Venetian Thanksgivukkah Fritters

Venetian Thanksgivukkah fritters by Dinnerinvenice

Venetian Thanksgivukkah fritters by Dinnerinvenice

With all the hype about Thanksgivukkah this year, I also received a challenge to post something that would be perfect for both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah – and it had to be made with some type of mashed food. I normally panic when I get this kind of requests, but this time it was really brainless. These pumpkin fritters are one of my favorite recipes, and always a huge hit with guests.

venetian Thanksgivukkah Fritters 2 by Dinnerinvenice

Venetian Thanksgivukkah Fritters

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pumpkin or butternut squash, cleaned and diced small
  • 2 eggs
  • grated zest of 2 oranges
  • ¾ cup of sugar and a pinch of salt
  • 1 and ½ cups flour
  • scarce tbsp baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon, if liked
  • 1/3 cup Raisins or Sultanas
  • 1/3 cup grappa or rhum
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup candied citron or lemon (optional), finely chopped
  • Rice bran oil, peanut oil or vegetable oil for deep-frying, at least 3 cups or more
  • Confectioner’s sugar for decorating

Directions

Plump the raisins in the liqueur.

Place the diced squash in a large platter and cover almost completely, leaving a small opening for the steam to come out, and microwave on high for 10 minutes or until very tender (or bake covered for 40 mins in the oven).

Beat the eggs in a food processor with the sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange zest; add the cooked squash and process until smooth.

Drain and pat dry the raisins, and add them to the mix.

Transfer to a large bowl and gradually add the flour (sifted with the baking powder), using an electric or manual whisk.

In a frying pan, heat the oil to frying temperature (you can test it by dropping a small piece of bread in the oil: if bubbles form around the bread, the temperature is right).

Take the batter with a tablespoon, filling it to about ½, and push the batter into the oil with your index finger or a second spoon.

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 towel.

Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/11/19/venetian-thanksgivukkah-fritters/

Four Cheese Pasta – Italian Mac & Cheese

Four Cheese Pasta

Four Cheese Pasta

Macaroni and cheese occupies a special place in the American heart, as the ultimate comfort food.

To tell you the truth, when I moved here from Italy and found out that people were so crazy about this abomination in a box, I thought you guys were all a bit eccentric. Really – why would you want your (processed, powdered) cheese to be orange? Not that it was a big deal: I have my own issues with junk food – namely, digging into the Nutella jar when under pressure.

However, when my children started coming back from school demanding Mac & Cheese, I went from mildly entertained to outraged (after all, I spend hours canning made-from-scratch tomato sauce!). I did try to lecture them about the superiority of fresh ingredients, the importance of vegetables, blah blah blah, but they ignored me. I needed a better strategy. Here is how I gained back my cool factor.

Meet Pasta ai Quattro Formaggi, the Italian ancestor of Mac & Cheese. While it’s probably terrible for you (I can’t imagine another dish that packs in as much butterfat), at least this homemade recipe does not include any chemicals, plus it tastes infinitely better than Kraft’s packaged version. You might still end up needing a bypass, but at least you’ll have enjoyed getting there!

Four Cheese Pasta

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

30 minutes

yield: 6-8

Calories/Fat: ignorance is bliss

Ingredients

  • 1 package (1 lb) rigatoni or penne pasta (I like Garofalo, De Cecco and Barilla)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream + 1/2 cup milk (if you feel too guilty, just 1 cup whole milk)
  • 1/2 cup blue cheese (or a sharp and creamy cheese like Brie, Camembert) shredded or cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup taleggio (or Fontina, Asiago, Gouda), shredded or cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup Swiss cheese, Emmenthal or Gruyere, shredded or cubed
  • 1/3 cup Parmigiano, Grana or Parmigianito, freshly grated, plus more for topping
  • Black pepper

Directions

Bring water to a boil and add salt.

Heat the milk in a saucepan; add cream and the cheeses to the hot milk and stir continuously, until all the cheeses are melted together. If you like living dangerously, you can even add 1 tablespoon butter.

When the water boils, add some coarse salt, add the pasta and cook it until al dente, according to the directions on the box. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water and drain the pasta.

Toss the rigatoni and the cheese sauce together, adding a little of the cooking water (it acts as an emulsifier and thickener); sprinkle with black pepper and serve accompanied by extra parmigiano. Those of you who feel fancy can go with a touch of grated nutmeg, or even shaved truffle! You can also transfer into a baking dish and broil on high until golden and crisp on top (3 to 5 minutes).

(***if you keep strictly kosher, here are some imported kosher cheeses available in the US. The site specifies each cheese's kosher certification, since we often joke that "Two Jews, three opinions" and do not always share the same standards: http://www.kcheese.com/ )

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/02/07/four-cheese-pasta-italian-mac-cheese/

Chocolaty Vienna-Style Coffee

CAFFE' ALLA VIENNESE

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Have you ever heard of “Caffe Viennese” or “Vienna Coffee”?

I have to confess that I never really checked if it actually has anything to do with Vienna, or if it does my version may not be the most authentic: I discovered this perfect beverage during my college years, in the historic cafes of Venice and Trieste – such as the Florian and the Tommaseo – and regarded it as my grown-up upgrade from Italian hot chocolate. My roommates and I found that it helped immensely with the cold, the fog, the all-nighters before exams, and heartless boyfriends .

While in general I find that most elaborate coffee drinks are just bad examples of “gilding the lily”, please trust me with this: it’s an improvement upon perfection!

Keep in mind that we are not talking about ordinary ingredients. Yes, chocolate tastes great, but there is more to it than what meets the lips: it’s full of chemicals that are associated with mood and emotion (phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamide and tryptophan, since you are asking), to the point that a shocking percentage of women report to prefer chocolate to sex (sorry, guys!). Daniele Piomelli, from the University of California, compares its effects to those of marijuana.

And don’t get me started about coffee. How many of us would have graduated from college had it not been for those midnight Americanos, and could we still call New York “the city that never sleeps” without the omnipresent to-go cups of joe?

Obviously, the pairing of the two is a marriage made in heaven – as long as if you don’t suffer from gastric ulcers.

Do not ask me how many calories are in a cup of this concoction. I have no idea. And besides, thinking about the calories may just make you crave it more. Go ahead and  enjoy it, just try to stop after the first two cups!

CAFFE’ VIENNESE

Serves 4

  • 4 small cups of espresso “ristretto” (strong and concentrated)
  • 4 ounces really good bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp sugar, or to taste
  • Whipped cream to decorate, if you like (I prefer it without)
  • Ground cinnamon, if liked

Bring some water to a boil in a saucepan and place a second saucepan or heat-proof bowl on top to create a bain-marie. Add the chocolate pieces or shavings to the top saucepan or bowl, and allow them to melt, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the heavy cream and sugar and keep stirring. Add the espresso and keep heating until some bubbles form and it thickens. Remove from the heat, and add cinnamon or chocolate liqueur if liked. You can also decorate with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.                                                                                   I probably don’t need to tell you this, but… serve immediately!

Bread and Spinach Dumplings – Strangolapreti

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In contrast with today’s rampant carb-phobia, bread was considered for many centuries the most sacred of foods. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, bread was always a symbol of God’s generosity toward mankind and of the fecundity of the earth- it’s still the center of countless religious rituals, not to mention superstitions and everyday idioms.

As a consequence, in many cultures there was always a stigma associated with wasting it or throwing it out, not only among the poor, but even in wealthier households; which is how bread became the main protagonist of the history of sustainable cooking.

Growing up in Italy, I learned how to store bread in paper bags so it wouldn’t become moldy. Rather, it dried out: after a couple of days it could be soaked in water, milk or broth and turn into thick soups or bread cakes, or add fluffiness to meatballs. If we waited a bit longer, we would simply grate it into crumbs. Each region has its traditional recipes, but it was during my vacations in the Italian Alps that I discovered what became my personal favorite.

In northeastern Italy, mountains and glaciers soar to almost 13,000 feet, contributing to a panorama so majestic that some say it makes you feel closer to God. My dad loved rock-climbing, and ever since I was a little girl, he would take me along for his more leisurely hikes. This was our special time together, while my mom would wait for us down in the chalet because she suffers from vertigo! That would give her plenty of time to experiment with the local cuisine, which she learned from the local women, in particular the phenomenal Nonna Plava, an old lady who used to run a small hotel with her son and daughter-in-law, and loved sharing her recipes. One of the best is the Strangolapreti, gnocchi-size stale bread and greens dumplings that are served with melted butter and cheese.

