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:
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.