The Olive Oil Miracle

Joy of Kosher Olive Oil

If you’re an olive oil fan, be prepared. This year has been described as “The Black Year of Italian Olive Oil,”: in Italy, the weather was truly horrible (I spent the summer there, and can testify); on top of that, there was a rare and extreme infestation of a fruit fly  known as the “olive tree leprosy”.

The result is that the olive harvest in Italy is down 35 percent from last year, which means that we should expect to pay much more than usual for Italian olive oil, and to see even more olive oil fraud than last year — cheaper oils imported from abroad being sold as Italian, lower grades labeled extra-virgin, and worse, cut with vegetable oils that have nothing to do with olives.

What’s an olive-oil lover to do? (a good idea, of course, would be trying oils from Greece and those countries unaffected by the issue). If you believe in miracles, you can also pray that your stack will last eight times as long as it normally would, much like in the story of Hanukkah.

An eternal optimist, I still published a whole feature on olive oil, complete with recipes, cooking tips, and ideas for olive oil parings and tasting parties, in the current issue of Joy of Kosher magazine. In the meantime, I wish Italy a gorgeous, gigantic, perfect olive harvest next year!


Strawberry Risotto Straight From the Eighties

Strawberry Risotto straight from the Eighties by DinnerInVenice

All of us have dishes we have always loved. And then there are flavors that we learn how to love, later in life. Finally, those that we appreciate because they remind us of when we were young, and/or in love.

As an Italian teenager in the Eighties, trying to fit in (shoulder pads and all), I had a hard time getting used to the new food trends that we were importing from the US, such as burgers and club sandwiches. I would have traded any Panini for a bowl of my nonna’s ribollita soup! As to the other culinary movement that was going on – namely, the spread of Nouvelle Cuisine from France to Northern Italy – I was too young and poor to experience it!

I did hear about it, of course. I was aware of its most cultured and creative representative, Gualtiero Marchesi, and of all the copycats who tried to get on board by simply sticking kiwi, vodka and arugola into everything. But all my student budget allowed me to eat out was lots of arugola pizza!

The surprises of the new cuisine were mostly reserved to the Yuppies, the young and flashy finance or law professionals who loved to impress their peers with gold Rolexes, fast cars, and dinners in exclusive restaurants with outrageous prices. The others (who couldn’t afford such extravagances) made fun of them, laughing at the idea of such adventurous and un-Italian flavor combinations.

That’s how my friends and I, having to make do with pizza or the occasional panini, totally missed on the strawberry risotto craze. At home, our moms were too traditional to venture beyond mushroom or saffron!

Finally last month, to celebrate my 44th birthday and upcoming middle age, I decided to experiment with a few recipes from that era. If my teenage years have officially made it into history books, I should at least give them the respect they deserve!

I must confess that this was not my first choice. At first I really wanted to try my hand at the symbol of Italian Nouvelle Cuisine, Gualtiero Marchesi’s signature Risotto with Saffron and gold leaves. However, I wasn’t sure how my husband might react if he saw me pop my wedding band into the microwave, and on second thought I went for this more sensible option.

Some of you might worry that strawberries could make this risotto too sweet; on the contrary, the end result is slightly tart and very fresh, perfect for summer and incredibly fragrant – not to mention the pretty color!

Strawberry Risotto


Strawberry Risotto Straight From the Eighties

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

serves 4


  • 1 and 2/3 cups Italian rice, preferably Vialone Nano type
  • 1 to 2 quarts hot vegetable broth (prepared without tomato)
  • about ½ stick butter
  • ½ onion, very finely chopped
  • ½ cup prosecco, champagne or dry white wine
  • 8 medium strawberries (fewer if large)
  • salt to taste
  • pink or white pepper to taste
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese (or more to taste)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, if liked


(to prepare a vegetable broth, simmer a carrot, an onion and a stick of celery in salted water for about 30 minutes and season with salt); or you can use packaged vegetable broth, but make sure it’s made without tomatoes and doesn’t have too many added spices).

