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/

Artichoke Sformatini

sformatini di carciofi

sformatini di carciofi

Behind a tough, thorny covering, the artichoke hides a tender and fragrant heart. Through the centuries, this contrast has inspired a number of literary productions, from Greek legends to contemporary poetry. And with all due respect to my Israeli friends, the artichoke’s reputation  in this sense even precedes that of the “Sabra”! While we think of the artichoke as a vegetable, it is technically the edible and tasty bud of a flower, which makes it even more romantic – not to mention the satisfaction of finally eating something that it took us two hours and a couple of knife accidents to clean.

In Italy, we are all notoriously obsessed with local food, and we all insist that our particular regional variety is the best (note to my Roman friends: please don’t even bother to comment and criticize under this post, our differences on the topic can not be reconciled!). Italian Jews like me are possibly even more passionate than the others about this topic, given that until at least the 1800s in Northern and Central Italy the Gentiles would not go anywhere near artichokes, which were considered some crazy Jewish ingredient.

In Venice, we buy the purple artichokes that come from Sant’Erasmo, the largest island in the lagoon. In the spring, if you are lucky, sometimes you can find the cream of the crop, the first tiny artichoke to grow on each plant, out of more than one hundred: these are called  “castraure” (kas-tra-OO-reh), because they are “castrated” (cut off ) in order to encourage more to flourish. I have seen my fellow Venetians get into violent fights at the Rialto market over these treasures, which are prized for their relative lack of pricks and their tender, melt-in-your-mouth interior.

While it’s not the same as eating the real thing along the canals of Venice, you can find pretty good artichokes right here in the U.S (my favorites are the ones from Montrey County, in California). Ever since the Italian immigration wave in the early 20th century, artichokes quickly became popular, and started selling for a high price. In the 1920’s, even the mafia invested in them, and when Ciro Terranova, “the Artichoke King”, took the artichoke wars to such extremes as to terrify produce distributors all over the country, Fiorello La Guardia, the legendary mayor of New York, declared illegal “the sale and possession of artichokes” iin the City. The ban was lifted after only one week: it seems that La Guardia, himself the son of Jewish Italian immigrants, admitted that he loved the vegetable too much to prohibit it!

artichokes.001

Sformato is a kind of savory custard, but fluffier, almost soufflé-like and usually including pureed vegetables. The name (sfohr-MAH-toh) means “unmolded” in Italian — from sformare, to turn out. It’s a very traditional recipe, found in many Italian regions and in most classic cookbooks, from “Il Talismano della Felicità” to “Il Cucchiaio d’Argento”. Tuscans, like my mom, are particularly fond of it and make it with every vegetable they can find!

Artichoke Sformatini

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

1 hour, 15 minutes

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 artichokes (or 2 lb frozen artichoke hearts or bottoms)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 large eggs
  • For the Bechamel Sauce:
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp grated parmigiano or grana cheese (or more, to taste)

Directions

Clean the artichokes, eliminating the outer tough leaves and the chokes. Slice them. In a saucepan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil with a thinly sliced shallot for 2 minutes. Add the artichokes and barely cover with water or vegetable oil. Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until soft and until the water has been fully absorbed. Adjust salt. Blend in your food processor until smooth.

Make the béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a heavy pot over low heat. Add the flour, whisking continuously to prevent clumps. Cook on low heat until the flour disappears into the butter, without letting the butter turn brow. Start adding warm (not hot!) milk to the mix, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring the sauce to a simmer, add salt and pepper and keep whisking almost constantly for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Taste, and add more salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. If you still ended up with some lumps, strain through a sieve. Remove from the heat, cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and allow to cool before combining with the eggs.

Whisk 2 eggs lightly in a bowl; stir in the béchamel sauce and artichoke puree and parmigiano cheese, and combine until smooth.

Butter the ramekins (you can use 6 6-ounce ramekins, or 4 larger ones, or 8 smaller. Baking time will vary depending on size). Dust with bread crumbs. Pour mixture into ramekins, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 25 to 40 minutes (depending on size), or until a light golden crust forms on top and the sformati are nice and firm. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, unmold and serve.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/02/27/artichoke-sformatini/

MORE IDEAS WITH ARTICHOKES:

Madonna del Piatto’s Artichokes & Lemon Salad

Academia Barilla’s Artichoke Fricassee

Jul’s Omelet with Artichokes

Lidia’s Stuffed Artichokes

JOK’s Artichoke Chicken

Barbara’s Lamb Shanks with Artichokes

Venetian Carnival Galani

Galani 1

Galani 1

In case you were wondering, “Dinner in Venice” did not grow up with the Carnival: when I was little, all that was left of the old glories was a few fried sweets and children’s costume parties of the same scale as an average birthday. Imagine my excitement  at age 10 – and my mom’s concern – when the local government announced that, in an effort to promote the history and culture of Venice (read: boost tourism and the resulting income) they were going to bring back the historical Carnival. It was 1979, and about 3 millions extra visitors have been literally flooding Venice each winter ever since.

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The first record of some type of Carnival celebrations in Venice is in a document from 1094, which describes plenty of partying and dancing in the weeks before Lent, a penitential period for the Christians;  however, the history buffs among you will be quick to point out that the roots of Carnivals can also be traced in those ancient pagan rituals for the passage of seasons, such as the Greek cult of Dionisus and the Roman saturnalia. Indeed, it was the Romans who best summarized the concept in their famous motto: “Semel in anno licet insanire” (it’s acceptable to go crazy, once a year).

Many scholars, like Edward Muir, suggest that far from being just for the sake of having fun, all these festivities offered our Early Modern European friends an important “safety valve”. Not that anybody would discuss “stress” back then, but think of the pressures of such a structured society! Basically, give the crowds lots of doughnuts and wine, and permission to make fun of the local lords and cardinals, and they’ll forget about actually rebelling against them. Much like the idea of the Roman circus.

Masks, the main symbol of the Venetian Carnival, are only mentioned starting in the 13th century, and we don’t really know why they were first introduced. What we do know is that, while covering up the face and the body is encouraged by many traditional cultures as a means to preserve modesty – in the city of Casanova, it always promoted vice rather than virtue!

Just to give you an idea of the atmosphere, the government even had to issue a specific law in 1339 to forbid sexually provocative disguises and “visiting nuns’ convents while in disguise”(!)

MASCHERE DI CARNEVALE

Masks provided the perfect cover for illicit romantic encounters, facilitated conspiracies, and fulfilled Cinderella-like fantasies by breaking down the usual barriers between different strata of society. The Venetians loved their new-found anonymity, and started wearing masks for longer stretches of time: in the Renaissance and Baroque ages it would have been hard to find anybody in normal attire between October and February!

Among lavish balls, plays, parades and music, people still found the time to indulge in desserts, in particular several kinds of fried sweets, from fritole to galani.

I’ve been looking for some kind of symbolic explanation for this custom, something along the lines of the Jewish tradition of eating fried things on Hanukkah to remember the miracle of the oil. It turns out that the reason behind the Carnival customs is much more prosaic: in the old days, January or February – before the restrictions of Lent – was the time when pigs were slaughtered; all parts of the animal were considered precious, and the lard (in its melted form, called “strutto”) was used for cooking and frying. Apparently, it resists high temperatures and tastes delicious –  those of you who don’t need to follow any religious or health-related restrictions might want to give it a try. The rest of us will have to stick to olive or vegetable oil! Galani (or “crostoli”, “chiacchiere”, “cenci”, as they are called in other regions) are addictive no matter what you fry them in.

Galani.double.001

Venetian Carnival Galani

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

1 hour

yelds about 30

calories: ignorance is bliss

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/3 cup (heaped) sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 stick butter, cubed
  • 1 shot grappa or rhum
  • half a pod vanilla beans, if liked
  • powdered sugar for decorating

Directions

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder and salt in your stand mixer bowl or on a counter. Add the eggs, the liqueur, vanilla, and the butter (softened at room temperature). Process the dough until smooth, adding little liqueur or water if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest on the counter for 30-40 minutes. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface using your rolling pin to 1/8", or you can simply use the lasagna attachment if you own a pasta machine. Using a sharp knife (or a fluted pastry wheel if you feel fancy), cut the dough into rectangles and add two cuts near the center.

In a heavy wide pot with tall sides (or in a deep-fryer), heat abundant oil (peanut oil, vegetable oil or mild olive oil) until tiny bubbles form when you throw a small piece of bread into it.

Fry the galani in batches, and dry them on a triple layer of paper towel before decorating them with powdered sugar.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/02/07/venetian-carnival-galani/

OTHER FRIED RECIPES THAT YOU MIGHT WANT TO CHECK OUT:

Frank’s Pizzette Fritte (yay! Fried pizza!)