In the Italian Alps, especially in the Trentino region, you can find many different versions of dumplings made from stale bread; the most famous are canderli (similar to knoedels, and to matzah balls), and strangolapreti.  This curious name, which literally means “priest-stranglers” (!) is also used to describe different types of pasta and dumplings in other regions. When I was little, I thought that the recipe must have been invented by some anti-clerical, communist grandmother!

I later learned that after the Council of Trent (1545-1563) prohibited the consumption of meat on Fridays, this became one of the traditional dishes for that day, and the legend goes that the clergy enjoyed it so much that they almost choked on it. Who could blame them? These dumplings are simply addictive, and I’ve risked the same fate more than once.

The most important thing to remember when making them (as with potato gnocchi) is to keep a light hand with the flour, and add it only a little at a time; if you add too much, rather than with priest-stranglers, you’ll end up with weapons.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Swiss chard or fresh spinach, hard stems removed
  • 8 ounces stale bread, coarsely chopped in the food processor
  • 1 ½ cup  milk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 to 6 tbsp white flour
  • 2 pinches grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons butter, or to taste
  • a few fresh sage leaves

Instructions

Place the bread in bowl, cover with the milk, and mix.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt and the greens, and blanch for about 3 minutes. Drain, and dip in ice water to preserve the green color. Drain and squeeze well trough a colander and chop finely.

Squeeze any excess milk out of the bread; combine with the greens, eggs, flour and nutmeg until the mixture holds; if necessary, add more breadcrumbs rather than flour, but the mixture should be very wet. On a floured surface, divide the dough into 5 pieces. Dust your hands with flour, and  roll the pieces into 1/2 inch thick logs. Cut the logs into 1-inch lengths, and place the dumplings onto a floured pan or parchment..

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add salt, and cook the dumplings in batches without overcrowding them.  They are ready when they  rise to the surface; remove them with a slotted spoon, and place on a sheet pan (in a single layer).

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the sage leaves and cook until the butter begins to brown. Remove from heat, toss the dumplings, and serve, garnishing with the whole sage leaves. Drizzle with remaining butter and top with little black pepper and abundant grated cheese.

Italian Hot Chocolate (Cioccolata Calda)

Cioccolata Calda (Italian Hot Chocolate)

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Most of us know that the Mayas and their ancestors were already gobbling unsweetened hot cocoa 2000 years ago. Some historians believe that we also have to thank the Jews – for introducing sweet, hot chocolate drinks to Europe. In fact, many Conversos fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition ended up in South America in the early 1500s, where they learned how to grow and process the cocoa beans, which they started exporting to the Old Continent, together with cane sugar. Hot chocolate and coffee were both such a hit In many parts of Europe, that they put many wine bars out of business. In Venice alone, where the first coffee house in Europe was opened around 1645, some 400 (!) more sprouted in the next 150 years. However, while most could afford coffee, because it was imported directly from Arabia, chocolate (which came from the Americas and had to pass through many intermediaries) was expensive, and for a while it remained an exclusive habit enjoyed by the aristocracy, the wealthy merchants and the high clergy.   I hope I’ll make you feel just as fancy as you slowly sip a cup of this thick Italian-style cioccolata!

  • 4 oz bitterweet chocolate (or 4-5 tsps unsweetened cocoa powder)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
  • a small pinch of sea salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon potato starch

With Cocoa: Place the cocoa, potato starch, salt  and sugar in a small and heavy or non-stick saucepan. Add the milk very slowly, whisking continuously (use a whisk, not a spoon to avoid clumps). Move the saucepan to the stovetop, and bring to a boil on low heat, stirring continuously; allow to simmer for about one minute or until it thickens and serve accompanied by small cookies.
With Chocolate: use only  high -quality dark chocolate (at least 60 percent cocoa – the more, the merrier!); place  a saucepan with the chocolate  in a large pan of shallow warm water, and bring the water to a gentle simmer on top of a range until the chocolate has melted. Add the milk, sugar, salt and potato starch to the chocolate very slowly, stirring continuously; discard the pan of water and place the saucepan with the chocolate on the flame; on low heat, bring to a boil and allow to simmer until it has thickened to perfect creaminess.

 

Classic Tiramisu and my Espresso Addiction

TIRAMISU

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Last month I was invited to give a lecture on the history coffee in Venice at New York City’s Italian Food Wonderland, Eataly (a place that everybody who calls him/herself a foodie needs to check out at least once!). I could hardly contain my excitement, because the event was co-sponsored by Lavazza Coffee and Philips Saeco and I was dying to see their new bean-to-cup coffee machines in action!

Before I start telling you all about it, I actually have a confession to make, a deep dark secret to share: I’m a late bloomer. Until my late thirties I was one of those rare Italians who prefer tea – a calm, ritualistic beverage that I had romanticized since my days as an exchange student in England…

Enter the two adorable pests, their 2 am “bad dreams” and their 6 am awakenings on weekends: in my forties, I finally turned to coffee as my legal drug of choice, as a matter of survival.

Which brings me back to the excitement about the Syntia, which reached new heights when the Philips guys gave me one to take home: for those of us who grew up on the Jetsons, like me, it’s a dream come true: you throw a handful of coffee beans into the top, press a button, and voila’ – the perfect cup of espresso or cappuccino! The machine does everything- it grinds the beans, measures the right amount of grounds, tamps them, extracts the flavor at a professional pressure, and froths the milk if required. Now, if it could also be programmed to brush the kids’ teeth…. seriously, you get the quality of a barista’s espresso machine and the convenience of a capsule machine, rolled into one.

Once you get used to making perfect coffee, it will be hard to stop, and soon you won’t be satisfied with your 7 am double shot: you’ll want to pour it over gelato, stir it into cocktails, add it as a secret ingredient to your winter stew … not to mention that used coffee grounds are great as a deodorizer, insect repellent, plant food, and even (I kid you not!) cellulite reducer!

However, the first recipe you should master – whether you want to wow your family and friends, seduce a date or win over his parents – is Tiramisu! Who could resist alternating layers of sweet and creamy mascarpone and espresso-soaked ladyfingers?

CLASSIC TIRAMISU

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 lb. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
  • at least 3 cups espresso, cooled to room temperature
  • 25 savoiardi (Italian ladyfingers )
  • 3 tablespoons Swiss bittersweet chocolate shavings
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

 

Directions

In a large bowl, beat the yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale (about 2 minutes). Beat in the mascarpone until smooth.
Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt in a clean bowl with a clean electric mixer or whisk, until they form peaks. Add the remaining sugar in a slow stream and continue to beat the whites until they hold stiff peaks. In a third bowl, beat the cream until whipped. Fold the cream into the mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in the whites.
Dip the ladyfinger in cooled coffee, one at a time, about 4 seconds on each side (if you soak them for too long they’ll break);  transfer them to an 8-inch glass tray or baking dish at least 2″ high. Arrange half of the dipped ladyfingers on the bottom of the pan, then  spread half of the mascarpone mixture evenly over them. Make another layer of ladyfingers and top with mascarpone mixture. Sprinkle the top with the cocoa and the chocolate shavings. Chill for at least 3 hours before serving.

*RAW EGG WARNING and PASTEURIZING EGGS:
 some people are uncomfortable consuming raw and lightly cooked eggs due to the slight risk of food-borne illness. To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly refrigerated, clean grade AA eggs with intact shells. Still nervous? If using pasteurized eggs, it will be harder to beat the yolks frothy and especially to beat the whites stiff: for the yolks, you will just need to beat them longer with an electric mixer; as to the whites, you will need to add a touch of cream of  tartar (or lemon juice or white vinegar); about 1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar or 3/4 teaspoon lemon for 4 whites. You will also need to use an electric mixer and beat for twice as long as you would with regular egg whites You can buy pre-pasteurized eggs in many stores (test are not the egg-beaters but actual whole eggs, that can be separated at home into whites and yolks); or you can pasteurize them following this method.

* Disclosure: I was not paid for my review of the Philips Saeco espresso machines, apart from being given one Syntia machine to try and review. All comments are my own, honest opinion after my experience with the machine.