Cut the strawberries into small pieces, setting 3 or 4 whole ones aside for later.

Melt 2 tbsps butter in a heavy pot over medium heat, stir in the finely chopped onion and cook on medium heat for about 3-4 minutes (don’t allow it to brown). Add the rice, and cook for 2 minutes stirring. ?Pour in the wine and allow it to evaporate.

Start adding hot broth 1 or 2 ladlefuls at a time. Allow for the broth to be absorbed before adding more. ??After about 10-12 minutes, stir in the chopped strawberries, and keep adding more broth and stirring until done (total cooking time is usually around 18-22 minutes). Adjust the salt and check for doneness. The rice should be cooked but firm (“al dente”), and the sauce not too dense. Remove from the heat, stir in the remaining butter and the grated cheese, and allow to rest covered for 2 minutes. Serve immediately, topping with the remaining fresh strawberries.

Pagine Ebraiche- Italian Jewish Publication


Stuffed Goose Neck for Rosh HaShana

Stuffed Goose Neck

Kosher goose is nowadays only available in the US and in Italy through a few select butchers, or only at certain times of the year. But just a few centuries ago, starting in the Middle Ages and continuing through the Renaissance, goose had become the main source of meat for most Jewish communities in Western Europe, from German-speaking countries to the Italian peninsula. Goose was to the Jews what pork was to Christians: where the Gentiles used lard, the Jews cooked with goose fat; the meat was eaten roasted and stuffed or used to prepare sausages, salamis and kosher “prosciutto“.  It was the “Kosher Pig”! 

Several versions of this dish are still a popular Rosh HaShana main course in different Italian cities, of course only those years when we can get our hands on a goose. 

(A widespread variation is a turkey meatloaf enclosed in the turkey skin, which I will add later.)
On a personal note,  while I’m obsessed with this recipe, I am not going to serve it for Rosh HaShana this year, because the last time my husband (who is squirmy about meat in general) saw me stitch the neck with the trussing needle, he went 100% vegan for two weeks. 

Stuffed Goose Neck for Rosh HaShana


  • The skin of one goose neck
  • 1 and 1/2 lb ground goose meat
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 2 small day-old rolls, crusts removed (or 2 slices bread, crusts removed) and cubed
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • chicken or meat broth
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice (if liked)
  • 6 very thin slices Hungarian salami (or goose “prosciutto“)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • extra-virgin olive oil


Soak the bread in 1/2 cup of broth.

In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook the onion until soft, adding one or two tablespoons of water if necessary to prevent it from sticking or burning.

Allow the onion to cool down, discard any liquid or oil (you can place it in a cheesecloth or large piece of paper towel and squeeze the liquid out into your sink).

Also drain as much liquid as possible out of the bread, squeezing it well.

Now place the onion and bread in a large bowl and add the ground meat, egg, parsley, spices, salt and pepper and 1 or 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs, or just enough to give the stuffing the right texture (you can always add more later).

Combine everything together, mixing gently but thoroughly; on the other hand, don’t overdo it: it’s not Challa! My grandmother used to say that meatloaves and meatballs come out too hard if you handle the meat for longer than necessary.

Use this stuffing to fill the neck of the goose (yikes, I know), previously lined with some thin salami slices. It’s easiest with a spoon, and don’t stuff too hard because the stuffing expands during cooking and it can break the skin!

Now sew the opening close with a trussing needle and white cotton string.

Prick a few small holes in the skin with a skewer or kitchen knife, to prevent it from bursting during the cooking.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in an oven-proof skillet or sauteuse pan.

Add the neck and brown well on all sides.

Transfer into the oven and roast for at least an hour, turning it and basting with the liquids from the cooking at least 4 times at regular intervals.

To test for doneness, prick with a skewer or toothpick and make sure the juices run clear.


All About Olive Oil

Olive Oil

Olive Oil

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)

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.