Ronnie’s Kichels

Silvia’s Savory Donuts

My Recie de Amman (the Jewish version of these galani, for Purim) in The Forward

Tons of fried treats in my Hanukkah category – but they taste good any time of the year,provided you are armed with Alkaseltzer

Frisinsal – Pharaoh’s Wheel

double.frisinsal

 For this article and recipe in The Forward, click here

double.frisinsal

 

For this article and recipe in The Forward, click here

Venetian Jewish Fish Balls

S 17 00 POLPETTE DI PESCE

S 17 00 POLPETTE DI PESCE

 

In spite of the many tourist traps that give Venice, and many other popular destinations, a bad rep, if you have a chance to spend some quiet days there you will appreciate how the absence of cars has crystallized this city into a different dimension, with a magical sense of time. The pedestrian way of life is not something Venetians are forced to, rather they embrace it – after all, they have access to water buses – but they prefer to leave them to the hordes of tourists. Walking to and from work does not only provide us with a built-in form of daily exercise; it makes it very likely to bump into friends unexpectedly (only 60,000 people live in Venice), which usually results into a stop at one of the city’s bàcari (wine bars) to catch up over an ombra (a “shadow”, or a small glass) of wine or a Spriss cocktail, and cicheti, the signature snacks.  Cicheti is a Venetian term used to describe a wide range of bite-size local treats, from deep-fried seafood and rice croquettes to grilled radicchio and baby artichokes from the nearby island of St. Erasmo; from boiled eggs served with anchovies, to meatballs, to the legendary baccalà mantecato, (stockfish mousse) and sarde in saor (fried sardines marinated in sweet-and-sour onions).

Among my favorite finger foods are these fish balls, which you can also keep cooking in a light tomato sauce after frying them, if you prefer to serve them as part of a meal, on top of polenta. Fish balls, like meat balls, are a staple of Jewish Italian sustainable cooking, and were traditionally made with leftover boiled or roasted fish. However, these are so good that when I don’t have any leftovers I cook some fish in order to make a batch.

Venetian Jewish Fish Balls

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

Serve warm.

Serves 6

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

 


Prosecco and White Grape Risotto

7109 Risotto allo champagne uva bianca

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If you read my previous post about our New Year’s traditions, you know about the importance that Italians place upon some food symbols of plenty. This occasionally verges on the superstitious, and on New Year’s Eve you will see some people stuffing themselves with lentils and grapes as if there’s no tomorrow. The Spanish also follow this custom of eating grapes at midnight, but they stop at 12, one for each month of the new year.

Both in the Judeo-Christian and in the pagan/Greek-Roman traditions, grape clusters deliver such a symbolic punch that it’s quite clear why they have become the center of our celebrations for Capodanno (New Year’s Eve); either in their natural form, which can be appreciated by everybody beyond age, cultural and religious barriers, or in the form of wine – the bubbly, sparkly spumante for the midnight toast! As proven by countless sculptures, frescos and paintings, grapes in Italy have been for hundreds of years the allegory of wealth and well-being.

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In Venice and the Veneto, another food associated with images of fertility and of prosperity is rice. Rice is thrown at the bride and groom at a wedding to wish them a lifetime full of blessings (in Roman times, wheat was used for this purpose – but given the role that rice has played in Northern Italian economy and gastronomy for the past 500 years, it has long earned pride of place!)

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Finally, all of these ingredients together – grapes, spumante and rice – find their place from time immemorial on my family’s New Year’s table. About half an hour before midnight, I start cooking my signature risotto, which I keep “all’onda” (like the waves, creamy and liquidy – that’s how we like it in Venice) and toss with really good butter and parmigiano. With a pomegranate salad and sides of lentils and salmon, followed by a slice of panettone and a fragrant flute of spumante or prosecco, it’s the perfect start to a delicious new year!

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Happy 2013! Here are a few recipes from some of my favorite bloggers that would also be perfect for an Italian New Year’s Eve:

And Here is my New Year’s Risotto:

  • 4 cups or as needed, vegetable broth
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 shallot or ½ white onion, very finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup Vialone Nano or Arborio rice
  • 3/4 cup Brut Spumante, Prosecco or Champagne
  • 1 cup white or rose’ grapes (seedless or seeded), halved
  • 1/4 cup or to taste freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions (serves 4, about 30 minutes)

In a saucepan, bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat and keep at a low simmer.

In a large heavy or non-stick saucepan, melt 1 tbsp butter, add the shallot and cook for 3 minutes until tender. Add the rice and stir , coating it in the butter. Continue “toasting” the rice, stirring, for 3 minutes Add the Prosecco, Brut or Champagne, and simmer until it has evaporated. Add 1/2 cup of  hot broth and stir until almost completely absorbed (2 minutes). Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth a ladleful at a time, stirring almost constantly and allowing the broth to absorb before adding the next ladleful, until the rice is “al dente” (tender but firm to the bite) and the mixture is very creamy. About half-way through the cooking add the halved grapes. It usually takes about 20 minutes total. Turn off the heat, adjust the salt and pepper, stir in the remaining butter, and parmigiano cheese to taste. Serve immediately.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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!

Fish in Saor – Venetian marinated sweet-and-sour fish

S 87 970 SARDE IN SAOR

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Most American Jews love to mark the end of the Yom Kippur fast with a spread of smoked fish, lox, whitefish, herring, and of course bagels and coffee.

In this spirit, last year I had posted a recipe for a simple fish with raisins, which is served in several Italian communities on the same occasion. However, this year I couldn’t resist sharing with you a more elaborate option, one of my favorites: Fish “in Saor”.

Saor” means  “flavor”, in our dialect, and indeed this sweet-and-sour preparation bursts with such flavor that over the centuries it has become THE signature dish of Venice: it’s served as “cicheti’ (tapas) in the many osterias, and as hoers d’oeuvres in the finest restaurants, or passed from boat to boat under the fireworks at the traditional Redentore festival in July.

Many Italians believe that the raisins and pine nuts in savory dishes (as in our stewed carrots, or our spinach frittata for Passover, and dishes with salt cod) always betray Jewish origins. However, Saor was known in Venice long before the expulsion of Jews from Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy, as witnessed by a recipe in the Libro per Cuoco, compiled by an anonymous Venetian at the end of the 14th century. Obviously it’s still possible that the recipe was introduced by some Jews who passed through venice before the expulsion, but it’s not the only explanation.

Venice after the Crusades (1069-1270) had become the most prosperous city in Europe thanks to international commerce. At the peak of its power, it had more than 3,300 ships: the merchants would bring spices from India and China, olive oil from Southern Italy and Greece, sugar from Sicily, unusual fruit from North Africa, and Venetians in general were experimenting with culinary “fusion” like nobody else in Italy or Europe!

The fact that it made fish last for weeks without refrigeration made the Saor a huge hit with the Venetian merchants/mariners, who spent months at a time at sea. As to the Jews, they might have known it from the countries they had to leave, and may have contributed to its increasing popularity in Venice. Besides featuring some of their favorite ingredients, Saor could be made in advance and eaten cold for Shabbat and the holidays!

HERE IS A STEP-BY-STEP:

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lb. large sardines, OR small soles; scaled, cleaned, gutted (heads off! :-)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup olive oil for the marinade
  • more olive oil for frying
  • 2 lb. white onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts

INSTRUCTIONS

Ask your fishmonger to wash the sardines (or soles) accurately, gut them, scale them, take the heads off. At home, rinse them in fresh water and lay them well on paper towel.

Soak the raisins in the wine for at least 30 minutes. Heat oil in a 4-qt. pan over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook until browned, 10–12 minutes. Add vinegar, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until soft, 6–8 minutes. Stir in raisins, nuts, and salt and pepper; let cool.

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Drench the sardines in flour (I do this by placing flour in a plastic bag. I add the fillets and shake the bag), and fry them in hot oil for about 3 minutes or until slightly golden. Drain them well on  paper towel and salt them.

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When both the fish fillets and the onion marinade have cooled off, start layering them in a serving pan: start with a layer of onions, then a layer of fish), then again onions, fish, etc to end with the onions.

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Seal with plastic wrap or foil, and refrigerate for al least 1 or 2 days before eating. It actually tastes even better before 4 or 5 days, and I’m told that with this preparation you could even forgo the refrigeration……

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Pappa col Pomodoro – Tuscan Bread & Tomato Soup

Pappa col Pomodoro (Tuscan Bread & Tomato Soup) (Parve)

Pappa col Pomodoro

We just came back from ten days in Italy, mostly spent in Venice hanging out with my mom and childhood friends. But my husband and kids had never been to Florence, and I decided to treat them to a couple of days in the cradle of the Italian Renaissance. The highlight of our stay was a lunch at our friends Alberto and Giordana’s apartment, with a breathtaking view of Fiesole and the Tuscan hills; followed by rides on the carousel in Piazza della Repubblica for our two kids! The food in Florence and in all of Tuscany is fantastic, simple and elegant, and justly famous. If you are not planning a trip any time soon, why not try this easy and delicious soup in your own kitchen? Pappa col Pomodoro is a perfect example of Italian “comfort food”, and of Tuscan peasant cooking. Bread soups were born of necessity: people could not afford to throw away stale bread, and devised ways to make it not only edible, but wonderfully tasty. Be warned that American-style soft sliced bread would just turn into a slimy and sticky mess: you will need artisanal bread with a firm, rough crust. The best types are Tuscan or Pugliese loaves. I live in Manhattan, and love Tribeca Oven.

For tons of authentic Tuscan recipes, and cooking classes in Tuscany (with vegetarian options), visit Giulia at  http://en.julskitchen.com/

For kosher cooking classes in Florence, email my friend Chiara at Chiara105@gmail.com

 

Pappa col Pomodoro (Tuscan Bread & Tomato Soup) (Parve)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons cold pressed extra-virgine olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 large can (12 oz.) peeled whole tomatoes (I like Italian tomatoes, San Marzano type)
  • ½ medium loaf, or 1/3 large loaf of Italian-style bread, 2-day old
  • 1 cup water or vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A pinch of sugar
  • 10 to 15 fresh basil leaves

Directions

Slice the bread. In a heavy pot, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the garlic.

After a couple of minutes discard the garlic, and add the can of tomatoes, breaking them with your hands into the pot.

Add salt, pepper, sugar and water, and stir with a wooden spoon.

Shred the bread into bite-sized chunks with your hands (if it’s too hard/dry cut it into cubes with a bread knife), and add them to the pot.

Do not stir too aggressively, because you don’t want the bread to melt into the water completely: the texture should be somewhat chunky.

You should stir gently using an upward motion, and not too long.

Cook on low heat for about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Shred the basil leaves and add them to the soup; drizzle with more olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per person), lightly toss, serve.

This soup tastes even better reheated: it will be so thick that you will be able to eat it with a fork. Enjoy!

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/02/05/tuscan-bread-tomato-soup/

Venetian Rice with Raisins (“Risi e Ua”)

Venetian Rice with Raisins (“Risi e Ua”)

It was probably Sephardic Jews who transmitted to the rest of the Venetian population their passion for rice, after their arrival in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Venetians are still famous for creamy risottos (we call them “all’onda“, with a wave), to which we add pretty much anything, from chicken livers to fish to… stinging nettles. The usual preparation for risotto, adding hot broth a little at a time, releases so much starch that the rice must be eaten right away or it will clump. The pilaf version, besides reminding us of the Sephardic origins of this dish, can be prepared in advance and reheated for Shabbat. “Risi e Ua” (Rice and Grapes, or Raisins) is THE festive rice dish par excellence among the Jews of Venice, and – like most Jewish venetian recipes – it has also been enjoyed by the general population for a very long time. It’s also great for Hanukkah, in case your stomach cannot survive an all-fried menu and you want to start with something a little more digestible…. About the choice between garlic and onion: there are two schools of thought, and, like Hillel and Shammai, they are both right.


Venetian Rice with Raisins (“Risi e Ua”)

Ingredients

  • 1 quart hot vegetable stock
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced, or 1/2 an onion, sliced very thin
  • 2 cups Carnaroli (or Arborio) Italian rice
  • ½ cup of plumped raisins or sultanas
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley (optional)
  • salt to taste

Directions

Bring the stock to a boil and leave it to simmer on the stovetop.

Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof pot (non-stick or cast iron), add the garlic or onion, and parsley, and cook for 5 minutes on low heat.

Stir in the raisins, previously softened in hot water and drained well. (If you don’t own an oven-proof pot, start in a regular non-stick pot and transfer into a pyrex casserole or pan before moving into the oven).

Stir in the rice and cook, stirring, until all the grains are coated in oil and “toasted” and make ‘popping’ noises.

Pour in the wine, raise the heat and cook until the wine has evaporated.

Pour in all the hot stock and stir well.

As soon as the stock starts simmering again, cover the pot and transfer to a 365 F oven, where you will leave it alone to cook for exactly 18 minutes.

