Pumpkin or Butternut Squash is an important part of our Rosh haShana Seder. While the symbolic foods of the Pesach Seder are meant to internalize the memory of Passover, the symbols of Rosh haShana point to the future to wish us a good New Year. The Aramaic term for squash/pumpkin is ’Kerah“. Because of its resemblance to the Aramaic root “Kara” (to cut), when we eat this vegetable we pray that any of our bad deeds will be cut out of the Book of G-d’s Judgement. Pumpkin arrived in Italy after the discovery of the Americas, and was such a hit with Northern Italian Jews that in Venice we call it “Zucca Barucca” (Holy Pumpkin – from the Hebrew “Baruch“).
Different communities and different families prepare it in different ways, but here are a sweet-and-sour version, plus my favorite (but not very photogenic) Venetian version, mashed.
Meatballs and meatloaves are a staple in Jewish Italian kitchens: I would go as far as to say that every family has a different version (and every son swears that his mother’s is the best!).
For many centuries most Jews in Italy were poor, and had only sporadic access to meat: one of the ways they found to make use of cheaper cuts was grinding the meat and stretching it with different ingredients – bread, eggs, and countless vegetables. The result included not only delicious meatloaves and meatballs, but also a variety of stuffed vegetables and pasta. These dishes are great for Shabbat and the holidays when food needs to be prepared in advance and reheated, because they don’t harden and actually taste better the day after.
If you choose one of the versions that incorporate cooked, chopped vegetables (spinach, leeks, zucchini, eggplant… the options are endless!) you might also be able to sneak some greens into the diets of the most irreducible picky eaters.