets, perfect for gifting, are these almond paste-based confections popular in several cities, including Venice and Trieste. Almond paste was introduced to Northern and Central Italy by the Sephardic Jews fleeing from Spain, Portugal and Sicily, where they had a long tradition of making elaborate confections with it.
These scrumptious sweets are easy to make as they don’t require cooking, and can be served in mini paper cups or wrapped individually like candy, which makes them great gifts. On Purim we are required to give charity to the poor, and food gifts (משלוח מנות, pronounced Mishloach Manot”) to friends and relatives, consisting of two different types of food, and who wouldn’t like these? They are even gluten-free!
Concealed identities and hidden truths are the markers of the Jewish holiday of Purim, both in its exterior celebrations (the costumes) and in its deeper meaning. Much like a Shakespearean Comedy of Errors, on the surface the Megillat Ester is deceivingly simple and seemingly random in its sequence of events. The protagonists are assimilated, “comfortable” Jews living in a foreign land (Persia), afraid to reveal their identity, and it is the only book in the Tanakh (Bible) that makes no reference to God. Purim is the plural of the Persian term Pur (lots),those lots that Haman had cast to determine the fate of the Jews – as if to imply that our fate is a game of chance. On the other hand, this story seemed so relevant to our sages that it was included in the Biblical Canon, while the heroism and miracle of Hanukkah were left out. One of the greatest Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, Rambam (Maimonides) even maintains in his Code of Jewish Law that in the Messianic Age “All the books of the prophets and the sacred writings in the Bible will be annulled, with the exception of the Book of Ester” (Hilkhot Megillah 2:18).
The story of Purim is not easy to decipher: adding to the tease is the fact that the Queen’s name itself, Ester, comes from the word “saiter”, ‘conceal’, while the name of the book, Megillah, derives from the root “galal”, which means ‘to roll’, since we read it in a scroll, but also “to reveal”, as if to say that the very act of wrapping, concealing, was really meant to reveal some mysterious truth. Talking about concealments: even the Hebrew name for ‘World”, olam, comes from “alum“: ‘hidden’. The traditional interpretation is that all these apparent riddles playing with the idea of concealment are meant to remind people that it’s up to them to discover the true miracle of God’s presence in apparently random events and everyday things. In this sense, Ester’s fasting and finding the courage to reveal her identity to the king and ask him to save her people – was just as big a miracle as the parting of the Red Sea. The fascination with this motif was always so strong that Jewish culinary traditions all over the world have mirrored it in their holiday dishes, creating foods that hide (usually pleasant) surprises below the surface.
One of our Italian answers? Of course… ravioli! I am posting a version with ricotta both because I always prefer dairy, and because there is a custom to skip meat on Purim: the Talmud relates that that was what Queen Ester had to do in the palace of Ahasuerus, since she had no access to kosher meat (her husband the king was not Jewish). However, the carnivores among you can just scroll down toward the end of the recipe, and see how to make a meat version.
I just gave a demo on healthful and elegant Italian cuisine at the JCC Manhattan during their Fitness for EveryBODY Fair. One of the ingredients I presented was barley, a grain with many beneficial properties. Unlike wheat, it contains a high amount of soluble fibers (betaglucans), which have a positive effect on cholesterol and provide an immediate sense of satiety, which will be appreciated by those of you who are trying to keep their weight in check. It also contains many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and has been shown to help liver and kidney function. What’s not to like? This way of cooking barley, with the same technique that Italians apply to rice in risottos, is typical of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, in the North-East, and I learned it during my year in Trieste.
We just came back from ten days in Italy, mostly spent in Venice hanging out with my mom and childhood friends. But my husband and kids had never been to Florence, and I decided to treat them to a couple of days in the cradle of the Italian Renaissance. The highlight of our stay was a lunch at our friends Alberto and Giordana’s apartment, with a breathtaking view of Fiesole and the Tuscan hills; followed by rides on the carousel in Piazza della Repubblica for our two kids! The food in Florence and in all of Tuscany is fantastic, simple and elegant, and justly famous. If you are not planning a trip any time soon, why not try this easy and delicious soup in your own kitchen? Pappa col Pomodoro is a perfect example of Italian “comfort food”, and of Tuscan peasant cooking. Bread soups were born of necessity: people could not afford to throw away stale bread, and devised ways to make it not only edible, but wonderfully tasty. Be warned that American-style soft sliced bread would just turn into a slimy and sticky mess: you will need artisanal bread with a firm, rough crust. The best types are Tuscan or Pugliese loaves. I live in Manhattan, and love Tribeca Oven.