Pumpkin and Radicchio Risotto

RISO ALLA CREMA DI ZUCCA E RADICCHIO

Pumpkin and Radicchio Risotto

How could we possibly welcome fall, and celebrate Thanksgiving, without pumpkin? For me, this also one of the symbols in my family’s Rosh haShana seder and under the sukkah. One of my favorite ways to serve it is in a creamy and delicious risotto!

Those who were born in the Veneto region, like me, also celebrate red radicchio and like to incorporate it into many different recipes. While a similar type of lettuce was already grown in North-Eastern Italy before the 16th century, the exact kind  we eat today, with its white-veined leaves, was engineered in the late 1800s by a Belgian agronomist. The different varieties are named after the Nothern Italian regions where they are cultivated: the easiest to find here in the United States is radicchio di Chioggia (maroon and round), and sometimes the radicchio di Treviso, which looks like a large red Belgian endive. Its mildly bitter flavor blends beautifully with the sweetness of the pumpkin or squash!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound fresh pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into small dice
  • 2/3 head of red radicchio
  • 1 1/2 cups Italian rice (Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano type)
  • 1 medium white onion,  finely diced
  • 1/2 cup dry wine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
  • About 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 7 to 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet. Add the pumpkin and half of the onions and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes. Season with salt,  nutmeg, pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the pumpkin is tender, another 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor and puree the pumpkin. Rinse the skillet and heat another tablespoon of oil in it. Add the radicchio (sliced into thin stripes) and cook for 5 minutes, seasoning with salt. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat and keep it hot.
In a heavy pot, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the remaining onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, for a few minutes. As soon as it starts sticking to the bottom, pour in the wine and allow it to evaporate.  Immediately lower the heat and pour in one ladleful of the hot stock and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Gradually add more hot stock, 1 ladleful at a time, stirring frequently until absorbed before adding the next. After about 15 minutes, stir in the pumpkin puree and continue cooking, adding more stock, 1 ladleful at a time, until the rice is tender but “al dente” (about 5 to 15 minutes longer, depending on the type of rice). The risotto should be creamy and loose. Add the radicchio, and more salt if necessary. The risotto will be quite loose. Spoon the risotto into warmed soup plates and drizzle with little balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately. Of course if you want to be really fancy and impress your guests, you could also serve the risotto in the pumpkin shell.
*** For a slightly different result, you can also cook the pumpkin with the rice. Just add the pumpkin to all the onion at the beginning, and then add the rice. Try both versions, and see which one is your favorite! In the context of a dairy meal, this risotto tastes delicious with the addition of butter and parmigiano. On the other hand, the creaminess and sweetness of the pumpkin make it very enjoyable as a Parve (non-dairy) dish!

Bucatini Pasta in Cheese sauce with Hazelnuts and Thyme

Bucatini Pasta in Fontina Sauce with Hazelnuts and Thyme (Dairy)

Bucatini Pasta in Fontina Sauce with Hazelnuts and Thyme (Dairy)

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 3/4 pounds bucatini* pasta 
  •  8 ounces of a sharp, creamy cheese that melts well (Italian Fontina/Fontal, or Brie or Camembert)
  •  4 small leeks
  •  2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
  •  1/4 cup heavy cream 
  •  1/4 cup milk (or less)
  •  1/2 cup coarsely ground hazelnuts
  •  f1 1/2 tablespoons freshly minced thyme
  •  salt and pepper to taste

*(Bucatini are very thick spaghetti with a hole in the middle. Most major Italian brands make them, but if you can’t find them you can substitute linguine)

Clean the leeks, discarding the green and harder parts, and slice them thinly. Heat the oil or butter in a skillet, add the leeks and cook until soft.  In the meantime, toast the hazelnuts in the oven for a few minutes, and grind them coarsely.
Place the cheese in a heavy or non-stick skillet with the milk and cream, and allow it to melt, stirring frequently. Remove the skillet from the heat, and combine the cream/cheese mix with the cooked leeks and the ground hazelnuts.
Cook the pasta ‘al dente’ (for instructions, check my article here) and drain it, setting aside a few tablespoons of the cooking water. Toss the pasta with the cheese sauce and a little cooking water; sprinkle with pepper, decorate with thyme and serve hot.

** If you are watching your diet, you can play with the proportions of milk and cream (or just skip to one of my vegetable-based pasta sauces :-)

BOLLO – FRUIT CAKE TO BREAK THE YOM KIPPUR FAST

Bollo

Bollo is a sweet-but-not-too-sweet bread with raisins, candied zest, and/or anise seeds (depending on which city you live in), served in many Italian and Sephardic communities to end the Yom kippur fast.  Its name means simply “cake” in Spanish and Portuguese, a sign that we need to thank the Iberian exiles for  yet another yummy treat!

In Venice, we are literally handed a slice as we are walking out of synagogue at the end of services, on the steps. Obviously, even a piece of cardbord would taste great accompanied by a tall  glass of lemonade after 25 hours without food or water! However, this cake keeps being served over and over all through the fall holidays, upon entering the sukkah and until Shemini Atzeret. By then, we are usually stuffed, and I still love it – especially with jelly, for breakfast.

The Bollo is also one of the key elements of the “Tavola dell’Angelo” (the Angel’s table), a ritual table setting that several Venetian families prepare on the eve of Yom Kippur in their homes. The table is dressed in white, and decorated with harvest symbols such as pomegranates, flowers and corn. Jewish ritual objects, like prayer books Kiddush cups and candlesticks are also present. Finally, many families use sprouting wheat grains to write auspicious messages such as “Shana Tova”, or to draw symbols (like hands with the fingers spread out for the priestly blessing).

The center of the festive table are always the bollo and a cup or pitcher of water: a tease to humans during the long fast, these treats are in fact strictly reserved to a mysterious “angel”, in case he/she decides to pay a visit: Yom Kippur is, in fact, the holiest day in the Jewish year, the “Shabbat Shabbaton”, and… you never know!

If you happen to be in Venice around the fall holidays, don’t forget to try the bolo from the local kosher bakery, Volpe . You can also pop into the Giardino dei Melograni kosher hotel (by the Hosteria del Ghetto kosher restaurant) and check out their beautiful Angel’s Table.

But back to the Bollo….

  • about 5 cups flour (a little over 1 lb of 00 or all-purpose)
  • 25 gr fresh yeast, or use dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (mix 1/2 cold water and 1/2 very hot water)
  • 1 scarce cup sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 large eggs (if they are quite large, use 3 yolks and 2 whites)
  • 1/2 cup mild olive oil or seed oil
  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in warm water or brandy and drained
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 tbsp candied lemon or orange zest (optional) OR aniseeds (optional)
  • 1 shot brandy, cognac or grappa
  • 1 egg yolk or more to glaze the surface

In a bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water and only about 1/4 of flour and 1/4 of the sugar . Mix well, cover with foil and allow to rest in a warm place for at least 1 hour (even overnight) or until doubled in size.  If your apartment is cold, you can turn the oven on and then off: once the oven is warm but not scolding hot, place the bowl with the mix inside, covered with aluminum foil.

Once the mix has more or less doubled in size, add the rest of the flour, the sugar, 3 eggs, and mix well by hand or in a stand mixer. Cover again and allow to rest again in a warm place for 2 hours or until it doubles in size again.

Add the rest of the ingredients and knead again for a few minutes, then shape it into two oval breads.

Cover again with a towel and allow to rest and rise for at least 2 more hours or until light and fluffy and doubled in size.

Brush the top with the egg yolk (slightly beaten with very little water). If your oven tends to be dry, you can also spray lightly with a fine mist of ice water (to prevent it from darkening too much), and add a small pyrex pot or pan full of water in the oven, to keep the air moist. Your oven should be preheated at 450F. Bake at this temperature only for the first 5 to 7 minutes, then lower to 360 for another 35 or 40 minutes. Baking time varies depending on your oven.

***P.S. if you are not much of a baker, there are quicker ways to break the fast Italian-style: try quince paste with any simple cookies, or – if you can tolerate alcohol – the Piedmontese “Bruscadela“: layers of toasted challah soaked for a few hours in mulled wine (simmered with cinnamon, cloves and sugar). I had this once and it made me sleep for 13 hours.

