Turkey Hazelnut Skewers with Pomegranate Sauce

bocconcini di tacchino in crosta di frutta secca

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In case you haven’t figured it out on your own yet, Italians love to party, and even if Christmas (or, as in my case, Hanukkah) has left us exhausted and bloated, we would never give up an opportunity to celebrate again – and here comes New Year’s Eve!

As opposed to the religious holidays, New Year’s Eve is usually spent with friends rather than family – which can translate into much wilder festivities! Over-the-top midnight fireworks welcome the new year in the center of most towns (Naples boasts one of the best), but people also tend to include firecrackers and sparklers in their private parties, which keeps the ERs quite busy., Talking about accidents, some places in the south follow the puzzling custom of throwing old things out the window to symbolically accept the freshness of the New Year: watch out for appliances such as washers and dryers around midnight!!!!

In Venice, where I grew up, people stick to safer games, such as playing Italian bingo (tombola), and perpetuate the suggestive tradition of wearing red underwear (for love, and good luck), hoping to be kissed under the mistletoe at midnight.

But what can’t be missed is the breathtaking midnight celebration in St. Mark’s Square, complete with fireworks, music, prosecco and bellini toasts, and exchanges of kisses at midnight. The most sophisticated make sure to by tickets for the spectacular Concerto at La Fenice Theater, while the adventurous take a chilling swim in the waters of the Venice Lido.

As always in Italy, food also plays a major role. Everybody seems to serve lentils, which, thanks to their coin-like shape, symbolize money for the coming year. The traditional dinner often includes a cotechino, a large pork sausage, or a zampone, stuffed pig’s foot, which I am going to skip since I keep kosher – but you can check them out on my friends’ websites,  Memorie di Angelina and Academia Barilla  (the idea is that the fat in pork also symbolizes wealth). Lastly, grapes, which everybody gorges on following the saying “eat grapes on New Year and count money the rest of the year”, and the pomegranate, which is associated with abundance and fertility. From ancient Egypt and Greece, to Persia, to Judaism and Christianity, the Hindus and the Chinese, so many different cultures have seen the pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity, that it seems to me like the perfect choice for a celebration that in Italy today unites people of different backgrounds (much like the American Thanksgiving). In the Jewish tradition we also serve it on Rosh haShana, the Jewish New Year, as a symbol of prosperity and of all things good (our sages say that all its seeds represent the 613 commandments in the Torah). What a better way to ring in 2013 with high hopes of health, peace and love?

Turkey Hazelnut Kebabs with Pomegranate Sauce

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

Instructions (prep time: 20-30 minutes; cooking time: 30 minutes; total time: about 1 hr)

Halve a pomegranate, and set aside the seeds. Press them with a potato masher to obtain about a cup of juice. Set aside.

In a heavy (or non-stick) saucepan or skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and add a sprig of rosemary and 1 clove of garlic.When the garlic is golden brown, discard it and add ½ cup wine and the pomegranate juice to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and allow to thicken on low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the pomegranate seeds and cook for 2 more minutes.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet, add the scallion or onion and cook until translucent, adding a little water if needed to prevent it from sticking or turning brown. Drain the scallion from the oil and let it cool.
In the meantime, soak the bread in broth until soft, then drain, squeeze all the liquid out, and set aside.
In a bowl, combine the ground turkey with the cooked scallion, the salt and pepper, parsley, drained bread (or mashed potato), nutmeg, egg;  mix everything together, working quickly with your (if you are not on a low-sodium diet you can also add two slices of a natural salami, very finely minced). Allow to rest for two minutes until it firms up, making the mixture easier to shape.
Only if necessary, add 1 tbsp bread crumbs: the mixture should be soft and wet. Shape into 1” to 1 ½” sized meatballs. Roll the meatballs into a dish filled with the hazelnuts and bread crumbs. Line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper. Brush or spray the parchment lightly with a small amount of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil (do not use baking sprays! Just transfer a good olive oil into a spray bottle). Thread the meatballs onto skewers (If you’re using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes before cooking or you’ll cause a fire.)

Arrange the meatballs on the parchment in one layer and lightly spray the top with a little more olive oil.
Bake until golden (about 30 minutes) in a preheated oven at 400 F. Serve with the pomegranate sauce. Enjoy!

