Paint Colorful Table With Italian Dishes
While Crostini di Spuma di Tonno, Zuppa di Pesce Passato, Dolce di Tagliatelle might not sound like Jewish food, Italian Jews have long enjoyed these dishes.
Joyce Goldstein made her first trip to Italy in 1957 and instantly became what she calls a “fanatic Italophile.” The former chef-owner of San Francisco’s Square One and daughter of Russian immigrants, Goldstein threw herself into Italian art, architecture, language, culture and food.
Out of her travels and study came “Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen” (Chronicle Books, $19.95). Newly released in paperback, the book is a beautifully photographed homage to a cuisine that dates back to Roman times.
It’s not exactly the first place you’d think to look for a Rosh Hashanah menu. But the Jews of Italy can trace their roots to the second century B.C.E., making it one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, Goldstein said.
As in every corner of the Diaspora, Jewish cooks throughout the ages have used their creativity to wed regional cuisine to the laws of kashrut. Sometimes a clue lies in what is missing — no besciamella (cream) sauce or cheese on meat, for instance. The names of recipes may contain a tell-tale ending, “alla Guidia” or “alla Mosaica,” denoting “Jewish style,” “per Sabato” for Sabbath dishes or “per Pesach.”
“These are very regional Italian recipes,” Goldstein said, “and often you can tell just by looking at them where the Jews lived. Sometimes what makes these recipes Jewish is the name, like Scaloppini di Tacchino Rebecca or Minestra di Esau, but a lot of times you can’t tell, unless you see margarine or oil where they might have used butter.”
While the book is thoroughly researched, Goldstein never sacrifices flavor for authenticity. Where she finds a recipe bland, she adjusts the seasoning. “Our palates today are not used to things simple and good; they’re a little more stimulated. We’re used to eating all kinds of food here, so the ante is up and we want a little bit more flavor.”
She also admits to adjusting cooking times, as many of the oldest recipes were overcooked by today’s standards. “These are people who lived without ovens. They brought things to the baker to be cooked and picked up later, and some things were cooked a very long time. Vegetables — in those days you never got a crunch in your life,” she said.
Trained and educated as an artist, in Goldstein’s capable hands food and art blend. “When you cook you are organizing flavors and appearance, colors, smells, tastes. To me that’s like organizing a canvas when you’re painting, like the composition, choice of textures and colors. With art you don’t have smell and taste, so maybe food has an advantage, although art lasts and food gets eaten up. But both make use of creative energy.”
She is equally passionate about using locally grown ingredients. “The raw materials of the region are fabulous: Italian eggs with red yolks; flavorful, fresh chickens; vegetables that are picked one minute and served the next. Italians are totally driven by the quality of their ingredients; whereas if I go to the supermarket, when was it picked? When was it put out? When did I cook it? Three days maybe have lapsed, and it’s not as flavorful.”
Many of the ingredients traditionally used in Italian cuisine — tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, corn, pumpkin — were New World foods brought by the explorers to Spain and Portugal, where Jews, relegated to making their livelihood in trade and import, introduced them to the community at large. They were then transplanted to Italy by Sephardim who found refuge there during the Inquisition.
For Rosh Hashanah, try Stufadin di Zuca Zala (Braised Meat with Butternut Squash), reminiscent of Ashkenazic tzimmes. And no wonder. Many Ashkenazim immigrated to the Veneto, where this Venetian stew became popular. Here squash and Marsala add a touch of sweetness, bringing a wish for a sweet new year to your Rosh Hashanah table.
Traditionally for the holiday new fruits are served, and it is customary in Italy to poach quinces both for Rosh Hashanah and to break the fast for Yom Kippur. With an infusion of cloves and cinnamon, Mele Cotogne in Giulebbe (Quince in Syrup) brings a sweet, aromatic finale to your holiday feast.
Stufadin di Zuca Zala
(Braised Meat With Butternut Squash)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 pounds cubed veal for stew
Salt to taste
1 cup Marsala or other sweet wine
1 butternut squash, about 1 pound, halved, seeds and fibers removed, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, and parboiled in salted water for 5 minutes
1 1/2 cups meat or chicken broth, or as needed
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Warm two tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan over low heat. Add onions, garlic, and rosemary and sauté until tender and translucent, about eight minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Warm the remaining two tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pot over high heat. Add meat and brown well on all sides, sprinkling with a little salt after it has browned. Add wine and let it bubble up. Add sautéed onions, butternut squash, and broth to cover and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until meat is tender and squash has formed a puree, one to one-and-a-quarter hours. Season with salt and pepper before serving.
Variation: You can use three-quarters of a pound carrots, peeled and grated, in place of the squash.
Makes four to six servings.
Mele Cotogne in Giulebbe
(Quince in Syrup)
2 pounds quinces
2 cups sugar
1 cup water, or as needed
2 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
In a large saucepan, combine quinces with water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, uncovered, until barely tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain quinces and when cool enough to handle, peel, halve, core, and cut into slices.
In a saucepan large enough to accommodate the sliced quinces, combine sugar, 1 cup water, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add quinces and additional water if needed to cover. Simmer five minutes. Then over the course of 12 hours, bring quince slices to a boil in the syrup three times, boiling them for five minutes each time. This helps to bring up the rich red color of the fruit and allows them to absorb the syrup over time.
Transfer to a serving dish and refrigerate. Serve chilled.
Makes six servings.
"Adventures of Jewish Cooking" by Jeffrey Nathan (Clarkson/Potter Publishers, $32.50)
When Jeffrey Nathan auditioned for his first job cooking for the captain of a Navy destroyer somewhere in the middle of the Pacific and substituted vanilla for Worchester sauce in the meatloaf, little did he know his destiny was a 375-seat upscale kosher restaurant in Manhattan’s garment district named Abigael’s.
Twenty-five years, one James Beard nomination for Best National Cooking Series for the PBS show, "New Jewish Cuisine," and a critically acclaimed new book, "Adventures of Jewish Cooking," later, Nathan is still a bit overwhelmed.
It’s a blustery Friday in October as we approach Abigael’s and find the solicitous chef waiting by the door. He’s just returned from Los Angeles, filming his cooking show at the Jewish Television Network, with a brief stop at Kosherfest in Meadowlands, N.J., and a few television appearances in Florida.
Nathan is under strict mandate from his wife and his partners to relax. As he talks about ideas for Chanukah, his eyes dart around the room. Is the Thai-Crusted Chicken at table eight succulent enough? Is the Bison Chili too spicy?
"I can’t help it, I’m excited," says Nathan, sipping a cup of hot coffee, then chasing it with cold water. We’re seated at a corner table of the crowded restaurant, where the burly, immaculately dressed executive chef is co-owner and chief worrier. Nathan is as animated as he is on television.
"It was great! I felt like the kosher Emeril," Nathan enthuses about the reception he got at Kosherfest for his book. When you redefine a cooking style that hasn’t always been billed as haute cuisine, you’re bound to turn a few heads.
"There’s no such thing as strictly Jewish food. Since the Inquisition, Jews have migrated all over the world. They took their traditions with them; they also ate the food indigenous to the area. If we were in Palermo right now, we’d follow Jewish law, but we’d be eating fresh mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes and robust olive oil — but probably not with latkes," he says with a laugh.
He plays down the difficulties of the myriad dietary rules and restrictions taken from the Torah, including the necessity for a full time mashgiach (a certified kosher supervisor) in the kitchen.
"I know how hard it is," said executive chef Don Pintabona, of Tribeca Grill in Manhattan. "I went to Israel during the Peace Accord with Chefs for Peace. I had to cook a sauce the kosher way — it took me a day and a night. The mashgiach almost threw me out of the kitchen. Jeff makes it look so easy. He’s the type of chef, if you look at a plate of his food, you see his personality. It’s classic cuisine; it’s also comfort food."
Nathan’s most comforting dish just might be latkes. Not only will he serve all manner of the potato pancake with a variety of toppings at Abigael’s during Chanukah, he has fried and flipped the transcendent Jewish treat at The James Beard Foundation’s Latke Lovers Cook-off and Chanukah dinner for the last several years.
So latkes are partially responsible for Nathan’s success? "I’m not proud," he jokes. "You smell a latke, you’ll buy anything. Who could say no to something that tastes that good?"
Nathan relaxes a minute as he muses about Chanukahs past, then shifts into high gear and brainstorms accessories for the holiday’s shining star — a compote of seasonal fruit and a Latin chimichurri sauce of tangy herbs and spices. "The spiciness of the chimichurri is the perfect foil for latkes," he said. "Then you add the opposite flavor of sweetness from the compote. Sweet, savory and untraditional."
"I keep the latkes simple. Everybody thinks they have to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. I use a combination of Russets for strength, Yukon Golds for richness and sweetness. And a few ingredients to bring out the flavor, not disguise it. A perfect latke is light, crispy, cooked all the way through, and above all, delicious."
He laughs good-naturedly. "I love what I do. And the best part, it’s brought me back to my roots. Even when I achieved notoriety as a wild-game chef or when I was invited to cook at The James Beard House, I was the same shlepper as everyone else. Now I’ve achieved everything a chef dreams of. There’s got to be a reason for this."
He pauses, taking it all in. "You don’t think it has just a tiny bit to do with God"?
Breaking the Fast
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins at sundown on Sunday, Oct. 8, during which time a strict fast is observed
Prior to the fast, it is customary to serve a family dinner consisting of simple foods prepared with a minimum of salt and spices.
After the fast, dairy foods are traditionally served, and of course bagels are an important part of the after-fast menu, often accompanied by smoked fish and salads.
If there is one favorite item in the Jewish-American cuisine, it is certainly the bagel. Their popularity has spread to almost every part of the U.S. And many shops specializing only in bagels have popped up everywhere. We can choose from egg or water bagels, whole wheat, oat bran, rye, onion, blueberry, cinnamon-raisin, cheese and even chocolate chip bagels.