The Jewish Press: Italian Comfort Food

The Jewish Press

The Jewish Press

Watermelon and Cantaloupe Bruschetta

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Bruschetta (which, by the way, should be pronounced [bru’sket:ta] ( listen) and not [bru’shet:ta], please!!!) is a snack that Italians have been  enjoying for centuries. It’s a simple slice of roasted bread, rubbed with fresh garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh tomato and basil. Tuscans, always the chic minimalists of Italy, skip the tomato and stick to olive oil and garlic; they call it Fettunta, “greased slice”. Of course they use the very first and very best oil of the season, which makes everything else seem redundant!

Just like bread soups or bread puddings, bruschetta was born as a way to salvage bread that was going stale (note to Americans: real bread does get stale!), at a time when it was considered precious and nobody was watching their carbs and worrying about Atkins. Some Italian peasant, who never reached the fame of the Earl of Sandwich but remained nameless, had a culinary epiphany that would revolutionize the concept of snacking.

Who doesn’t like giving their fork a rest and eating with their hands at picnics and cocktails? Although most of us tend to think of bruschetta in terms of tomato and basil, it’s actually a great base for most Mediterranean appetizers and salads, which it turns into finger foods. Just pick your favorite summer ingredient and build your own! Here is mine:
 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 ripe cantaloupe, diced
  • 1/4 small ripe watermelon, diced
  • 3/4 cup goat cheese, or crumbled feta
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
  • fresh mint or basil
  • 2-3 tbsps of the best extra-virgin olive oil you can find (not too strong or acidic)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 loaf Italian or French style bread, sliced and toasted, broiled, or grilled

Directions

  1. Rub the toasted or grilled bread slices with the garlic cloves while they are still hot. Discard the garlic. Brush with very little oil.
  2. Spread a little cheese on the slices.
  3. Dress the two melons (separately) with the rest of the oil, and little salt and pepper. If using feta, which is saltier, you can skip the salt.
  4. Top some slices with the cantaloupe and others with watermelon. Decorate with fresh mint.

 

Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)
Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

Insalata Tricolore (Three Color Salad)

serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (scarce) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bunches arugula (thicker stems removed)
  • 1/2 pound radishes, thinly sliced (use a mandoline if possible)
  • 1/2 pound green apple, peeled and sliced thin (or hearts of palm)
  • (if liked, 6 ounces goat cheese)

Directions

Wash and dry the arugula, and toss it with the radishes and apple together.

While it’s not very “Italian”, I always crave hearts of palm (it all started with my second pregnancy), and like substituting them for the apple in this recipe.

Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, shallot, salt and pepper, and toss the salad with this dressing right before serving.

** If you are not serving this as a side, but having it as a very light summer meal , you could add some goat cheese and serve with warm multi-grain bread.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/07/24/insalata-tricolore-three-color-salad/

Gelato in a Phyllo Nest

GELATO ALLA VANIGLIA CON MACEDONIA DI FRUTTI DI BOSCO

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One of the things that don’t cease to surprise me, after 18 years in the US, is how strongly, deeply, philosophically anti-air conditioning my fellow Italians can be. It’s not only about being more ecologically aware than our American counterparts – we really hold on to our grandmas’ belief that artificial cooling can cause a plethora of maladies, from headaches to stomach congestion (whatever that is), to pneumonia. Of course, when it’s 100+ degrees outside, we have our own cooling methods.

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1)    (also called: Italian air conditioning) leave your windows open from about 10 pm to 7 am, to allow the cool breeze to come in. Keep them shut during the day. Grab a fan.

2)    Limit “real food” to dinner time; the rest of the day, eat mostly fruit and vegetables and indulge often in frozen desserts.

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To those of you who are cringing at the idea of daily ice cream, I’d like to point out that Italian gelato is made with milk instead of cream. Not only that, artisanal gelato includes real eggs, real fruit: it’s definitely more “real’ than a box of mac & cheese! On the other hand, in this land of advertising and additives, it might sound about as interesting as broccoli to the younger ones. Try to explain to your 4 and 5 year olds that home-made is better than the  treats from the local ice cream cart with its hypnotizing chime.

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Even when I can convince mine to forgo the colorant-laden packaged Dora stuff, they still demand at least cones. This has been a problem for me when trying to serve them my home-made gelato…. I was not thrilled about storing wholesale quantities of cones in my Manhattan apartment, and the idea of what could happen to our Persian rugs gave me the shivers.

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My “Eureka” moment came when I saw something that my talented and sophisticated friend Lucilla served at a dinner party…. gelato in edible cups! It made me realize that, for my two demanding little customers Gabo and Bianca, it was all about being able to polish off every possible trace of their dessert. Lucilla was kind enough to share her secret, and here it is. Enjoy your Summer!

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RECIPE INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 lb phyllo dough (home-made or store-bought)
  • 1/2 lb vanilla gelato (home-made or store-bought)
  • 1/2 lb bittersweet or dark chocolate (grated, or use chips)
  • 1 basket berries
  • milk and butter

DIRECTIONS

Cut the phyllo into 16 squares. Place 4 of them into 4 muffin pans lined with parchment, and brush the top with melted butter. Top each square with another square (without making the corners overlap), and repeat with 4 phylo squares for each muffin pan, brushing with butter in between. Bake in a pre-heated 360 F oven for about 10 minutes or until slightly golden. While the phyllo nests are baking, melt the chocolate in a saucepan on low heat with a few tablespoons of milk (enough to make a smooth but thick sauce). Allow the nests to cool off before unfolding them. Before serving, place a large scoop of vanilla gelato in each nest, and decorate with warm chocolate sauce and red berries. Enjoy!



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!.

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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Gratin Tomatoes

POMODORI RIPIENI

Ask any Southern Italian, or Italian American, to imagine cooking without the color and the fragrance of tomato, and they will probably tell you it’s impossible.

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However, the use of tomato spread in European kitchens fairly recently: although it was first introduced in the 16th century, the vast majority of people treated it as a pretty, but possibly poisonous, decorative plant for at least the next two hundred years. In Peru, Mexico and Chile, where it originated from, the natives also treated it as unedible.

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While nobody was stirring Marinara, alchemists were concocting plenty of potions featuring the new fruit, which was believed to have aphrodisiac powers when ingested in small amounts. This accounts for the romantic names the plant was given, from England and France (Love Apple, Pomme d’Amour) to Italy Pomo d’Oro, Golden Apple) .

It’s still unclear where and when, in Baroque Europe, someone first tasted the mysterious fruit. Maybe it was a brave and hungry farmer in Southern Italy, in times of famine. Maybe the Sephardic merchants of Livorno, who had first imported the seeds (this may be the reason why many tomato-based local dishes are called “Jewish-style” or “Moses-style”). Or it could have been a bored aristocrat in France, where tomatoes were only eaten at the Royal Court until well into the 18th century.

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In any case, once Europeans actually bit into it, there was no way back! According to Neapolitan screenwriter Luciano De Crescenzo, “ The discovery of tomato represented, in the history of food, a revolution comparable to what the French Revolution constituted in social history”.

Gratin Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • GRATIN TOMATOES
  • 8 medium tomatoes, firm (on the vine)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for brushing
  • 1 1/2 cup to 2 cupsplain bread crumbs
  • 4 tbsps freshly chopped parsley, or 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3-4 minced anchovies (oil-packed, or salt-packed and rinsed) (optional)
  • salt to taste (1/2 teaspoon or less)
  • black pepper
  • pine nuts, olives or basil leaves to decorate

Directions

Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, scoop out the seeds and pulp, sprinkle the inside with salt and drain upside down for 30+ mins. Save the pulp.

In a food processor, mince the garlic, anchovies and herbs, and blend with the tomato pulp that you had set aside. Add the olive oil and the bread crumbs. Add the bread crumbs gradually and stop once the mix holds together without being too firm.

Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture, brush the top with little more oil, and bake for 35-40 minutes in a pre-heated 400 F oven.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/06/28/gratin-tomatoes-12/

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Shabbat Meals: Red Mullet Livornese-Style

4103 TRIGLIE ALLA MOSAICA

… and the Cosmopolitan Cooking of the Jews of Livorno.

This article and recipe appeared in The Jewish Forward.

Click here to view it.

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Delicate Salad

Delicate Salad

Delicate Salad

Delicate Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 yellow or red pepper
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 cup cooked fava beans
  • pink and green peppercorns, coarsely ground (or you can use black pepper)
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Serves 4

Cut the lettuce into thin stripes.

Seed the pepper, remove the white membranes and cut it into strips.

Slice the carrot and the zucchini length-wise, into very thin slices (you can use a mandoline, or a potato peeler).

