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.

Pumpkin Soup with Pomegranate and the meaning of Sukkot

Pumpkin and Pomegranate Cream Soup (Dairy)

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

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

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(above, Sukkot seen by Italian artist Emanuele Luzzati)

Between Yom Kippur and Sukkot , those observant Jews who have the space construct a sukkah in their backyards or decks (in cities like Manhattan or Venice with a lot of small apartments, it’s normal to just share meals in the synagogue’s sukkah). In ancient times most people would just “move” to their sukkas for the whole holiday and even sleep there: nowadays few do, especially in colder climates, but it’s still customary to eat meals in the hut, or at least snacks, reciting a special blessing.

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Since Sukkot celebrates the harvest, there is a custom of waving the etrog and lulav: (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 power over the whole creation. All kids love decorating the sukkah with drawings, and mine are no exception!

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As a fall harvest holiday, Sukkot celebrates the bounty of the new crops, and its food traditions revolve around seasonal vegetables and fruit. In this sense, some believe that the pilgrims may have come up with the idea of Thanksgiving inspired by the Biblical descriptions of Sukkot: after all, the Puritan Christians had landed on American shores in search of a place where they would finallly be free to worship as they pleased – a recurrent theme in Jewish history. Besides, just like the ancient Israelites, the pilgrims also had to dwell in makeshift huts (built with the help of the Indians) during their first cold winter in Massachusetts!

That’s why so many of you, unfamiliar with Jewish traditions, will immediately notice how Thanksgiving’s culinary themes mirror those of Sukkot.

All kinds of  vegetables and fruit grace our tables, together with stuffed pies and pastries: stuffing one food inside another is in fact another metaphor for abundance. Many of these symbolic foods have already appeared on our Rosh haShana table, often in the form of a seder (served in a specific order and reciting blessings on each one).

Among these seasonal offerings, both the pumpkin and pomegranate stand out: in Venice we like our favorite local variety of pumpkin so much that we call it “suca baruca” (from the Hebrew “baruch”, “blessed / holy pumpkin”); as to pomegranate, it is so important in the Jewish tradition that Torah scrolls are decorated with silver ones – apparently because this fruit contains more or less 613 seeds, the number of the Mitzvot (commandments)  that Jews are given to observe.

Why not combine these two symbols into a super-pretty and super-festive soup?

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Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 2 lbs cubed pumpkin
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • vegetable stock
  • 1/2 orange (or 1/3 cup orange juice)
  • 1 pomegranate (or 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds plus 1/3 cup pomegranate juice)
  • 3 tablespoons mild extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons coarsely ground hazelnuts (optional)

Directions

Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion and allow it to cook until soft (add little water if it starts sticking). Add the pumpkin and allow it to cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Add the orange zest and 1/3 cup of pomegranate juice (you can skip the juice if you prefer a less tangy flavor and a lighter color). Keep cooking until the juice has evaporated, then add enough hot vegetable stock to barely cover the pumpkin, salt and pepper, and cook until very tender. (at least 30 minutes).
Process with a hand mixer; adding more salt and stock as needed, and pour into individual bowls; decorate with the hazelnuts (if using), a few pomegranate seeds and  salt. In the context of a dairy meal, you can decorate it with a little sour cream or Greek yogurt. Serve warm.

Minestrone – Italian Vegetable Soup

S 55 01 STEP 1 MINESTRONE

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The word minestrone derives from the Latin verb  ministrare, which means ‘to administer’.
Maybe because, as any Italian mother can witness, it is the most efficient way to administer lots of healthy vegetables to picky children, with few complaints!

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In many households, minestrone is made at least weekly and (thanks to the fact that it tastes even better when reheated), served several times as a primo piatto (first course) with both dairy and meat meals. I usually serve it plain on the first day; on the second day, I reheat it with some leftover cooked rice, pasta or even spelt. If it’s cold outside, or I’m simply too busy for multiple courses, I just throw in some beans to transform this light soup into an earthy meal. At the end of the week I add a boiled potato and turn the leftovers into a creamy passato (blended soup) with my hand blender.