For tons of authentic Tuscan recipes, and cooking classes in Tuscany (with vegetarian options), visit Giulia at http://en.julskitchen.com/
For kosher cooking classes in Florence, email my friend Chiara at Chiara105@gmail.com
Have you ever tried KAMUT? It’s a long grain with a brown cover – it looks similar to brown rice, but it’s related to wheat and has a velvety, nutty flavor. It’s richer in protein than wheat, and contains several vitamins and minerals. Perfect for a winter soup!
The other main ingredient of this “minestra” is saffron, the star ingredient in Italy’s favorite risotto Milanese, and in many festive Sephardic dishes. Saffron, one of the most highly prized spices since antiquity, and a native of the Southern Mediterranean, is now cultivated in many countries. However, some the best in the world is said to be produced in the Abruzzi region of Italy, a couple of hours east of Rome – a legend says that it was first smuggled here by a dominican monk in the 13th century, and the production has been thriving ever since. In order to maintain the intense aroma of their saffron, the locals uproot the bulbs yearly, and select them for size. The perfect soil and climate conditions do the rest, and every fall the flowers are harvested.
About 80,000 crocus flowers are needed to produce a meager pound of saffron – in case you wondered what makes it the most expensive spice in the world! To justify the extravagant expense, remember that saffron has been used as a medicinal botanical on many continents throughout history, and some recent research has demonstrated that one of its components shows promise as an anti-cancer agent.
I know that most people might not immediately associate sauerkraut with Italy – but that’s only because they have never been to the North-Eastern regions! For example, sauerkrauts are actually the main ingredient in Trieste’s signature soup, the Jota (pronounced yota, from the Latin term for soup). Trieste is the largest Italian port city on the Adriatic and was for a long time the trade crossroads between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Western Europe. It also boasts a rich and fascinating Jewish history. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Jews fleeing from German lands settled here to make a living as moneylenders, bankers, and merchants. Even women practiced money-lending in Trieste, an unusual custom at the time. More Jews arrived in the following centuries from Spain and the Ottoman Empire, and finally in the late 18th century from Corfu. Trieste in general, and Jewish Trieste in particular, was cosmopolitan and cultured, and the local dishes give us a little taste of such flair . James Joyce, who lived in Trieste for 16 years and at one point fell in love with his Jewish Triestine student Amalia Popper, would probably agree.
My husband and I are almost vegetarian, meaning that we tend to forget about meat and to serve it only when we have guests who expect it. But a few of you have been asking for a winter-appropriate meat dish, and here you go! You are going to love this slow-cooked recipe, because it’s very simple and yet elegant. Perfect for a date! As always with Italian cuisine, don’t skimp on the ingredients. Use a wine that you would actually enjoy drinking – it will cost more, but it’s totally worth it! Just think of this as a special occasion dish. Wines that work well are dry and with a lot of body: Barolo, Chianti, Super-Tuscans, Bordeaux, etc. The meat should be cut into approx. 1″ cubes.
Because it’s true home cooking and not elaborate chef-inspired Fusion cuisine.
Because Jews have been in Italy since the second century B.C.E. and have had two thousand years to develop mouth-watering recipes using a variety of delicious local ingredients, now easy to find in our grocery stores.
Because it’s healthy, simply elegant and colorful.
Because with so many vegetables and healthy fats, you may even lose a couple of pounds.
(And if you don’t, at least you will have fun trying!)
I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it. I had been frying for a couple of weeks already and all my Hanukkah posts were already up. Yet something just felt wrong.
OPS. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t posted anything special for all my readers and friends who are not Jewish and celebrate Christmas. I felt so awful, that I toyed with the idea of attempting a Panettone, the famous Italian Christmas Cake!
However, Panettone is really difficult to make, requiring several phases of exceptionally long rising, and the use of special Italian bread flours that are hard to find. Here is something much quicker, and just as decadent: it’s an ancient Jewish Roman dessert, kind of a cheese pancake, shockingly simple to make, which the Roman Catholic community somehow adopted as the dessert of choice to end their Christmas dinner with (maybe after one too many panettone flops)? .
The Jews of Rome still make it for Shavuot, but of course it would also work for Hanukkah (after all, according to several food historians, the original Hanukkah pancakes were made with cheese). In spite of its minimalism, Cassola is so tasty that Claudia Roden, in her Book of Jewish Food, tells that she enchanted a whole dinner party of food writers with it, at the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery. Cassola is sweet, creamy, and delicate (and naturally low-fat! but you could never tell). May your holiday season be just as delicious!