Delizioso: Chanukah with an Italian flair


While enjoying my favorite foods on a recent trip to Italy, I began to think about Chanukah, even though it was only October. This was a natural association, because the Italians love to prepare foods with olive oil, and the traditional dishes served during Chanukah are fried in oil to commemorate the tiny supply of oil that burned for eight days and nights in the ancient temple — a real miracle.

Chanukah favorites include latkes and sufganiyot (deep-fried jelly-filled doughnuts). These and other Chanukah specialties will be enjoyed by many families during the eight-day holiday, which begins at sundown on Dec. 20.

Chanukah is always a festive occasion for my family. We gather together on at least one of the eight nights to celebrate with favorite foods and exchange gifts, and the children spin the dreidel, a game that dates back to ancient times.

This year, a different flavor will be added to our menu by including some of the recipes I collected in Italy with Chanukah in mind.

Olive oil is the oil of choice in Italy and a healthful one, as it is among the highest in monounsaturated fat.

The recipes I have chosen offer a wide variety of authentic Italian flavors. There is even a latke made with polenta (boiled cornmeal). Shaped into pancakes and fried in oil, it can be served with olive paste or your favorite latke topping.

Sicilian Rice Cakes, also called L’Orancini — or, as I like to call them, Risotto Latkes — are made with Italian arborio rice and filled with two Italian cheeses, tomato paste and parsley, and are hearty enough to serve as a vegetarian main course.

For an Italian sweet touch, make Farfallette (Butterfly) cookies. Ribbons of dough are twisted and tied into butterfly shapes, fried in oil and dusted with powdered sugar. Another favorite is Scavatelle, deep-fried pastries. I can’t help but think how perfect these fritters, fried in olive oil and dipped in a honey syrup, would be to serve for our Chanukah celebration.


SICILIAN RICE CAKES (RISOTTO LATKES)

1/2 cup chopped or grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 cup breadcrumbs
Risotto (recipe follows)
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Combine mozzarella, Parmesan, parsley and tomato sauce in a small bowl.

Place breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle hands lightly with breadcrumbs, scoop up 1 tablespoon of Risotto in your hands and shape into a flat oval; make an indentation in the center of each with your thumb. Place 1 teaspoon of mozzarella mixture in the center and cover the oval with another tablespoon of the Risotto. Mold into 2- to 3-inch ovals, enclosing mozzarella mixture completely. Roll in breadcrumbs to coat.

Heat oil in a nonstick skillet, and fry rice cakes, a few at a time, until crisp and golden brown on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to paper towels to drain.

Makes about 12.


RISOTTO

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy skillet. Add onion and sauté over medium heat until soft. Add rice and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add 1 or 2 ladles of hot broth or enough to cover the rice. Cook, stirring constantly, as the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth, a little at a time, until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, whipping cream and Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue cooking 2 to 3 minutes longer. Cool. 

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


POLENTA FRITTA (CORNMEAL LATKES)

2 1/2 quarts milk or water
2 1/2 cups coarse yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 jar (6 ounces) olive paste

Bring milk to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Pour the cornmeal in slowly, in a thin stream, stirring constantly. Add salt and pepper, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has absorbed and the cornmeal is thick, about 30 minutes.

Wet a large cutting board with water; spread the cooked polenta evenly over the surface with a wet spatula to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Set aside until completely cooled.

Cut polenta into 3-inch rounds with a cookie cutter.

In a nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil and fry the latkes until golden brown on both sides. Spread with olive paste.

Makes 24 Risotto Latkes.


FARFALLETTE DOLCE (SWEET BUTTERFLIES)

2 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon
juice
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon sweet wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar

Beat egg yolks in a large bowl. Blend in granulated sugar. Add lemon juice, milk, wine and olive oil. Gradually add flour and salt, mixing well after each addition.

Knead dough on a floured board until smooth. Cover with a towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

Roll dough out very thin. With pastry cutter or sharp knife, cut dough into strips 6 inches long and 3/4 inches wide. Tie each strip into a knot to make butterfly shapes.

Heat vegetable oil to 370 F in a deep fryer or deep, heavy pot. Fry pastries until golden brown on both sides, turning once, being careful not to crowd. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Cool. Place on a large platter. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes 2 dozen.


SCAVATELLE (FRIED PASTRIES)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon olive oil
Peel of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup flour
Honey Syrup (recipe follows)
Olive oil for frying

Place water, cinnamon stick, olive oil, lemon peel, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove peel and cinnamon stick. Add flour all at once and, using a wooden spoon, mix until dough comes together. It will be lumpy.