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Just keep in mind, if you plan on stretching your soup over the course of a week, that you should skip tomatoes or it will spoil too quickly. In Italy we have countless regional and seasonal variations for this soup, depending on the local produce! Just to give you a few examples, the Genoese minestrone is flavored with pesto; my Tuscan grandmother liked to add rosemary, and the Lombard one preferred Arborio rice in it.

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The only key rules are that all the ingredients should be very fresh and the oil high quality; the soup should be cooked very slowly, on low heat; and finally, the vegetables should be chopped very small, Israeli salad-style…. other than that, have some fun!

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Ingredients (serves 8-10 as an appetizer, 6-8 as a main course)

  • vegetable stock, 1 1/2 quarts
  • 2 whole cloves garlic (optional)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 6 leaves of kale or Swiss Chards, chopped
  • 1 large slice of butternut squash or pumpkin
  • 1/2 a small cabbage (1/4 if large)
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 small (or 1 large) zucchini
  • 1 cup peas
  • OR asparagus tips, or green beans
  • 1 small or medium potato (optional)
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • extra-virgin olive oil (I use a low-acidic, mild Ligurian or Tuscan)
  • fresh rosemary or parsley, if liked
  • (tip: if you rarely make it to the green market…. it does work even with frozen vegetables!)

Peel the carrots and potatoes with a vegetable peeler and wash and clean all the vegetables, discarding any outer leaves and inedible parts. On a chopping board, cut all the vegetables into regular dice max 1/2″ (except for the peas, obviously). In a large pot with a heavy base, heat 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the minced onion and the whole garlic cloves and cook until the onion is translucent. Discard the garlic (if using – I usually don’t),  add the vegetables and little salt, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes on medium/low heat, making sure they don’t burn or change color. Cover the vegetables with the vegetable stock and cook, in a partially covered pot and on low heat, for about an hour or until the vegetables are  soft and the liquid has absorbed all their flavor. If using asparagus tips, add them later, about 15 minutes from the end. If you are pressed for time, you can also cook minestrone in a pressure cooker (it should take less than 15 minutes). When ready, pour into individual bowls, drizzle with some more extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a touch of freshly ground black pepper. It also tastes great with some freshly grated parmigiano on top, if you are in the mood for cheese!.

Roman Lamb Roast

Roman Lamb Roast (Meat)

AGNELLO AL FORNO

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.

Roman Lamb Roast (Meat)

Ingredients

  • (serves 6-8)
  • 1 leg* of lamb or lamb shoulder ( about 3 to 4 pound)
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • pieces of lemon peel, or chili peppers, or sun dried tomatoes, if liked
  • 5 tablespoons dry white wine (pinot gris, riesling or chardonnay)
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

*Lamb shoulder is more widely available than leg, because of how labor intensive removing the sciatic nerve is (a requirement of Jewish dietary laws). One of the few kosher butchers in the US who carry lamb leg is Bisrakosher in NY (and their lamb is grass-fed).

Preheat oven to 400 F:

Rinse the lamb, dry with paper towel, and make some small incisions into the meat with a small pointed knife. This technique has a not-so-kosher name, itâ??s called â??lardingâ?? the lamb.

Remove the leaves from 2 of the rosemary sprigs and cut the garlic cloves into 4 parts length-wise.

Cut the lemon peel or sun dried tomatoes into pieces if using.

Insert 3/4 of these rosemary needles, garlic and the lemon or tomato into the cuts.

Combine the remaining 1/4 with about 1/2 cup oil and some pepper.

Brush the lamb all over with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with 4-5 tablespoons dry white wine (or a mix of lemon and wine), and place in a roasting pan.

Roast for about 1/2 hours or until cooked inside and golden-brown on the outside.

In general, lamb should be roasted for about 25 minutes per pound, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the roast reads 150.

Turn the lamb halfway through the cooking, and baste every 15 minutes with the herb/oil emulsion and the pan juices.

Remove the lamb from the oven and allow it to rest covered for at least 15 minutes before serving.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/03/26/roman-lamb-roast-meat/