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.
Judy Bart Kancigor, the author of “Melting Pot Memories” (Jan Bart Publications, $19.95), can be found on the Web at
Fritter Away Your Time for Chanukah
We just returned from a trip to Italy, concentrating on the provinces of Puglia and Campania close to Naples. It is a region that we enjoy because of the diversity of the foods and wines available.
We visited several new places but returned to one of our favorites, La Caveja, a country restaurant with eight rooms, in the village of Pietravairano. It is owned by Antonietta Rotondo and Berardino Lombardo. They hosted us two years ago, when we had a remarkable experience that lasted past midnight, observing just-picked olives being crushed into olive oil.
However, since our last visit, they have remodeled their farmhouse into a wonderful villa. It is a bed and breakfast, and includes six additional rooms. In Italy, it is called an agri-turismo.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner that they cooked in their newly restored kitchen, and for dessert, Antonietta served us honey-glazed fritters fried in olive oil. She called them Scavatelle and said they were made from a traditional recipe that was handed down from her grandmother.
I couldn’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. She was happy to share the recipe with me, when I told her that I would like to serve them to our family.
This pastry is easy to make, and it is a project that you can share with your children or grandchildren. Baking helps teach children to follow directions, how to measure and weigh ingredients, tell time and other useful skills. So, let them help in the shaping and dipping of these delicacies.
The dough can be rolled out several hours in advance and covered with a dry towel. Fry and dip in the honey syrup just before serving, so they will be warm and crisp.
Remember, Chanukah begins at sundown on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Happy Chanukah!
Scavatelle (Fried Pastries)
Adapted by Judy Zeidler from Antonietta Rotondo at La Caveja.
Antonietta said that these pastries are traditionally served on a large lemon leaf.
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons water
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon olive oil
Peel from 1/2 of a lemon
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon sugar
Peel of 1/2 a lemon
1 tablespoon water
Olive oil for frying
In a saucepan, place water, cinnamon stick, olive oil, lemon zest, sugar and salt. Boil for two or three minutes. Remove zest 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 disk 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 rope around to form a loop, crossing over the other end (leaving 1/2-inch ends) and pinching to resemble a bow tie. Place on paper towels and cover with a dry dish towel.
In a saucepan, place honey, sugar, lemon peel and water. Mix well and simmer over low heat.
In a deep fryer or heavy saucepan, heat oil and fry pastries until browned. Dip in honey syrup and serve at once.
Makes about four dozen.
Antonietta Rotondo and Berardino Lombardo can be contacted at:
La Camere della Locando
La Stalla della Caveja
Via s.s. Annunziata
Pietravairano (ce), Italy
Telephone (0823) 984824, fax (0823) 982977.
Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999). Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.
Gay Marriage: A Real Threat?
What’s Portuguese for Cohen?
A major new tool can help Brazilians learn about their possible Iberian Jewish origins: the "Dictionary of Sephardic Surnames," a 528-page tome featuring some 17,000 surnames of Sephardic Jewish families from Portugal, Spain and Italy and their descendants.
Written in Portuguese and English, the dictionary is the fruit of a research project started in 1995 by Brazilian historians Guilherme Faiguenboim and Paulo Valadares and Italian historian Anna Rosa Campagnano. Faiguenboim and Campagnano are Jewish. Valadares is of Portuguese "New Christian" — or Marrano — ancestry.
According to Faiguenboim, a founding member of the Brazilian Jewish Genealogical Society, the initial idea was to explore about 1,000 Sephardic surnames. After seven years of work, the team had more than 16,000 names.
The first part of the book features a historical introduction. The second tells about the Sephardic dispersion from the edicts of expulsion until the 20th century. The book ends with the dictionary itself, preceded by an explanation of the names’ origins.
For each entry, readers can find where the first references to the family name were found and the name’s subsequent path around the world. It also lists famous bearers of the family name through history.
According to Faiguenboim, historians say that 10 percent to 30 percent of the Portuguese population was Jewish before Jews were forced in 1496 to leave the country or be baptized. Many of them fled to Northern Africa and, beginning in the early 1500s, also to Brazil, Portugal’s major colony. According to historians, several Jews were among the sailors on the very first Portuguese caravel fleets to the New World.
Most non-Jewish Brazilians presume that they have Jewish ancestry because they have surnames that Jews were known to have used in the past to hide their Jewishness. However, such names — like Oliveira, Souza, Cardoso, and even Silva, the most typical Brazilian name of all — often are common among non-Jewish Brazilians.
Faiguenboim says that not everyone with a family name in the dictionary is of Jewish ancestry.
"But if a person is recognized as Jewish, his or her name will certainly be there," he said.
He Sang/She Sang
Purim Around the World
I know you’re going to have a lot of fun dressing up, eating
hamantaschen and drowning out Haman’s name with your groggers! Here are some
other interesting customs that used to be practiced at Purim around the world:
France — Because of the verse in the Megillah, “I shall
surely wipe out the memory of Amalek,” children used to take smooth stones,
write or engrave Haman’s name on them and strike them together during the
Megillah reading whenever his name was mentioned.
Egypt — Young men would ride through the streets of the
Jewish quarter on horses and camels to simulate Mordechai in the verse “and
they brought him on horseback through the street of the city.”
Italy — The youngsters would divide into two camps and throw
nuts at each other and the adults would ride through the streets of the town on
horseback, with cypress branches in their hands.
Germany –On Purim eve, torches containing gunpowder would
be ignited. During the Megillah reading, the gunpowder exploded with a