There are many opinions as to where the bagel originated. Some say Germany, while others insist it was Austria, Poland or Russia, although scholars claim that the word “bagel” is derived from the German word “bugel,” which means a ring or curved bracelet. No matter where they came from, we know that the bagel is here to stay, and they are not just for breakfast.
Few of us have attempted to bake bagels in our home kitchens.
I love making bagels, but it is true that they do take a lot of time. Bagels are made in a unique manner; they are first boiled, then baked, which gives them their distinctive shiny, chewy crust.
This year, for break-the-fast, bagels will be my theme – a bagel buffet, with enough delicious toppings to satisfy everyone.
Let your family and friends have fun creating their own open-face bagel fantasy from a selection of interesting toppings.
Izzy’s Authentic Bagels
I never knew how to make perfect bagels until I met Izzy Cohen, an elderly retired baker, who made bagels for his friends. He came to my house to demonstrate his technique, bringing his own high-gluten flour. Once you learn the basic process, you’ll love making bagels in many varieties – plain, onion, poppy seed, cinnamon, or your own special creations. You might have to go to a health food store to find the malt for this recipe.
- 2 cups cold water
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon malt
- 1 tablespoon safflower oil
- 8 cups high-gluten flour (12 to 13 percent gluten) or 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour mixed with
- 1/4 cup powdered gluten, plus more as needed
- 5 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer, blend the water, sugar, salt, malt, and oil on medium speed.In another large bowl, mix 6 cups of the flour with yeast; gradually add flour mixture to water mixture and blend until the dough comes together. Add the remaining 2 cups flour, beating until smooth. (If any dry flour mixture remains in the bottom of the bowl, add several drops of water to moisten it and continue beating 5 minutes.)
Transfer dough to a lightly floured board, cover with a towel and let rest 5 minutes. Divide dough into 15 pieces and cover with a towel while you knead and shape each piece. Knead by folding each piece in half and pushing out any air pockets, then fold in half again and repeat. Shape into a rope about 5 inches long; form into a doughnut shape, overlap ends by about 1 inch, and knead into a smooth perfect circle. Repeat the process with remaining pieces of dough.
Sprinkle cornmeal on the board and place bagels on top. Cover with a towel and let rest 5 minutes.Preheat the oven to 425 F.
Fill a large heavy pot with water and bring to a rolling boil. Working in batches, drop 4 to 6 bagels (do not crowd) into boiling water and boil 10 seconds only. At this time, bagels should rise to the top of the water. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a wire rack and drain. Transfer bagels to a parchment-lined baking sheet 2 inches apart. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire racks. Makes about 15 bagels.Variations: Mix together chopped onion and poppy seeds or caraway seeds with a little coarse kosher salt. After boiling and draining bagels, press the top of each bagel into seed mixture and bake as directed.
Toasted Garlic Bagels
Instead of garlic toast using French bread, try my version.
- 1/4 pound unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine
- 3 to 4 garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons minced parsley
- 8 bagels, sliced in half
In a processor, mix butter and garlic until well blended. Pulse in parsley. Season to taste with salt. With a rubber spatula, transfer mixture to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. (You can also shape the mixture into a cube, wrap in plastic wrap and foil, then freeze it; defrost until spreadable before use.)
Preheat the broiler. Spread the butter mixture on the bagel halves, place them on a baking sheet, and broil until the butter mixture bubbles and begins to brown. Serve immediately.
Grandma’s Chopped Herring
- 1 pound schmaltz herring fillets or 1 jar (1 pound) pickled herring fillets in wine sauce
- 2 slices challah or egg bread
- 1 medium onion, cut into quarters
- 1 green apple, peeled, cored, and sliced
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- 4 teaspoons vinegar
- 2 or 3 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil
Soak the herring in cold water overnight. Drain well. Bone and skin the herring and cut it into pieces. Soak the challah in cold water for a few minutes and squeeze out the water.
Place the herring, challah, onion, and apple in a food grinder and grind. Chop the hard-boiled egg whites and combine with 3 teaspoons of the vinegar. Mix the whites into the herring mixture. Spread the chopped herring on a platter. Mash the egg yolks with the remaining 1 teaspoon vinegar and spread over the top of the chopped herring.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Just before serving, pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of the oil over the top. Serve with toasted bagels.
Broiled Lox and Cream Cheese on a Bagel
- 8 bagels, sliced and toasted
- 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 3 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
- 1/2 cup diced smoked salmon
- 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a medium-size bowl, mix together the cream cheese, sour cream, onions and smoked salmon. Fold in capers. Season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly on toasted bagels. Broil 3 inches from the heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.
Italian Deli Platter
- 12 thin slices of tomatoes
- 12 thin slices of mozzarella cheese
- 12 anchovy fillets
On a large platter, arrange slices of tomatoes. Top each tomato with a slice of cheese and an anchovy fillet. Serves 12.
Smoked Whitefish Platter
- Lettuce leaves
- Smoked whitefish or cod fish
- Sliced cucumbers
- Sliced onions
On a large platter, arrange lettuce leaves, white fish, cucumbers and onions.