Take the rice out, add another couple of tablespoons of olive oil (or “oil from a roast beef”, if using in a meat meal), stir, and add salt if needed.

Let it rest covered for another 10 minutes. It can be eaten right away or reheated for Shabbat, as long as it’s not too dry and not left on the plata or warming drawer for longer than a couple of hours.

If the rice was made with vegetable stock and will be used in a dairy meal, you can also add some butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

You can also cook this rice as a risotto, on the stovetop adding one ladleful of hot stock at a time, if you prefer and if you don’t plan on reheating it.

If you don’t digest garlic or onion well, use slightly pressed whole cloves instead of minced garlic, and discard them after they have browned well, and before adding the rice.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/12/11/venetian-rice-with-raisins-risi-e-ua/

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/

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/

Tagliatelle with Pumpkin and Lentils

Tagliatelle with Pumpkin and Lentils

Tagliatelle with Pumpkin and Lentils

For Rosh HaShana I usually serve a fresh pasta soup in chicken broth before the main course: it’s easy to make (make or buy pasta; make chicken stock; cook the pasta and serve with the broth). But I wanted to offer something different for those of you who do not have a seder before the meal, and prefer a more filling first course. As a bonus, this pasta recipe includes pumpkin, one of the holiday symbols in some Italian Jewish communities, including Venice (see my post on “Zucca Barucca” above).

Tagliatelle with Pumpkin and Lentils

Ingredients

  • (serves 4)
  • 3/4 pound fresh or dried tagliatelle (Italian wide egg noodles)
  • 1 cup pumpkin or butternut squash (diced into small cubes)
  • 2 cups boiled lentils (or you can use a can)
  • 1 small zucchini
  • fresh sage
  • bay leaves
  • 1 small onion, minced very fine
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the onion, 2 sage leaves and 1 bay leaf.

After a couple of minutes dd the diced zucchini, the drained lentils and the cubed pumpkin.

Cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add a ladleful of hot water to the vegetables, salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes or more, until soft but not mushy.

Cook the tagliatelle in a large pot of salted boiling water.

While the pasta is cooking, transfer the vegetables into a bowl and put the rosemary sprig in the hot skillet where you cooked the vegetables, roasting it for a couple of minutes in the oil left over. Discard the rosemary and toast the breadcrumbs for 2-3 minutes in the same skillet.

Drain the pasta, dress it with the vegetable sauce and the toasted bread crumbs, and serve.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/09/22/tagliatelle-with-pumpkin-and-lentils/

Zucca Barucca (“Holy” Pumpkin or Butternut Squash)

Zucca Barucca (“Holy” Pumpkin or Butternut Squash) (Parve)

Zucca Barucca (“Holy” Pumpkin or Butternut Squash) (Parve)

Pumpkin or Butternut Squash is an important part of our Rosh haShana Seder. While the symbolic foods of the Pesach Seder are meant to internalize the memory of Passover, the symbols of Rosh haShana point to the future to wish us a good New Year. The Aramaic term for squash/pumpkin is  ’Kerah“. Because of its resemblance to the Aramaic root “Kara” (to cut), when we eat this vegetable we pray that any of our bad deeds will be cut out of the Book of G-d’s Judgement. Pumpkin arrived in Italy after the discovery of the Americas, and was such a hit with Northern Italian Jews that in Venice we call it “Zucca Barucca” (Holy Pumpkin – from the Hebrew “Baruch“). 

Different communities and different families prepare it in different ways, but here are a sweet-and-sour version, plus my favorite (but not very photogenic) Venetian version, mashed.

Zucca Barucca (“Holy” Pumpkin or Butternut Squash) (Parve)

Ingredients

  • SWEET AND SOUR PUMPKIN (or Butternut Squash)
  • 1 pound butternut squash or pumpkin (weight peeled and seeded)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced or minced
  • 2 tablespoons honey or sugar
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar (to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
  • MASHED PUMPKIN (Zucca Disfatta)
  • 2 pounds butternut squash or pumpkin, diced (weight peeled and seeded)
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil (to taste)
  • 1 medium onion, very finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • (in Ferrara they even add candied Etrog)

Directions

SWEET AND SOUR PUMPKIN (or Butternut Squash)

Peel the squash and discard the seeds.

Cut into wedges, about 1/2” thick.

In a skillet or wok, heat the olive oil over medium/high heat.

Add the squash and cook until soft inside and golden brown on the outside (8 to 10 minutes).