Spoon dough onto a floured board, punch down, and knead into a flat disc to remove lumps. Pull off pieces of dough and roll out into thin ropes. Cut into 6-inch ropes and, working with one rope, bring one end of the rope around to form a loop, crossing over the other end (leaving 1-inch ends) and pinching to resemble a bow tie. Place on paper towels and cover with a clean, dry dish towel.

Heat oil in a deep fryer or heavy saucepan and fry pastries until browned. Dip in Honey Syrup and serve at once.

Makes about 4 dozen.


HONEY SYRUP

1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon sugar
Peel of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon water

Place honey, sugar, lemon peel and water in a saucepan. Mix well, simmer over low heat, and discard lemon peel.

Makes about 1/4 cup. 

Dining in: Italian cheeses inspire a unique holiday menu


It all started with Signora Grazia, an elderly cheese maker in Panzano, Italy. While vacationing in this Tuscan village, just 30 minutes south of Florence, we walked by her farm early one morning and saw the sign that read “Pecorino and Fresh Ricotta for Sale.”

We hiked up the path and, peering through the open barn door, saw her making hot ricotta cheese in a big copper bowl over an open fire. We bought some and briskly walked back to our villa. While the ricotta was still warm, we enjoyed this delicious discovery for breakfast, topped with dark chestnut honey. However, the dish is equally delicious for lunch, dinner or dessert.

Taking inspiration from my adventures in Italy, I’m skipping traditional Shavuot fare like cheese blintzes and cheesecake this year in favor of Homemade Ricotta, Cheese and Smoked Salmon Panini, Ravioli Filled With Four Cheeses and Ricotta Cake With Zabaglione.

The first time I had grilled panini was at an Autogrill, an extensive cafe/buffet bar at a rest area along Italy’s Autostrada. We found 10 or more different combinations of panini already assembled, using a variety of breads and rolls in many sizes and shapes. If you opt to have your panini toasted, the server hands you a hot, grilled sandwich, wrapped in parchmentlike paper, with melted cheese oozing out the sides. They were so good, we had several for lunch.

Ravioli Filled With Four Cheeses will replace the traditional cheese blintzes at our holiday dinner. The pasta dough, adapted from Chef Jessica’s handmade pasta, which is prepared daily at her Ristoranti L’800 in Argelato, is as easy to make as the blini for blintzes. Boiled for a few minutes, they are tossed in melted butter and served with Parmesan cheese.

Some think serving dairy for Shavuot is related to Shir HaShirim (The Song of Songs). One line of this poem reads “Honey and milk are under your tongue.” Many believe this line compares the Torah to the sweetness of milk and honey, and years ago it was the tradition for children to be introduced to Torah study during Shavuot with honey cakes featuring words from the Torah written on them.

For dessert, in keeping with the Shavuot theme, serve Bruna Santini’s Ricotta Cake With Zabaglione.

Many years ago we were at Dal Pescatore, a three-star Michelin restaurant between Mantova and Cremona, where we ate this delicious cake that was served with a rich zabaglione sauce spooned over the top. It was made by pouring the batter into a heavy cast iron skillet, covered with a lid and placed in the fireplace, where hot coals were raked over the pot to bake the cake. Fortunately, times have changed, and baking this ricotta cake in an oven makes the process significantly easier.


JUDY’S FRESH HOMEMADE RICOTTA

Judy’s fresh homepage ricotta (Photo by Dan Kacvinski)

1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup cream
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice

In a heavy saucepan, bring milk, cream and salt to a simmer. Just before it comes to a rolling boil, add the lemon juice, stirring until soft curds begin to form. Remove from the heat and allow curds to form. Using a slotted spoon, skim the ricotta curds from the whey and place them in a colander lined with cheesecloth. Or use a wire sieve or a small plastic ricotta basket. Drain for 15 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of honey.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of ricotta.


CHEESE AND SMOKED SALMON PANINI

Cheese and smoked salmon panini (Photo by Dan Kacvinski)

1/2 cup Mustard-Dill Sauce (recipe follows)
12 slices sandwich bread
6 slices smoked salmon
6 slices mozzarella cheese
Prepare Mustard-Dill Sauce, cover with plastic wrap, and chill.

Place sliced bread on a work board. Spread Mustard-Dill Sauce on six slices of bread and top each with a slice of smoked salmon and a slice of cheese to cover. Cover with remaining 6 slices of bread.

Preheat your panini press or grill to medium heat.

Place the sandwiches in the panini press and close the lid. Grill the sandwich until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted. Slice into quarters and serve immediately. 

Makes 6 panini.


MUSTARD-DILL SAUCE
3 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon powdered mustard
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon red or white vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh chopped (or snipped) dill

In a small, deep bowl, combine the Dijon and powdered mustards, sugar and vinegar; blend well. With a wire whisk, slowly beat in the olive oil until it forms a thick mayonnaise. Stir in the chopped dill. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about 1 cup.

BRUNA SANTINI’S RAVIOLI WITH FIVE CHEESES

The Santini family at Dal Pescatore is famous for starting trends, and this is one of them. Make your own pasta, fill squares with the five-cheese mixture, and shape them into ravioli or tortellini. They are as light and melt-in-your-mouth as you can get. When a customer orders Bruna’s ravioli, she melts butter in a frying pan, adds grated Parmesan cheese, tosses the ravioli in the sauce, spoons it onto a plate — and voilà!

12 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 pound ricotta, drained
6 ounces Romano cheese, freshly grated
6 ounces Emmental cheese, freshly grated
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, freshly grated
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
3 tablespoons grated fresh onion
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pasta Dough (recipe follows)
Unsalted butter

In a large bowl, combine the five cheeses, whipping cream, butter, eggs, grated onion, parsley, nutmeg, salt and pepper; mix well.

Prepare the Pasta Dough and roll it out in long wide sheets. Place a teaspoon of filling every 2 to 2 1/2 inches on one sheet of prepared pasta. With pastry brush or fingers dipped in water, moisten all sides and between cheese mounds. Carefully place second sheet of pasta over cheese-filled sheet. Using fingers, gently press sheets together to seal firmly at edges and between mounds of filling. With ravioli cutter or small sharp knife, cut ravioli into individual squares. Place squares on a clean, lightly floured cotton towel, and let rest 1 hour, if possible. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Cook ravioli 8 to 10 at a time in boiling water. Remove with slotted spoon to warm buttered serving dish. Repeat until all ravioli are cooked.

Toss generously with additional butter and additional Parmesan. Serve immediately with additional sauce.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


PASTA DOUGH

If your food processor has a limited capacity, make the dough in two or more batches.

3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water

Place the flour and salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Turn the machine on and off once. With the machine running, drop in one egg and, the instant it is blended in, turn off the machine. Repeat with the remaining eggs until the dough is crumbly or resembles a coarse meal.  Add the olive oil and water and process just until the dough begins to come away from the side of the bowl.

Remove the dough to a floured wooden board and knead just until smooth. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 parts for easier handling. When rolling out the first piece, cover the remainder with a large bowl so the dough does not dry out.


BRUNA SANTINI’S RICOTTA CAKE WITH ZABAGLIONE SAUCE

Bruna Santini’s ricotta cake with zabaglione sauce (Photo by Dan Kacvinski)

3/4 cup dried currants
Sweet wine
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1 pound ricotta cheese, pressed through a strainer
2 1/4 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 3/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons rum
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup milk
Zabaglione Sauce (recipe follows)

Plump currants in sweet wine or warm water until soft, 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Brush a 12-cup bundt pan with melted butter and sprinkle with ground almonds. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat ricotta and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Then mix in flour a little at a time. Stir plumped currants into flour mixture along with rum and olive oil. Add vanilla, baking powder, baking soda and milk to soften batter and blend.

Spoon batter into prepared bundt pan. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and sides begin to pull away from pan. Remove cake from oven and cool. Invert onto a platter. When ready to serve, slice and serve with Zabaglione Sauce on the side.

Makes 12 servings.


ZABAGLIONE SAUCE

5 egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons Marsala wine

Beat egg yolks and sugar until thick, creamy and light in color. Add Marsala and whisk well to combine. Cook in a double boiler, over simmering water, for 10 minutes, whisking constantly.

Makes about 1 cup. 

Golan Heights Winery takes Italian first prize


For the first time, the grand prize at Italy’s leading international wine competition has been awarded to an Israeli winery.

The Golan Heights Winery, founded in 1983 in Katzrin, beat out 3,720 wines from from more than 1,000 producers in 30 countries to take home the so-called “Wine World Cup”—the Gran Vinitaly Special Award granted ahead of Italy’s annual Vinitaly wine trade fair in Verona, one of Europe’s top wine events, which opens Friday.

It was the first time that the grand prize was given to an Israeli wine-maker, although the Golan Heights Winery had already won Grand Gold Medals at Vinitaly in 2004 and 2006.

The 105-member jury included international wine experts and journalists.

The Golan Heights Winery’s chief winemaker is Victor Schoenfeld, a graduate of the University of California at Davis.

The wines are marketed under the Yarden, Gamla and Golan labels.

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