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 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.
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!
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
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.
- 1 cup polenta (finely ground or quick cooking)
- salt (about 1 tsp)
- water to make polenta (follow instruction on the package, or about 3 cups)
- 12 anchovies (salt packed is better, but oil-packed is OK))
- 4-5 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil to make anchovy paste
- 1 clove garlic (whole)
- dredging flour
- 3 eggs
- olive oil for frying
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: ShabbatJews 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 Ingredients:
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional for frying
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken cutlets, trimmed of fat and gristle
- About 1 cup matzoh meal (use commercially ground--you’ll need a very fine, powdery consistency here)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 or 3 celery stalks, including leaves, washed, dried well, and cut into 4- to 5-inch lengths
- Accompaniment: lemon wedges
- Optional garnish: parsley sprigs
- 1 scant cup (150 gr) cornmeal maize (for polenta) or 2 cups cooked polenta (cooked dense, not liquidy)
- 3 tbsps grappa or brandy
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries (or raisins)
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup candied fruit (mix of orange and lemon or citron) (optional)
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 organic lemon
- a pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup of sugar (about 85 gr)
- 1 scant cup flour (about 100 gr)
- 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder (10 gr)
- 1/4 cup oil (mild olive oil , vegetable oil or coconut oil)
- 2 eggs
- 4 ripe pears
- 1 cup lemon sorbet
- 1/2 cup strawberries, or other berries
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- peel of one organic lemon
- a teaspoon of unsalted butter, or nut oil for a non-dairy/parve version (almond, coconut)
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)
- 1 lb ground beef, or veal (or a mix)
- 2 slices bread, crust removed
- beef or chicken stock
- 4 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- ½ cup peas, blanched
- 1/2 cup carrot, cooked and cut into small cubes
- ¼ tablespoon nutmeg
- 1 egg
- 2 or 3 tablespoons plain bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 pound fresh pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into small dice
- 2/3 head of red radicchio
- 1 1/2 cups Italian rice (Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano type)
- 1 medium white onion, finely diced
- 1/2 cup dry wine
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
- About 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 7 to 8 cups vegetable stock
- 4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (to taste)
- salt and pepper to taste
(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)
- 2 lbs cubed pumpkin
- 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
- vegetable stock
- 1/2 orange (or 1/3 cup orange juice)
- 1 pomegranate (or 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds plus 1/3 cup pomegranate juice)
- 3 tablespoons mild extra-virgin olive oil
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 or 3 tablespoons coarsely ground hazelnuts (optional)
- about 5 cups flour (a little over 1 lb of 00 or all-purpose)
- 25 gr fresh yeast, or use dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water (mix 1/2 cold water and 1/2 very hot water)
- 1 scarce cup sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 3 large eggs (if they are quite large, use 3 yolks and 2 whites)
- 1/2 cup mild olive oil or seed oil
- 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in warm water or brandy and drained
- grated zest of one lemon
- 1 1/2 tbsp candied lemon or orange zest (optional) OR aniseeds (optional)
- 1 shot brandy, cognac or grappa
- 1 egg yolk or more to glaze the surface
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.
- 4 medium/large eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup oil (canola oil or 1/2 light olive 1/2 almond oil)
- about 300 gr (3/4 a medium/large jar) liquid honey
- 1/2 cup potato starch
- 1 1/2 cup 00 or all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp orange liqueur (like triple sec) or brandy
- zest of one organic orange
- 1/4 cup of the orange juice
- 1 package (16 g) baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- 1/2 ripe cantaloupe, diced
- 1/4 small ripe watermelon, diced
- 3/4 cup goat cheese, or crumbled feta
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
- fresh mint or basil
- 2-3 tbsps of the best extra-virgin olive oil you can find (not too strong or acidic)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 loaf Italian or French style bread, sliced and toasted, broiled, or grilled
- Rub the toasted or grilled bread slices with the garlic cloves while they are still hot. Discard the garlic. Brush with very little oil.
- Spread a little cheese on the slices.
- Dress the two melons (separately) with the rest of the oil, and little salt and pepper. If using feta, which is saltier, you can skip the salt.
- Top some slices with the cantaloupe and others with watermelon. Decorate with fresh mint.
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!
- vegetable stock, 1 1/2 quarts
- 2 whole cloves garlic (optional)
- 1 onion
- 2 carrots
- 6 leaves of kale or Swiss Chards, chopped
- 1 large slice of butternut squash or pumpkin
- 1/2 a small cabbage (1/4 if large)
- 2 celery stalks
- 2 small (or 1 large) zucchini
- 1 cup peas
- OR asparagus tips, or green beans
- 1 small or medium potato (optional)
- 1 medium tomato, seeded (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- extra-virgin olive oil (I use a low-acidic, mild Ligurian or Tuscan)
- fresh rosemary or parsley, if liked
- (tip: if you rarely make it to the green market.... it does work even with frozen vegetables!)
- 3 pounds small (Japanese) eggplants
- 3 small golden delicious apples (or 2 large)
- 1 medium orange
- 1 organic lemon
- 6 cups sugar
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....
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....
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.