Gather all the ingredients in a large bowl, add the fava beans, and dress with the olive oil mixed with the lemon, the salt and the pepper (if using pre-washed packaged salad and it’s a little dry, add a tablespoon of water).

Toss gently and serve.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/05/06/delicate-salad/

Tartara di Pesce (Raw Fish Tartare)

Tartara di Pesce (Raw Fish Tartare)

Tartara di Pesce (Raw Fish Tartare)

My husband lived in Japan for one year and is obsessed with sushi. When we got married, I  introduced him to Italian raw fish dishes such as crudocarpaccio and tartara.

Many cultures like to serve the freshest fish raw, and it’s very quick and easy to prepare – but it’s vital to use only the best, sushi-grade fish, purchased from a fish monger you trust. As an extra precaution you can also freeze your fish for 1 hour before you use it. Salmon, in particular, is very susceptible to parasites.

This is a simple recipe, but it requires (besides very fresh fish!) very good olive oil and organic lemon and lime.

Tartara di Pesce (Raw Fish Tartare)

Ingredients

  • (serves 4-6)
  • 1 lb fish fillet, sushi-grade (choose your favorite: branzino, yellowtail, salmon, halibut…)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup high quality extra-virgin olive oil (I prefer a mild Italian oil from Liguria)
  • 1 lime and 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Directions

Chop the fish very fine. Your fish monger might be willing to do this for you. If not, store the fish in the freezer from 30 minutes before chopping: it will make it easier!

Grate the lemon and lime zest, and squeeze the juice. Set aside.

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, and form individual patties.

Cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/03/25/tartara-di-pesce-raw-fish-tartare/

Malachi’s Chicken

Malachi's Chicken
Malachi's Chicken

Malachi’s Chicken

Malachi’s Chicken

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds of chicken cut in pieces
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • a few sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 cup of chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup white wine

Directions

Place the chicken in a large skillet or pot in 2 tablespoons of hot olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste and the wine, and cook for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally..

In a different pan cook the chopped onion and the chopped rosemary in 2 tablespoons of hot olive oil.

When the onion is turning translucent, add a mixture of the flour and chicken stock (be careful to avoid lumps) and cook stirring for 5 more minutes..

Pour the mixture of onion and rosemary cooked in oil with the broth and flour mixture on the chicken, and add the tomato paste.

Cook on medium heat for about 20 more minutes (or till cooked), stirring occasionally.

Decorate with a few leaves of fresh oregano.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/03/12/malachis-chicken/

Sweet Almond Liqueur

Sweet Almond Liqueur (Parve)

Sweet Almond Liqueur (Parve)

There is a rabbinic commandment stating that on Purim, one should drink until they can’t tell the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai. Instead of gobbling down glasses and glasses of wine, you can get a bit tipsy more efficiently with sweet Italian liqueurs, which also happen to pair really well with all the cookies and confectionery we end up inhaling on this gluttonous holiday. My paternal grandmother was a pro at making these, with lemons or rose petals, chocolate or coffee, and she called them “liquori da signorine” (“young ladies’  liqueurs”) as they were very sweet, which always cracked my dad up because they are actually as strong as a good scotch. Here is my favorite:

Sweet Almond Liqueur (Parve)

Ingredients

  • 750 ml bottle of Everclear (grain alcohol) or high-end, unflavored vodka, or 50/50)
  • 1 ½ cup blanched almonds
  • 1 ½ cup sugar
  • 1 stick vanilla or cinnamon, to taste (optional)
  • 1 cup water

Directions

In your food processor, process the blanched almonds with the sugar.

Mix this almond paste with the alcohol or vodka, pour into a jar or vase, add the vanilla (or cinnamon) stick, close/seal well, and set aside for two weeks.

It’s best to shake the combination every couple of days.

After three weeks, transfer the combination into a bottle or pitcher, straining it well with cheesecloth or a filter, and add the water.

Shake well, close the bottle and allow to rest for two more weeks.

Once again, strain through a cheesecloth or filter, and your sweet almond liqueur is ready!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/03/06/sweet-almond-liqueur-parve/


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/

 

 

 

Buricche

Buricche
Buricche

Buricche

Buricche

Ingredients

  • Pastry:
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or as needed)
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

Directions

1 - FISH BUREKAS (Parve)

chop 1/2 pound cooked leftover fish (or cook 3/4 lbs. white fish fillets in some extra-virgin olive oil and garlic till opaque, and salt); add 4 chopped anchovies (oil- or salt-packed, and rinsed) 1 large egg yolk, a touch of nutmeg and a tablespoon of freshly chopped parsley, pepper to taste and more salt if necessary. You can add a small amount of breadcrumbs, only if the mixture is too soft and doesn't hold together. If too dry, add another 1/2 egg yolk.

Fill the discs of pastry with this mixture, fold them, seal them, and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.

2 - MEAT BUREKAS

cook 3/4 lbs of ground beef or lamb in olive oil with 1 small chopped onion (cook the onion first until soft before adding the beef). With the beef, add salt, pepper, 1/3 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, a clove of garlic. When cooked, discard the garlic and let cool. If you like, you can add 1/4 a cup of pine nuts and 1/4 cup of raisins (soak the raisins in hot water or brandy for 30 minutes and drain before using). Add a beaten egg, and if necessary some bread crumbs and more salt. Stuff the burekas with this mixture and bake for 30 minutes at 350 F.

3 - VEGETARIAN

cook 1 chopped onion in 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 1 lb chopped eggplant (previously salted and drained in a colander for an hour, rinsed, and patted dry), 1/2 lb of peeled and diced tomatoes, well drained (canned are fine), salt and pepper to taste, 1 tablespoon of freshly minced parsley. Cook until the vegetables are so soft that they fall apart. Break down further with a fork or use your mixer.

Let it cool and add some bread crumbs if the mixture is too liquid. Fill the burekas and bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes (if making a dairy meal, you can add 4 tablespoons of grated parmigiano to the filling).

TO MAKE THE PASTRY:

In a large bowl, combine the oil, warm water, salt, and gradually the flour (you will likely need between 5 and 6 cups to end up with a workable dough).

The dough should be elastic. Knead well, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece at a time, as thin as possible, and cut out rounds with a 3" cookie cutter or cup.

Place 1 tablespoon of filling on each round, fold into a half-moon and pinch the edges to seal. Place the rounds on a greased baking sheet lined with parchment paper; brush with the egg yolk, beaten with 1 or 2 tablespoons of water.

Bake at 350 F in a pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes or till golden.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/02/06/buricche/

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/

Venetian Fritters

Venetian Fritters (Parve)

Venetian Fritters (Parve)

Venetian Fritters (Parve)

Ingredients

  • 4 scarce cups 00, pastry or AP flour
  • 25 gr active yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ½ cup liquor, such as rhum or grappa
  • 1/2 cup sultana or raisins
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • grated zest of one orange
  • 1 ½ tablespoons candied citron (or lemon)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • abundant oil for frying (a mild olive oil or peanut oil)
  • powder sugar to decorate

Directions

Soak the raisins in the liquor for for 30 minutes, and drain well.

Dissolve the yeast in warm water (never use cold water!); add 1/2 of the flour and allow to rest for 30 minutes in a warm area.

Combine with the rest of the ingredients into a batter just slightly thicker than waffle batter.

Allow to rest for 3 hours.

Heat at least 3” of peanut or mild olive oil in a wide heavy pan with tall sides, and fry by dropping spoonfuls of the batter into the hot oil. Do not drop too many spoonfuls at the same time, or they will stick to each other and also cool down the oil, with a greasy and soggy result.

Fry in batches until golden brown, draining on a double or triple layer of paper towel.

Dust with sugar and serve immediately.

Buon appetito!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/06/venetian-fritters-parve/

Holy Pumpkin Fritters

Holy Pumpkin Fritters (Parve)

Holy Pumpkin Fritters (Parve)

Pumpkin arrived in Italy after the discovery of the Americas, and Northern Italian Jews liked it so much that in Venice we called it “suca baruca” (holy pumpkin, from the Hebrew “baruch”). When pumpkin made its appearance, Venice in general -and Jewish Venice in particular – was a crossroad of peoples and cultures, in which countless examples of what we would now call “Fusion” cuisine came to life. These fritters, which include spices and candied fruit, are a great example! I also contributed this recipe for a guest post on my friends’ lovely Italian blog Labna, which you should check out (especially if you read Italian!)…. and stay tuned for Labna’s own awesome guest post here, coming tomorrow!!!!!