Discard most of the frying oil, and put the skillet back on the stovetop with the squash.

Drizzle with the vinegar and add the salt, pepper, sugar (or honey), garlic and mint.

Cook for about 10 more minutes on low heat, stirring gently.

It can be eaten warm or at room temperature.

MASHED PUMPKIN (Zucca Disfatta)

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and cook the onion in it, adding a couple of tablespoons of water if necessary.

Add the diced pumpkin, parsley, salt and cook it on low heat, covered, stirring often, until it’s so soft that it can be mashed easily.

At this point, mash it with a fork or potato masher.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/09/20/zucca-barucca-holy-pumpkin-or-butternut-squash-parve/

Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts
Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

The combination of spinach and pine nuts appears in a variety of  festive Jewish Venetian dishes of Iberian and Turkish origins, from marinated fish to braised carrots, to meat stuffings for vegetables. 
You can use the leftovers to make an unusual frittata.

Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds baby spinach
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots, or 1/2 an onion, minced
  • 1 whole clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins or currants, plumped in hot water and drained
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 oil-packed anchovies, minced (optional)
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • a touch of cinnamon or nutmeg
  • (optional) a sprinkle of Parmigiano, if serving in a dairy meal.

Directions

Wash the spinach well, discarding the stems (Italian Jews used to save them for a different preparation that required longer cooking).

Cook in a covered pot over medium heat with a little salt and a couple of tablespoons of water, for about 5 minutes.

Drain well.

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the shallots or onions (and anchovies, if using).

When they are translucent, add the pine nuts, raisins, spinach, salt, pepper, spices, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes or until ready.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/08/15/sauteed-spinach-with-raisins-and-pine-nuts/

How Venetians Shop for Fish

 

Many of us love eating fish in restaurants and are aware of its health benefits, but have no idea of how to cook it at home. Actually, the challenge is not so much cooking fish, as shopping for it! The key is finding a good, clean fish market or counter and getting to know the fishmonger, who will help you find the freshest fish available and will clean it for you if you can’t stomach doing it yourself.

LOOK HIM IN THE EYE! (the fish, not the fishmonger)
A fresh fish should look alive! Its eyes should look clear and stick out, they should not be opaque and sunken. Its gills should be wet and bright red (if they are brown or grayish, your friend was frozen); the skin, flesh and fins should be firm and bouncy, and the scales shiny.
It should smell like the ocean, but not TOO fishy. If you are buying fillets, be aware that brown edges or red streaks show age and should be avoided. You should always prefer a smaller fish over a larger one, because it will have more delicate flesh (one exception, I believe, is Turbot). I avoid fish that is sold already wrapped in plastic. If you have to buy it, at least rinse it very well and pat it dry with paper towel before cooking. However, it’s best to buy fresh fish, or even frozen. Most frozen fish nowadays is frozen fresh and can taste great if you let it thaw slowly in your fridge, rinse and dry it, and then cook it immediately.
What you should avoid at all costs is fish that was frozen but is being sold as fresh, because its texture will be unnaturally mushy.

Bigoli in Salsa

Bigoli in Salsa

Bigoli in Salsa

Bigoli are a kind of thick, hand-made whole-wheat spaghetti typical of Venice, my hometown. This delicious white sauce with onions and anchovies has Jewish roots, but has become popular across the religious spectrum. This recipe can also be made using regular whole-wheat spaghetti.

Bigoli

Ingredients

  • (serves 6):
  • . 1 pound package whole-wheat spaghetti (I like De Cecco or Barilla)
  • - 5-6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • - 2 large white onions, minced thin
  • - a 3-ounce can of oil-packed anchovy fillets (even better, 10 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed), minced
  • - half a cup of dry white wine, like a Pinot Grigio or Riesling
  • - salt, pepper
  • - toasted bread crumbs, if desired.

Directions

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta 'al dente'.

Meanwhile, in a saute' pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame.

Add the minced onions and a couple of tablespoons of water and lower the flame.

Let the onions cook, stirring, till translucent, adding little water if they start to dry out.

In the meantime, you will have minced the anchovies; once the onions are translucent add the anchovies and wineto the onions and keep cooking on low heat, stirring, until they 'melt' completely into the sauce.

Add black pepper to taste, and use this sauce to dress your spaghetti.

Some like to add grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (in a dairy meal), or toasted bread-crumbs and parsley; but the classic Venetian way to eat this pasta is without any additions.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2011/06/12/bigoli/