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.
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.
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: