Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

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.

saffron by dinnerinvenice.com

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).

Saffron diluted by Dinnerinvenice.com

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….

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

55 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup Arborio or other risotto rice (Vialone nano, Carnaroli)
  • 3 leeks
  • 1/2 tbsp saffron threads
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 tbsp freshly grated parmigiano
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Slice one leek very thinly into rings (I use a mandoline), and cook it in 2 tbsp butter until soft. Add the rice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and allow it to evaporate. Add the saffron, diluted in 3 tbsp hot broth, and start adding hot stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring almost continuously. As soon as the stock absorbs, add more hot stock. Cook until creamy and "al dente" (about 18 minutes).Add the remaining butter and cheese, and season with salt and pepper.

Slice the 2 remaining leeks length-wise into strips. Blanch the strips for 1 minute in boiling salted water. Use tongs to transfer into a bowl of ice water. Drain and dry on paper towel.

Brush muffin or creme caramel pans with oil (or use silicone ones), line them with the leek strips leaving about 1" hanging out. Press the risotto into the pans with your hands or a spoon, and close the leeks over the risotto. You could also "tie" the packages with chives (blanch first). Bake for about 15-20 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 350 F. Turn out carefully and serve warm.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/12/06/gift-wrapped-risotto/

Another special presentation here

Symbols of Plenty – Symbols of Tears

Autumn mini pumpkins

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.

Read about them in my latest column for the Jewish Week:

Autumn mini pumpkins

Butternut Squash and Zucchini Frittata

Pumpkin Frittata w Pink peppercorns by dinnerinvenice.com

 

Pumpkin Frittata w Pink peppercorns by dinnerinvenice.com

 

This month my article in Joy of Kosher magazine reveals the secrets of cooking with cast iron, and carbon steel:

 JOK.winter.2013.scan

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).

Butternut Squash and Zucchini Frittata with Pink Peppercorns

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 7 minutes

17 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • About 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 large slice butternut squash or pumpkin
  • 1 zucchini
  • salt
  • ½ tsp pink peppercorns
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano
  • 2-3 tbsp milk (optional
  • 1-2 tbsp parmigiano cheese (optional)

Directions

Roast the slice of butternut squash wrapped in foil, in a 350 F oven for about 20-30 minutes or until soft but not mushy (you can also use leftover cooked squash). Allow to cool, cut into thinner slices and sprinkle with little salt.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy cast-iron skillet , add the garlic and the thinly sliced zucchini. Cook for about 5 minutes and discard the garlic.

??In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk, salt and cheese if using. Pour into the skillet, add the slices of pumpkin (or butternut squash), sprinkle with the peppercorn t and transfer the skillet into the preheated oven. half way through the cooking, tp with the fresh oregano if using.

Cook for about 6-7 minutes (more if doubling the amounts), or until the eggs are set and the frittata is golden and just slightly browned. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/11/06/butternut-squash-and-zucchini-frittata-with-pink-peppercorns/
It also has a way of enhancing rustic flavors, and it’s perfect for eggs!

Cous Cous salad with red Radicchio and Pomegranate

Cous Cous Radicchio Salad with Pomegranate by DinnerInvenice.com 2

Cous Cous Radicchio Salad with Pomegranate by DinnerInvenice.com 1

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!

Cous Cous Radicchio Salad with Pomegranate by DinnerInvenice.com 1

Cous Cous salad with Red Radicchio and Pomegranate

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups "instant" cous cous
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 heads red radicchio
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 cup black olives
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Directions

No need to cook the cous cous! Just place it a bowl with about 1/2 cup lukewarm water, 8 tbsp olive oil, and the juice of an orange, salt and pepper. Toss and fluff with a fork, add salt and pepper. let it stand for about 1 hour covered, adding about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of water every 10-15 minutes and re-fluffing each time with a fork. In less than an hour, the moisture should be absorbed and the cous cous should be tender, fluffy and light.

In the meantime, cut the radicchio into thin strips and peel the second orange. divide it into slices and also peel the individual slices (or at least eliminate the white membranes!) and cut them into pieces. Combine the radicchio, orange, olives and pomegranate seeds with the cous cous; Adjust salt and pepper,and distribute into 8 individual cups or bowls. Decorate with a few sage leaves fried in hot olive oil.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/09/25/cous-cous-salad-with-red-radicchio-and-pomegranate/

Pasta salad with Egg, Radishes and Mache’

3530 Insalata di pasta con songino rapanelli uovo e pepe

Pasta salad with Egg Radishes and mache' by DinnerInVenice

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!

Pasta salad with Egg and Radishes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

25 minutes

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb (or up to 1 lb if you are four hungry men!) pasta, "wheels" or half-rigatoni or other short pasta
  • 1 bunch radishes (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup lamb's lettuce or mache' salad, stems removed (or more to taste)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Cook the pasta "al dente" in a large pot of salted boiling water, according to instructions on the box. Drain, dress with 2 tbsp oil, and allow to cool.

Boil the eggs in cold water (cooking for about 7 minutes from the moment the water starts boiling).

In the meantime, slice the radishes very thinly (easier with a mandoline or food processor). Separate the lettuce leaves.

When the eggs are cooked, rinse them under cold running water, peel them and chop them coarsely.

Top the cold pasta with the eggs, the lettuce, the radishes, salt and pepper.

Emulsify the remaining oil with the lemon juice, salt and pepper, add to the pasta salad and toss. Enjoy!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/08/13/pasta-salad-with-egg-radishes-and-mache/

Summer Cherry Salad

Summer Cherry Salad by DinnerinVenice.com

Summer Cherry Salad by DinnerinVenice.com

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”.

ciliegie Collage

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?

Summer Cherry Salad

Ingredients

  • 10 oz baby spinach, washed and patted dry
  • 1 cup cherries, pitted
  • 1 cup cubed feta or crumbled goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup shelled walnuts, halved
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp honey

Directions

Whisk the oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper to make the vinaigrette and set aside.

Toast the walnuts in a small skillet for a couple of minutes. If you are feeling fancy, toast them with a bit of sugar until they become caramelized.

Place the spinach in a bowl with the cherries, the cheese, and the walnuts.

Toss with the vinaigrette right before serving.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/05/24/summer-cherry-salad/

Farro Salad with Pears and Cheese

FARRO CON RUCOLA, MIELE E PERE


FARRO CON RUCOLA, MIELE E PERE

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.

FARRO NEL COLINO

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.

K3106 FARRO CON RUCOLA H

Warm Farro Salad with Pears and Cheese

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

40 minutes

4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1 lb farro (you can substitute spelt)
  • 1 large bunch arugola
  • 3 medium pears
  • 1 1/2 tbsp honey
  • 4 oz gorgonzola or blue cheese (you can substitute feta)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 4 or 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Rinse the spelt and cook it until al dente in salted boiling water (about 30-40 minutes in a regular pot or 5-10 minutes in a pressure cooker, follow instructions on package). Drain, allow to cool, and transfer to a salad bowl. Whisk the oil with the vinegar and honey, salt and pepper. Peel and slice the pears and drizzle them with lemon juice to prevent them from darkening. Dice or crumble the cheese, and break or cut the arugola into smaller pieces. Add all ingredients to the farro and dress with the honey vinagrette. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/03/12/farro-salad-with-pears-and-cheese/

More with Farro:

My Chestnut & Farro Soup

NYT’s Farrotto with Mushrooms

Lucullian Delights’ Chocolate Farro Cake

Venetian Jewish Fish Balls

S 17 00 POLPETTE DI PESCE

S 17 00 POLPETTE DI PESCE

 

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.

Venetian Jewish Fish Balls

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds leftover cooked fish (white)
  • 2 medium/large eggs
  • about 4 slices white bread, crust removed
  • the fish cooking water (where the fish was cooked with celery, carrot, onion), or vegetable stock
  • 1-2 tbsps freshly minced parsley
  • 2 anchovies, salt-or oil-packed, drained and minced (optional)
  • a large pinch of nutmeg and one of cinnamon (optional; or thyme)
  • salt, pepper
  • flour to dredge
  • olive oil for frying

Directions

Soak the bread in the broth or fosh stock until soft. Drain and squeeze. Mash the fish with the bread, anchovies, season with salt and pepper, add the parsley and spices. Taste and adjust the salt if needed. Add the eggs, combine well and allow to rest in the fridge for a few minutes. If it’s still too soft you can add a tbsp of bread crumbs.

With wet hands, form little balls (about 1 to 1 /2” in diameter. Dredge them in flour and deep fry in olive oil, in a deep fryer or in a heavy pot with tall sides. To deep fry, heat at least 2" of the olive oil to frying temperature (you can test it by dropping a small piece of bread in the oil: if lots of little bubbles form around the bread, the temperature is right). Fry in small batches until golden all over, turning to cook evenly.

Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer onto a platter lined with several layers of paper towels.

Serve warm.

Serves 6

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/01/14/venetian-jewish-fish-balls/



Turkey Hazelnut Skewers with Pomegranate Sauce

bocconcini di tacchino in crosta di frutta secca

Turkey Hazelnut Skewers with Pomegranate Sauce

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

  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 clove garlic, slightly pressed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or prosecco
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 lb ground turkey (if you are on a low-fat diet, ask for white meat only)
  • 1 scallion, very finely minced
  • 1 slice of bread, crust removed (for GF,1 medium mashed potato)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup plain breadcrumbs or panko crumbs (you can use GF crumbs)
  • 1/2 cup warm stock
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1/3 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp freshly chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

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!

Rebecchini – Fried Polenta Sandwiches

Rebecchini- Fried Polenta Sandwiches
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Rebecchini- Fried Polenta Sandwiches

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.

If you have never made polenta before, check out these detailed instructions on one of my favorite Italian food blogs in English, Memorie di Angelina.

  • 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

 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.

Thanksgiving Cornmeal Cake from the Veneto

Torta di Polenta (Corn Meal Cake)

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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!

Ingredients

  • 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

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.

Baccalà Mantecato – Salt Cod Mousse

s-71-990-baccala-mantecato

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This article and recipe appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward – to read them, click here

Baked Pears with Sorbet and Berries

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Baked Pears with Sorbet and Berries (Parve or Dairy) GF

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.

Buon appetito!

  • 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)

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.

Chestnut and Apple Cake – GF

Chestnut and Apple Cake

Chestnut and Apple Cake (Dairy or Parve) GF

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
3 apples
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.

Orzotto: Barley “Risotto”

“Orzotto” with Vegetables – Barley “Risotto” (Parve or Dairy)

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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)

  • 3 or 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 a large onion, finely chopped
  • 1½ cups pearl barley
  • ½ cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 6 cups hot vegetable stock or as needed
  • 1 cup total diced vegetables (you can use 3 or 4 of your favorites, such as carrots, peppers, asparagus, zucchini, green peas, corn…)
  • about ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano or Grana cheese (optional, for a dairy version)
  • salt and pepper

Directions
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)

Stuffed Cabbage, Italian-Style

… or simply wrap your Meatloaf in Cabbage Leaves! (Meat)

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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


Directions:

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.

 

Fragrant Stew with Wine and Herbs

Fragrant Stew with Wine and Herbs
Fragrant Stew with Wine and Herbs

Fragrant Stew with Wine and Herbs

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.

Fragrant Stew with Wine and Herbs

Ingredients

  • (serves 4-6)
  • 2 pounds beef for stew
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons potato starch
  • 6 cloves garlic, each cut into 4 lenghth-wise
  • 1 carrot
  • a small rosemary sprig
  • a few sage leaves
  • 4-5 juniper berries
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Directions

With a sharp knife, make a small cut in each cube of meat and insert a piece of garlic in each cut. Marinade the meat for 24 hours with the wine, vinegar, garlic, juniper berries and herbs.

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a heavy pot, add the sliced onion and cook for 2-3 minute.

Drain and dry the meat, dip it in potato starch, and brown it on all sides.

Remove the meat and set aside; cook the onion on medium/low heat for 10-15 more minutes or until soft, adding a couple of tablespoons of water if necessary to prevent it from burning.

Return the meat to the pot (you can also use a slow-cooker) with at least ½ of the marinade liquid, add salt and pepper, and simmer for at least 3 hours or even longer on low heat. It can take closer to 4 hours, depending on the cut of meat: when it's ready, it will fall apart easily if you test it with a fork.

Enjoy with potatoes or polenta, or some crunchy Italian bread.

Some people prefer to remove most of the rosemary and sage leaves before serving.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/29/fragrant-stew-with-wine-and-herbs/

Meatballs, Jewish-Italian Style

Meatballs, Jewish-Italian Style
Meatballs, Jewish-Italian Style

Meatballs, Jewish-Italian Style

We have many versions of meatballs. You can use leftover cooked meat instead of raw meat for an even tastier version! Leftover roast beef or brisket are great! You can add 4 tablespoons of very finely chopped olives for a different flavor. You can add leftover cooked spinach, drained well and chopped (in this case decrease the amount of the bread/broth mixture). You can add plumped currants and pine nuts, and end the cooking with some lemon juice, for a sweet-and-sour Sephardic touch. Also try substituting mashed potatoes for the bread/broth mixture.
Try them all!

Meatballs, Jewish-Italian Style

Ingredients

  • 2 bread rolls or slices, crusts removed (they can be a couple of days old)
  • 2/3 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3 salami slices, finely chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef (or a mix of beef and veal)
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, very finely chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup plain bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine

Directions

Soak the bread in the broth forabout 5-10 minutes).

In a bowl, put 3 tablespoons of this mixture.

Combine with the garlic, parsley, salami, beef, salt and pepper.

Stir in the egg and using wet hands shape the mixture into about 10 or 12 meatballs.

Spread the breadcrumbs into a dish and roll the meatballs in them till they are evenly coated.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and cook the meatballs over high heat till golden on both sides.

Add 1/2 cup of dry white wine and let it evaporate on high heat.

Then add either 1 cup hot broth or 1 cup of salted diced tomatoes in their water, and cook covered over medium heat for 30 minutes, adding liquid if necessary.

Serve with a side of vegetables.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/12/meatballs-jewish-italian-style/