Holy Pumpkin Fritters (Parve)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pumpkin or butternut squash, cleaned and diced small
  • 2 eggs
  • grated zest of 2 oranges
  • ¾ cup of sugar and a pinch of salt
  • 1 and ½ cups flour
  • ½ package (8 gr) baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon, if liked
  • 1/3 cup Raisins or Sultanas
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup candied etrog or lemon (if you don’t like it, skip & increase raisins & pine nuts)
  • Olive oil or peanut oil for deep-frying, at least 3 cups or more
  • Confectioner’s sugar for decorating

Directions

Plump the raisins in a cup of warm water. Chop the candied etrog or lime or lemon.

Place the diced squash in a large platter and cover almost completely, leaving a small opening for the steam to come out, and microwave on high for 10 minutes or until very tender.

Beat the eggs in a food processor with the sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange zest; add the cooked squash and process until smooth.

Drain and dry the raisins, and add them to the mix.

Transfer to a large bowl and gradually add the flour (sifted with the baking powder), using an electric or manual whisk.

In a frying pan, heat the olive oil to frying temperature (you can test it by dropping a small piece of bread in the oil: if bubbles form around the bread, the temperature is right).

Take the batter with a tablespoon, filling it to about ½, and push the batter into the oil with your index finger or a second spoon.

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.

Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm.

Serves 6

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/05/holy-pumpkin-fritters/

Zaleti -Yellow Venetian Cookies

Zaleti- Yellow Venetian Cookies (Dairy or Parve)

Zaleti- Yellow Venetian Cookies (Dairy or Parve)

Zaleti -Yellow Venetian Cookies (Dairy or parve)

Ingredients

  • Makes about 24 cookies
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • a generous pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 oz unsalted butter or margarine (cold), or 2/3 cup of olive oil
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ tbsp vanilla extract
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • confectioner’s sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).

Place the cornmeal, flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a food processor and combine together.

Add the butter or margarine and pulse.

Add the eggs, the vanilla extract and lemon zest, and process until fully combined.

Lastly, add the raisins.

The texture should be crumbly.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead it with your hands till smooth, then divide it into 4 pieces. Roll the pieces into cylinders (about 1” or 1 ½” diameter).

Flatten the cylinders slightly.

Cut diagonally at about 1 1/2 inch (4 cm) intervals.

Flatten the cookies about 1/3” thick, and make diamond shapes.

Arrange the cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 15 minutes or until a light gold brown color.

Allow them to cool on a rack, then dust with confectioner’s sugar.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/11/27/zaleti-yellow-venetian-cookies-dairy-or-parve/

Ricotta and Pumpkin Sformatini

Ricotta and Pumpkin Sformatini (Dairy)

Ricotta and Pumpkin Sformatini (Dairy)

The verb “sformare” in Italian means “to turn out, to remove from the mold”. A Sformato is a kind of savory custard that is thick enough to retain its shape when turned out on a platter, thus making a crust unnecessary. Traditional Sformati are made with béchamel sauce (read: lots of butter!), but you can obtain similar results without wracking your diet if you use ricotta. As filling and creamy as a quiche, at a fraction of the calories, this is basically a savory variant of the Jewish Roman Cassola which I posted in December (I also wrote about it in The Forward)Ricotta is not technically a cheese, but a by-product of cheese-making: that’s why whole milk ricotta is naturally very low-fat, containing only 5% fat (as opposed to 90% in cream cheese!): no need to go with the low-fat or fat-free varieties, which contain additives and taste bad. Pumpkin is also very interesting from a nutritional point of view, because it’s filling and sweet but very low in calories and sugar, and fat-free. It also contains high quantities of carotene, calcium and phosphorus. Enjoy!


Ricotta and Pumpkin Sformatini (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pumpkin or butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 pound fresh spinach (optional)
  • 1 pound fresh whole milk ricotta
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano or grana cheese
  • 4 tablespoons e.v. olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg, if liked
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oven-proof parchment; flour or breadcrumbs to dust the ramekins
  • optional: 1 cup boiled or steamed rice

Directions

Serves 4-6

Cook the pumpkin until soft (the quickest way is in the microwave, covered with plastic wrap leaving just a small opening for the steam, it takes about 10 minutes. Or you can bake it in the oven, covered with foil, it will take almost one hour).

If using the spinach, blanch for two minutes in boiling water (or steam it), drain it, squeeze most of the water out, and dry with paper towel.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a pan and add the garlic.

Once the garlic is brown, discard it and add the pumpkin.

Cook for about 10 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Mash the pumpkin with a potato masher, allow it to cool down a little.

Place the pumpkin in the bowl of your food processor (or you can also do this by hand, in a bowl); add the ricotta (well drained of any liquid), the spinach and/or rice if using, the eggs, the parmigiano cheese, the nutmeg, and process briefly.

Line some small ramekins (or a large baking pan) with well-greased parchment paper (grease the paper well ,or they will stick.

You can also dust with some breadcrumbs or flour as an extra precaution, but the sformatini will look less pretty).

Bake in a “bain-marie” (in a lower pan filled with hot water) in a preheated 375 F oven.

When I feel lazy, I just bake them normally without the bain-marie,and they still come out great.

It takes about 20 minutes using small individual ramekins, and 30 minutes in one larger baking pan.

Turn off the oven and allow to set for about 15 minutes with the oven door open.

Turn out on a serving platter, remove the parchment, and serve hot or warm.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/11/06/ricotta-and-pumpkin-sformatini-dairy/

Etrog or Lemon Risotto

Etrog or Lemon Risotto (Dairy)

Etrog or Lemon Risotto (Dairy)

The Etrog, one of the symbols of Sukkot, is a special fruit, which looks like a giant lemon and grows on very delicate trees, in warm climates. Some Hassidim actually prefer the Etrogs from Italy (from the region of Calabria), probably because of a tradition that says that Moses used one from there.  After Sukkot, a lot of us like to use them to make jelly or other specialties. In the movie Ushpizin the protagonists use its juice to dress a salad, but here is another fun idea (and you can make this recipe any time using regular lemons):

Etrog or Lemon Risotto (Dairy)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 cups boiling hot vegetable stock
  • 2 shallots, or 1/2 a large onion, very finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups Italian Rice (Vialone nano, Arborio or Carnaroli type)
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime or etrog
  • grated zest of 2 organic lemons or one etrog
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives
  • 1/2 cup ricotta (ricotta is naturally low-fat, do not use low-fat or fat-free ricotta)
  • (you can substitute mascarpone for the ricotta for a creamier version)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Directions

In a pot, heat the stock until it boils, and keep it simmering.

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot (enameled cast iron or non-stick), add the onion, and cook over medium/low heat until soft.

Add the rice, and mix well, raising the heat to “toast’ the rice for a minute or two. Stir in the wine and allow it to evaporate.

Add a couple of ladlesful of the hot stock to the rice and reduce the heat to medium-low.

Cook the rice until most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring often to prevent it from sticking to the bottom

Add more hot stock, one or two ladles at a time, until the rice is tender but firm, what we call “al dente“.

Don’t allow the rice to dry out, in Venice we want to present our risotto “all’onda” (wave-style – meaning creamy and moist, not too solid). If in doubt, add more hot stock.

Stir in the lemon juice and zest, mix, and the ricotta, salt and pepper to taste; turn the heat off and cover. Allow to rest for 1 or 2 minutes.

Decorate with the chives and serve immediately, accompanied by the grated parmigiano cheese.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/10/09/etrog-or-lemon-risotto-dairy/

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

Venetian Pumpkin Stew

Pumpkin Stew
Pumpkin Stew

Venetian Pumpkin Stew

Pumpkin seeds started arriving from the Americas in the 16th century, probably brought by the Conversos that had settled in the New World. Since the official start of the Spanish Inquisition was in 1492, the same year that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, it’s not surprising that many Jews and Conversos would see this as an opportunity to leave Spain!

In Northern Italy pumpkins grew particularly well, and local Jews were among the first to add them to their dishes, usually with impressive results. I have already given you some of my favorite recipes for sweet and sour mashed pumpkin, pumpkin fritters , and more…. but here is a stew that will warm up your winter days or nights.

