Grandma’s Eggplant and Apple Jam

S 01 02 I MARMELLATA DI MELE E MELANZANE

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 pounds small (Japanese) eggplants
  • 3 small golden delicious apples (or 2 large)
  • 1 medium orange
  • 1 organic lemon
  • 6 cups sugar

DIRECTIONS:

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.

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Swiss Chard Ravioli

Swiss Chard Ravioli (Dairy or Meat)

Swiss Chard Ravioli

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.

 

Swiss Chard Ravioli (Dairy OR meat)

Ingredients

  • Serves 4
  • Filling
  • 1 lb swiss chards or a mix of greens
  • ½ lb whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • salt
  • nutmeg to taste
  • To dress:
  • ¼ cup butter
  • a few sage leaves
  • freshly grated parmigiano to taste :
  • To make the fresh pasta
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs

Directions

Discard the stalks or any white parts from the chard, and cook it for 2 or 3 minutes with a few tablespoons of water (you can also microwave it on high on a covered platter for 1 minute): drain, squeeze to remove excess liquid, and chop finely.??

Heat the olive oil in a pan, add a clove or two of garlic, cook for one minute, add the chard and a little salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Place the ricotta in a bowl, add the chard and the parmigiano, the nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.

Add a walnut-size amount of ricotta and chard filling at regular spacings on your fresh pasta sheet. Press around the filling with your fingers and seal with the tongs of a fork. Since it’s Purim, cut the ravioli with a fun-shaped cookie cutter leaving the filling in the center of each.

You can also cut the dough into triangles (in honor of Haman’s Star-Treck ears) with a sharp knife.

Cook the ravioli for about 5 minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water; drain with a slotted spoon and serve drizzled with butter cooked for one minute with a few leaves of fresh sage, and grated parmigiano to taste.

*** to make the pasta, shape about 2 ½ cups of 00 or all-purpose flour into a well on your work surface; . add 3 eggs in the center and knead into a smooth dough. Allow torest for about 20 minutes covered in plastic wrap. Roll the dough into a thin sheet with a rolling pin or pasta machine.

*** for a meat version, replace the ricotta with about 8 ounces ground veal or beef (or a mix). While you are blanching the chard, heat a little oil in a pan and add a “soffritto” (“mirepoix” of minced 1/2 carrot, 1/2 onion, 1/2 celery stick); cook briefly, add the meat and little white wine, cook for a minute or two, add the chard and cook for a couple more minutes.

Allow to cool, “tie” with a couple of eggs, flavor with nutmeg and little salt, and use this mix to fill the ravioli.

Skip the parmigiano, and instead of dressing with butter, stick to a rich sugo d’arrosto (roast meat sauce).

Buon Appetito!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/02/29/swiss-chard-ravioli-dairy-or-meat/

 

 

 

Cassola, the Ecumenical Pancake

Cassola by DinnerInvenice

Cassola by DinnerInvenice

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!

Cassola, the Ecumenical Pancake (not just Dairy, Very Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ricotta cheese (made from whole milk, without emulsifiers)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 to 1 ½ cup sugar? (depending on desired sweetness)
  • a pinch of salt
  • zest of one large organic lemon (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon? or vanilla (optional)
  • about 2 tablespoons mild extra-virgin olive oil, or butter

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400º F. With a whisk or a hand mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar until creamy.

Add the ricotta, salt, lemon zest and cinnamon (or vanilla).

Grease a baking pan (about 9 ½” and springform is easier) with butter or olive oil, dust with flour, pour the mixture in, and transfer into your pre-heated oven.

Bake at 400 F for the first 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 Fand bake for another 25 minutes.

Turn the oven off and allow the cassola to set inside, with the door open, for another 10 or 15 minutes.

It should be firmer and golden brown on the outside and very soft and moist inside, like a pudding. Serve warm.

You can also cook it in a greased non-stick or cast iron pan like a frittata, on the stovetop, flipping it once (this was probably the original version), or cook the bottom on the stovetop and the top in the oven under the broiler.

Serves- 4-6

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/18/cassola-the-ecumenical-pancake-not-just-dairy-very-dairy/

Sfenz – Libyan Hanukkah Fritters

Sfenz- Libyan Hanukkah Fritters (Parve)

Sfenz- Libyan Hanukkah Fritters (Parve)

Jewish Italian food has been a tradition for over 2000 years – but it still continues to evolve, even in recent times. The Jewish exodus from Libya in the late 1960es brought about 5000 Libyan Jews to Rome, and their earthy dishes  are yet another extraordinary influence on our culinary kaleidoscope. I reached out to my friends at Labna, one of my favorite Italian food blogs, and Jasmine shared these yummy pancakes, a traditional recipe from the Libyan side of her family. Jasmine tells us that in her grandparents’ house the kitchen was usually her grandmother’s realm -she was always the one cooking, and her grandfather only walked in there to obtain coffee. But every year on Hanukkah, Jasmine’s grandfather would wake up early, brave the kitchen and prepare the Sfenz, the traditional water-flour pancakes, like they used to make in Tripoli: a few minutes of easy kneading, a couple of hours of rest, and a dive into the hot oil…. for a most irresistible breakfast. Enjoy Labna‘s special treat!

Sfenz – Libyan Hanukkah Fritters (Parve)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pastry flour or 00 flour (you can use all-purpose, but the result will be heavier)
  • 1 cube fresh yeast, or 1 tablespoon dry yeast
  • 1 cup water, or enough for a soft, elastic dough
  • enough oil for deep frying (peanut or canola)
  • confectioner’s sugar to decorate

Directions

Place the flour in a large bowl or your stand mixer.

In a second bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water, and add the mix to the flour.

Combine well with your hands, or process in the mixer into a soft, elastic, slightly sticky dough.

Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow to rest in a warm area for about one hour.

Now knead again quickly with your hands, and allow to rest for one more hour.

Place the bowl with the dough next to the stovetop, and fill a second bowl with warm water.

Heat abundant oil in a heavy pot with tall sides; when the oil is hot, wet your hands, take a small ball of dough and pull it with your hands into a small “pancake” shape. It’s OK if by doing so you create a few “holes” in the middle.

Wet your hands after making each sfenz, so that the dough won’t stick to your fingers.

Fry the sfenz in the oil, one at a time or in small batches, turning them once.

Remove them with a slotted spoon when they are golden, and drain them on a double layer of kitchen towel.

Serve them hot after decorating them with confectioner’s sugar.

Serves 6-8

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/06/sfenz-libyan-hanukkah-fritters-parve/

Apple Fritters with Moscato Wine

Apple Fritters with Moscato Wine (Parve)

Apple Fritters with Moscato Wine (Parve)

Contrary to popular belief, Italian Jews do not all descend from the Jews who arrived in Rome in the second century b.c.e., and from the Sephardim fleeing Spain and Portugal in the late fifteenth century. There have also been Ashkenazi Jews living in Northern Italy since as early as the Middle Ages. In Venice, in particular, Ashkenazim (“I Tedeschi”, as they were called)  were the oldest Jewish community in the city. The name of the first Jewish quarter in Venice (and in the world), “ghetto”, possibly derives from the Germanic term “gitter” (iron grill).  Even Moshe Chayim Luzzatto (the Ramchal), one of the most famous Italian rabbis in history, was a “Yekkishe Yid”!   (the name Luzzatto is the Italian translation of the German Jewish name Lausitz). A lot of recipes reflect this ancient Ashkenazi influence, and one of my favorite examples is the apple fritters that we make for Hanukkah.  One of the reasons I like them so much has nothing to do with history: since in Italy we also have the famous saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” (“Una mela al giorno toglie il medico di torno”), I feel that these must be really good for me even though they are deep-fried, and I indulge in second and third helpings. You can sprinkle them with cinnamon if you like, or serve them with a raspberry sauce for a refined chromatic effect.

Apple Fritters with Moscato Wine (Parve)

Ingredients

  • 4 or 5 apples
  • 1 cup pastry flour, or all-purpose flour (heaped)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup moscato or sweet champagne
  • peanut or mild olive oil for frying
  • confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon for decorating

Directions

Place the flour in a bowl, add the egg and start whisking with a manual or electric whisk; slowly and gradually add the wine.

If the batter seems too thick, add a few more tablespoons of wine.

Cover and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Beat the egg whites until stiff, and gently incorporate them into the batter.

Peel the apples, core them without halving them, and slice them horizontally (the slices should be 1/4? to 1/3?max.)

Sprinkle with lemon juice.

Heat abundant oil in a deep-fryer or a large, heavy pan with tall sides. When the oil is ready (365 F, or when a small piece of bread dropped in the oil forms many small bubbles all around), dry the apple slices, dip them in the batter, and fry them until golden in small batches (max. 4 slices at a time, or the oil temperature will drop and they will absorb oil).

Dry them very well on a double or triple layer of paper towel, and sprinkle them with sugar (you can also add cinnamon).

Serve immediately!

Serves 6

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/04/apple-fritters-with-moscato-wine-parve/

What is Sukkot?

Sukkot

Sukkot

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 the harvest season, so that they could spend more time in the fields and harvest more efficiently. But Sukkot is also 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 or (sukkot) for temporary shelter.
Associated with these two meanings are the three  Sukkot traditions:

1 – Building a sukkah.
2 – Eating inside the sukkah.
3 – Waving the lulav and etrog.

(in the picture, the holiday of Sukkot as seen by Italian artist Emanuele Luzzatti)
Between Yom Kippur and Sukkot , observant Jews construct a sukkah in their backyards or on their deck when possible (in absence of space, people will use their synagogue’s sukkah).

In ancient times most people would just “move” to their sukkahs for the whole holiday and sleep there: nowadays very few people do, but it’s customary to eat meals in it reciting a special blessing. Luckily we are exempt in case of rain! Since Sukkot celebrates the harvest, there is a custom of waving the lulav and etrog: (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 dominion over the whole creation. All kids love decorating the sukkah with drawings, and mine are no exception!

After Sukkot

The seventh day of Sukkot is also known as Hoshana Rabbah. In the traditional synagogue service, Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark and worshippers make seven circuits while holding the Lulav (branches of four plants with symbolic meanings) and reciting Hoshanot (Psalm 118:25).

Right after Hoshana Rabba comes Shemini Atzeretthe day for prayers and  celebrations for rain and harvest. One would think that a prayer for rain should be recited at the beginning of the New Year (Rosh HaShana) but it would be hypocritical to do so when everybody is really hoping for nice weather for the week of Sukkot…so it’s postponed to Shemini Atzeret.  After Shemini Atzeret comes Simchat Torah  (“Rejoicing with the Torah.”): on this holiday, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and paraded around the synagogue while people dance and sing around them. Every Shabbat during the year, a different portion of the Torah is chanted in synagogue, and it takes a year to complete the whole thing. On Simchat Torah, the end of Deuteronomy is finally reached, and we start again from Bereshit (Genesis).
See how the Jewish Community of Rome celebrates Hoshana Rabbah in this video:

Picture: Solomon Alexander Hart
The Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law at the Synagogue in Leghorn, Italy, 1850