Panna Cotta alla Melagrana – Pomegranate Cream Custard

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Panna cotta (cooked cream in Italian) is a traditional dessert from Northern Italy, prepared by simmering milk, sugar and cream and mixing them with gelatin. It literally takes minutes to make, but never fails to “wow” the guests. For a holiday version, I spiced it up with ponegranate seeds – a symbol of prosperity and good luck in many different traditions, not to mention a perfect contrast of color and flavor with the cream. Serve it for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year, or a romantic anniversary dinner!

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  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup whole milk,
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut into 2
  • 1 package powdered gelatin
  • 2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds

Soften about 2/3 of the gelatin in a few spoonfuls the cold milk. Heat the rest of the milk with the sugar and the cut vanilla bean. Once it’s hot, stir in the gelatin mixture and mix until smooth. Allow to cool, discard the vanilla bean, and stir in the heavy cream. Pour about 3/4″ of this mixture into 4 glass cups and transfer into the freezer for a few minutes until the mixture thickens.

Soften the remaining gelatin in about 2 or 3 tbsp of the pomegranate juice. Heat the rest of the pomegranate juice, stir in the softened gelatin, mix well and allow to cool. Once the first layer of cream mixture has thickened, pour in a layer of pomegranate mixture, mixed with a few pomegranate seeds, and put the cups back into the freezer. Repeat with one more layer of cream and one of gelatin and pomegranate seeds. Top with a few more pomegranate seeds right before serving.

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Pumpkin Soup with Pomegranate and the meaning of Sukkot

Pumpkin and Pomegranate Cream Soup (Dairy)

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Sukkot is an eight-day harvest holiday that starts four days after the fast of Yom Kippur; it is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles.
In ancient Israel Jews would build huts (Sukkah = hut) near the end of their fields during harvest season, so that they could spend more time in the fields and harvest more efficiently. For us, Sukkot is a reminder of how our ancestors  lived while wandering in the desert for 40 years (Leviticus 23:42-43), moving from one place to another and using tents (sukkot) for temporary shelter. Associated with these two meanings are three  main traditions:

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

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(above, Sukkot seen by Italian artist Emanuele Luzzati)

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

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Since Sukkot celebrates the harvest, there is a custom of waving the etrog and lulav: (a kind of citron, similar to a big lemon/lime, and a bunch of myrtle,willow and palm twigs). The lulav and etrog are waved in all directions representing God’s power over the whole creation. All kids love decorating the sukkah with drawings, and mine are no exception!

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

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

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

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

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

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Ingredients (serves 4)

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

Directions

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

Pomegranate Chicken

Pomegranate Chicken

Pomegranate Chicken

This roasted chicken is a perfect main course for Rosh HaShana, since the Pomegranate (Rimon) is the sixth of the symbols on our holiday table,  eaten with the prayer ”May our merits/good deeds be as numerous as the seeds in a pomegranate”. Apparently the Sages took the time to count the seeds in a lot of pomegranates, and decided that they average 613, the number of Mitzvot Jews are bound to observe – which is also why silverRimmonim (pomegranates) are used to decorate Torah scrolls.


Pomegranate Chicken

Ingredients

  • Serves 4-6
  • 1 chicken, cleaned (I buy Kosher, organic, grass-fed and it makes a difference!)
  • 2 pomegranates or 1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, slightly pressed
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Cut the pomegranates in half and using a citrus reamer scoop out the seeds.

Set 2 tablespoons of the seeds aside and press the rest through a food mill or potato masher, gathering the juice in a bowl. .

Heat the olive oil with the garlic in an oven-proof pan or sauteuse; add the chicken and brown it on all sides.

Add salt and pepper and the white wine and allow the wine to evaporate.

Transfer the pan into your oven and roast for an hour at 350 F, turning it and basting it with its own juices a couple of times.

When you notice that the garlic is becoming dark, discard it.

When the chicken is cooked, transfer it to a serving bowl; add the pomegranate juice to the roasting oil/juice in the pan, and heat it on the stovetop, allowing it to simmer for about 3 minutes. Add the 2 tablespoons of pomegranate seeds, and serve this sauce as an accompaniment to the chicken.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/09/18/pomegranate-chicken/