While Italians can be kind of clueless about how to grill a steak (with the exception of Tuscans), we have a long tradition of stewing and braising meat, which culminates in our special-occasion dish, brasato, slowly braised beef, veal or lamb. This particular recipe can also be made as a brasato: just replace the cubed meat with a single cut of beef shoulder – whatever your butcher recommends for braising – and use the same ingredients but cook much longer (over 2 hours) covered and on very low heat. Of course you can also use a crockpot, so you can head off to work, set it and come back home to find that dinner is done and ready to serve.

Venetian Pumpkin Stew

Ingredients

  • (serves 4-6)
  • 2 pounds cubed veal for stew
  • 2 cups cubed butternut squash or pumpkin
  • 1 large white onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or more (to taste)
  • 1 cup white wine or marsala
  • sage leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, whole
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Heat 1/2 of the the olive oil in a heavy pot over high heat, add the meat and brown it on all side. Remove the meat from the pot and set it aside.

Add the rest of the oil to the pot, and when it's hot add the garlic, onion and sage, and cook for about 5 minutes or until translucent.

Remove and discard the garlic cloves.

Add the meat, the pumpkin (or butternut squash), and the wine. Increase the heat to allow the wine to evaporate.

Add a little salt, , cover with hot water or broth, bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for 1/2 to 2 hours, until the meat is so soft that you can cut it with a fork, and the pumpkin has dissolved into a mash.

Add a touch of pepper and serve with polenta or fresh bread.

If you don't like veal you can use beef: of course beef takes much longer to cook, and you may want to use a slow-cooker.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/09/01/venetian-pumpkin-stew/

Caponata

CAPONATA - SICILIA

CAPONATA

Caponata

Ingredients

  • (serves 4)
  • 2 Italian or Japanese eggplants
  • 2 peppers
  • 2 onions celery sticks
  • 1 cup black olives
  • 2 tbsps capers
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup raisins or currants, plumped in warm water
  • 3 tbsps white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Dice the eggplants, salt them and drain them for 30 minutes in a colander to eliminate their bitter juice.

Rinse and pat dry.

Sprinkle with flour and deep-fry in olive oil in a skillet until golden on both sides.

Drain and set aside.

Discard most of the olive oil from the pan, leaving only about 4 tablespoons, add the diced onion and celery and cook for 5 minutes, then add the rest of the vegetables (all diced), the fried eggplant, salt and pepper to taste, the olives, capers and pine nuts, the vinegar and sugar, and cook until soft (20 to 30 minutes).

Serve slightly warm or at room temperature as an appetizer or side.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/08/30/caponata/

Macedonia (Italian Fruit Salad)

Macedonia (Italian Fruit Salad)

Macedonia (Italian Fruit Salad)

I’m going to let you in on an Italian secret: while gelato is delicious, most of us don’t eat it every night! Our sweet treat after dinner is usually just fresh fruit, especially if the main courses are rich.
When we have guests we often serve Macedonia, a simple salad made with a variety of fruit cut into small pieces, so that when you put a spoonful into your mouth you can taste a combination of different flavors.  Macedonia is dressed very simply with fresh sugar and lemon juice – or Prosecco if no children are present! This is just a sample recipe, but the possibilities are endless – just pick your favorite fruit! Make sure you sprinkle with fresh lemon juice right after slicing, or bananas and pears will oxidize quickly.

I prefer not to use apples, because their texture is much crunchier than most other fruit.

Macedonia (Italian Fruit Salad)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 bananas
  • 1 yellow peach
  • 1 pear
  • 1 or 2 slices pineapple
  • 1/2 basket raspberries
  • 1/2 basket strawberries
  • 1 kiwi
  • 1 orange (peel and cut each slice)
  • 1 Tbsp. golden raisins, plumped up in warm water (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste (you can use a low-calorie sweetener if you need to follow a strict diet)

Directions

Serves 4-6

Cut all the fruit into small pieces (the smaller, the better!) and mix well with the lemon (and raisins, if liked).

Add the sugar and mix in. Refrigerate before serving.

* This is just an example, you can use any fruit you like!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/07/06/macedonia-italian-fruit-salad/


Tomato Sauce, and My Pet Peeves

Tomato Sauce, and my Pet Peeves

5857 salsa di pomodoro

For a while I resisted the idea of writing about tomato sauce. In fact, as a typical Italian living in the US, I’m often annoyed when Italian cuisine is identified exclusively with tomato and cheese-laden dishes. But then the spring arrived, persuading me to break the ice, and to use this post as an opportunity to dispel some myths!

Tomatoes first arrived in Italy for the first time during the 1500s. They were brought by the  the Spanish, who had encounterd them in the Americas. In particular, Jewish or conversos merchants of Spanish or Portuguese origins brought them to Livorno (Leighorn), and from there to the rest of Europe. However, at the beginning tomatoes were met with suspicion: after all, even in the Americas they were still considered poisonous, and enjoyed solely as a decorative plant. It’s not clear how long it took for people to realize what they were missing on: all we know is that for a while these myths about the poison lingered, or were replaced by others about magical or aphrodisiac powers. But without a doubt, nobody yet was thinking of pizza margherita!

The fact that in Italy the local Jews, always adventurous with vegetables, were among the first to bite into this forbidden fruit is suggested by the fact that many traditional Livornese recipes with tomato are named  “alla mosaica” (Moses-style) or “alla giudia” (Jewish-style). Meanwhile, the general population was also starting to experiment with the “pomidoro” (from the Latin “golden apples”), at least in some regions, and with the exception of the aristocracy, which waited much longer. (In France, au contraire, tomatoes were served at the Royal Court). In any case, it took a while to arrive at today’s dishes: the first written record of a recipe for pasta with tomato sauce only dates back to 1837!

Historical digressions aside, one of the reasons I’ve been wanting to write this post is to state clearly that pasta sauce is a dish, not an ingredient. It’s something that you can make easily and quickly to dress your pasta. It should not be used to add flavor to your brisket, or (my pet peeve!) to pizza. You are going to cook/bake your brisket and pizza anyway, so what’s the point exactly of adding a pre-cooked sauce? Use simple strained tomatoes and they will cook with the food. Trust me, nobody in Italy would ever put jarred marinara sauce on their pizza. For a realistic, minimalistic and perfect version of pizza margherita, check out the recipe and video by Mario Grazia for Academia Barilla.

And now on to the pasta sauce, in a couple of variations. You will notice that I use canned tomatoes. That’s because I live in Manhattan, and I find that the varieties that are sold here tend to be quite firm and have a lot of seeds: they are much more suitable for salads than sauces. Even when I was growing up in Venice we used canned tomatoes imported from the San Marzano area near Naples. However, if you are lucky to live in an area where the tomatoes are soft and juicy, go ahead and use fresh!

5878 Salsa di pomodoro

Quick Tomato Sauce - SouthernItalian Style

Ingredients

  • 1 large can strained tomatoes (simple pureed tomatoes)
  • 2 whole cloves garlic
  • 4 basil leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1large pinch baking soda (or sugar) to reduce the acidity
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Heat the oil, add the garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes stirring.

Add the tomato, the basil, salt, sugar or baking soda, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with pepper, discard the garlic and dress your pasta, which should be ready by now!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/30/tomato-sauce-and-my-pet-peeves/

Slow-Cooked Tuscan Pommarola

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs fresh plum tomatoes, cored and cut into pieces, OR 1 large can peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • fresh basil or fresh parsley to taste, chopped
  • sea salt, about 1 ½ tsp or to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 4 to 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or to taste

Directions

Place the olive oil in a large, non-reactive heavy pot. Add salt and basil or parsley. Cook covered on medium heat stirring occasionally until the vegetables and tomatoes fall apart (this should take about 1 ½ hr with fresh peeled tomatoes and at least 1 hr with canned tomatoes).

Remove the pot from the stove and pass through a food mill, discarding the skin and seeds. It should be nice and thick (if too liquid, cook uncovered for about 15 more minutes). Adjust the salt and pepper, and enjoy!

You can pasteurize both types of sauce and store in clean mason jars for up to 1 year.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/30/tomato-sauce-and-my-pet-peeves/

Tomato-lovers should also check out:

My Pappa col Pomodoro (Tuscan Tomato Soup)

My Leghorn-Style Red Mullet

Silvia’s Pizza

Frank’s How To Buy canned Tomatoes

Smitten Kitchen’s Slow-roasted Tomatoes

Academia barilla’s Tomato Focaccia

All About Olive Oil

Olive Oil
Olive Oil

Olive Oil

BUILD AN OLIVE OIL WARDROBE
Oils and fats do not just add texture, but flavor in Italian food; that’s why, if you want to eat like a REAL Italian, you should use different ones depending on the type of food you are cooking and the result you are trying to achieve. Butter and seed oils are more traditional than olive oil in Northern Italian cuisine (goose fat used to be popular as well!); and in general, for risotto, for frying fish, and for desserts, some people prefer sunflower oil, grapeseed oil or even canola. Some dishes like risotto taste best with butter, but you prefer to limit saturated fats you can start with a canola or sunflower oil, and just add some butter at the end with the parmigiano, to give it flavor and sheen.
Most generic Italian olive oils, even when extra-virgin, are made with blends from different regions (by the way, always buy extra-virgin for the best flavor: plus they are cold-processed and therefore do not require a hechsker according to most authorities). This makes them too strong for certain dishes, and not always pleasant to the palate.
I prefer to have a few extra-virgin  oils on hand: a very delicate one from Liguria (Imperia or Alghero, in the North-West) for fish; a medium Tuscan (slightly bitter) or Umbrian (fruitier) for salads, vegetables and meat dishes. For earthier dishes like pastas or specialties containing a lot of tomato, garlic and spices, a stronger oil like a Sicilian or Pugliese can be recommended.
If you can only get one bottle, pick an oil from Tuscany or Umbria, which will go with most dishes, and a smaller bottle of Ligurian oil, which will taste wonderful drizzled on steamed fish.
I always buy one bottle of extra-virgin olive oil labeled “Olio Novello”, “Di Frantoio” (fresher oil, from the mill); this is more expensive, but of much higher quality. For cooking, I use my regular-quality extra-virgin olive oil; before serving the food, I drizzle it with a few drops of the higher-end Olio Novello, to add depth to the flavor!
Please don’t buy any ‘light’ or ‘blended’ kind, but look for EXTRA-VIRGIN, COLD-PRESSED olive oil. This is the only type that is unprocessed (and naturally kosher – according to most authorities, it doesn’t need a hechsher because it’s made by simply pressing cold olives).
Make sure it’s labeled ‘EXTRA’-virgin, not just ‘virgin’. Virgin oils are still extracted without chemicals, but after repeated pressings of the olives- which makes their acidic levels higher, and their taste more pungent.
If it doesn’t even say ‘virgin’,  don’t buy it! It has been produced by chemical heat pressing, which makes it  harsher-tasting, less healthy, and not kosher unless certified.
Olive oil is not just meant to grease up foods: it makes food taste better. If you really shudder at the idea of pouring abundant quantities of oil directly from a bottle into your pots and pans, you can always put it into a spray bottle. But remember that consuming olive oil may reduce your risk of heart disease and make your skin look great, not to mention the fact that it will remind you of the Hanukkah miracle, making you smile.

Traditional Pasta Sauce

Traditional Pasta Sauce (Meat)

Traditional Pasta Sauce (Meat)

A quick and traditional pasta sauce used for Shabbat in many communities in Northern Italy is the juice
left over from roasting lean cuts of meat.

Use high-quality Italian olive oil, a couple of garlic cloves (whole), rosemary, salt and pepper.

Serve some of this sauce with the roast meat, but use what’s left to dress egg noodles (tagliolini or fettuccine).

A cold version of this pasta is the Agresto, or Bagna Brusca, in which lemon juice and egg are added to the meat juices after the pasta has been allowed to cool off. In this case, serve at room temperature.

Eggplant Roulades with Tuna

Eggplant Roulades with Tuna
Eggplant Roulades with Tuna

Eggplant Roulades with Tuna

Eggplant Roulades with Tuna

Ingredients

  • (serves 4)
  • 2 medium/large eggplants
  • 4 ounces anchovies (salt- or oil-packed)
  • 1/2 cup capers (salt- or oil-packed)
  • 1/2 cup green olives, pitted
  • 1 can of tuna
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 10 mint leaves
  • salt
  • pepper

Directions

After washing the eggplants, cut them lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices , arrange them in a colander in your sink or on a platter, and cover them with kosher salt on both sides.

Allow them to rest and 'weep" the bitter juice out for one hour.

Keeping the eggplants in the colander, rinse them well under cold running water to eliminate all traces of bitterness and salt.

Blot dry with paper towels.

Arrange the eggplants on a wide tray and cover them with a mix of oil, vinegar and salt, and freshly chopped mint leaves.

Allow to marinate for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, combine the tuna (drained), olives, capers (drained and rinsed), and anchovies (rinsed) in a food processor until they form a smooth, creamy paste.

Grill the eggplants on a heavyweight grill pan, turning them and brushing them with the marinade, until cooked through.

Allow to cool for a few minutes, then spread the tuna mixture on one side of each eggplant slice, roll up and secure with a toothpick.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: Eggplant in Italy was apparently abhorred by non-Jews until the end of the 1800s. Its Italian name, Melanzana, is said to derive from the Latin "Mela Insana" (Bad Apple) because it was believed to be poisonous and cause fevers that would make people lose their minds. But in the 20th century the purple fruit took the country by storm, and is now the star ingredient in some of the most popular and world-famous Italian dishes.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/03/29/eggplant-roulades-with-tuna/

Chestnut and Leek Soup

Chestnut and Leek Soup
Chestnut and Leek Soup

Chestnut and Leek Soup

Chestnuts were central to the traditional Italian diet, especially in the mountains and among the poor. This simple soup is extremely satisfying when it’s cold outside, especially if you accompany it with a nice glass of a dry, fruity white wine. For an ever richer soup, you can substitute half the vegetable stock with milk. 

Chestnut and Leek Soup

Ingredients

  • (serves 4)
  • 2 leeks
  • 1/3 pound fresh chestnuts (or 1 cup
  • cooked and peeled chestnuts)
  • ½ pound potatoes
  • 4 tablespoons butter, or olive oil
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Blanch the chestnuts for about 15 minutes and peel them (you can also use pre-cooked and peeled chestnuts, but you will lose some flavor).

Clean the leeks, discarding their outer leaves and green parts, and slice them thinly.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into small dice. In a skillet, heat the butter or oil, and saute’ the leeks for 5 minutes;

add the chestnuts and potatoes, salt, and add the wine.

Allow it to evaporate, then add the stock, and bring to a boil; lower the heat, and cook for 45

minutes to one hour, or until the chestnuts and potatoes are fully cooked.

Puree’ the soup with an immersion blender or your food processor. Add more salt and pepper if liked, and serve hot.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/03/24/chestnut-and-leek-soup/

 

Marinated Zucchini

marinated zucchini

marinated zucchini zucchine in marinata - Lazio

Marinated Zucchini

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh, small and firm organic zucchini
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsps white wine vinegar
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes, or 2 chili peppers, cut into 3-4 pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4 tsps coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 4 tsps coarsely chopped fresh parsley or mint leaves
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Using a mandoline or your food processor disc to make them even, cut the zucchini lengthwise into slices ¼-inch thick.

Place the slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt and place at the bottom of your sink to drain for 1 hour.

Drain, rinse, and dry with paper towel. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt and and the chili.

Place the zucchini slices flat in the jar, a few at a time, pouring some of the marinade, garlic slices, basil and mint between each layer.

Cover and marinate for at least 12 hours before serving.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/03/13/marinated-zucchini/

Gratinated Tomatoes

Gratinated Tomatoes
Gratinated Tomatoes

Gratinated Tomatoes

Gratinated Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • (serves 6)
  • 8 medium tomatos, firm
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 heaped tablespoons plain bread crumbs
  • 4 tbsps freshly chopped parsley, or 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2-3 minced anchovies (oil-packed or salt-packed and rinsed)(optional)
  • salt to taste (1/2 teaspoon or less)
  • black pepper
  • pine nuts to decorate

Directions

Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, scoop out the seeds and pulp, sprinkle the inside with salt and drain for 30+ mins. Save the pulp.

In a bowl, mix the plain breadcrumbs, with the parsley (or oregano), olive oil, minced anchovies, salt and pepper to taste, and enough of the pulp that you saved to make a smooth and moist filling (it should be about as firm as ground meat).

Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture and bake for 40 minutes in a 400 F oven.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/02/20/gratinated-tomatoes/