The Jewish community of Ferrara is the only one in Emilia-Romagna with a continuous presence from the Middle Ages to the present day. It played an important role while the Duke Ercole I d’Este was in power. The situation of the Jews deteriorated in 1598, after the Este dynasty moved to Modena and the city came under papal control. The Jewish settlement, located on three city streets, formed a triangle near the cathedral and became a ghetto in 1627. Between 1627 and 1859, the Ferrara Jews were restricted to the ghetto, a self-sufficient small town within the larger one. With a population of about 1,800, the ghetto had its own synagogues, schools and old age homes. In 1848, King Carlo Alberto proclaimed the emancipation of the Italian Jews, granting them equal rights. Today, the old ghetto area, with its small attractive stores and refurbished colorful houses, is an essential part of the itinerary of all guided tours.
In 1799, the city was taken over by the Republic of France, which established a small garrison there. Shortly after, Lieutenant Field Marshal Johann von Klenau approached the fortress with his military forces consisting of Austrian cavalry, artillery and infantry men, augmented by Italian peasant rebels, and demanded its capitulation. The commander refused. Klenau blockaded the city. For the next three days, Klenau patrolled the countryside, capturing the surrounding strategic points. The French attempted two rescues of the beleaguered fortress and, finally, a column led by Pierre-Augustin Hulin reached and relieved the fortress. Klenau took possession of the town, though, and garrisoned it with a light battalion. The Jewish residents of Ferrara paid 30,000 ducats to prevent the pillage of the city by Klenau’s forces, thus, saving the city from being sacked.
Although Jews lived in several towns of Emilia-Romagna, including Modena, Bologna, Parma, Reggio and Emilia, the Jewish cuisine that seems to have survived or prevailed is the one from the city of Ferrara. Their influence in the region’s cooking is mainly Sephardi, with dishes such as buricchi, which is reminiscent of Spanish and Portuguese empanadas and can have both sweet and savory fillings.
An old saying from Ferrara goes, “Dell’oca non si butta via niente”, which translates as “Nothing gets thrown away from a goose”. Inspired by the Italian pork cold cuts, the Ferrara Jews recreated similar cuts using goose. All the parts of the goose were eaten: its fat was widely used in cooking as it was full of protein and calories and was cheap to buy. Its meat was used to make ‘prosciutti’ and goose sausages or salami. For centuries the word ‘sallame’, spelt with two ‘l’s instead of ‘salame’ was used within the Jewish community in order to distinguish the goose salami from the forbidden pork one. Foie gras was made from the goose liver and it was very expensive. Sometimes it was even used for payment in illegal betting and smuggling.
Goose was widely used in Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Piedmont until modern times, when it was replaced by turkey, as turkey is more tender, less fatty and cheaper. Many recipes from the Jewish community of Ferrara have goose and turkey as their main dish entree and turkey meatloaf is still a popular dish. A well-known and interesting goose dish is the ruota del faraone or Pharaoh’s wheel. It is made with fresh tagliatelle, goose salami, pine nuts and raisins. It’s ingredients represent the Egyptian soldiers and chariots being caught up in the waves of the closing Red Sea, while chasing the Jews who were escaping from Egypt. This dish and many other old traditional recipes are laborious and few people make them today, if at all. Testine di spinaci – the stems of spinach – and guscetti – the husks of green peas were dishes created at the time of the ghettos, when living conditions were particularly poor and creativity was a necessity in the kitchen.
During Passover, foods containing chametz, that is leavened bread or anything else made with wheat, barley, oats, spelt or rye are not allowed. The Ashkenazic tradition also places kitniyot in the list of prohibited Passover foods: rice, corn, soy, millet, beans, peas, any other legume or anything derived from those products, such as corn syrup, tofu or soy oil fall under this category. Similarly, seeds, mustard, sesame and fennel are also avoided during Passover. This restriction includes peanuts, even though we think of them as nuts, they really are classified as legumes. People from a Sephardi or Mizrahi background do not have the kitniyot restriction.
Look on products like matzah flour, juices, wine, oil, candy and soda for the “Kosher for Passover” certification. That can help you be sure.
Serves 4 to 6 as appetizer
- 11 matzahs, broken into small pieces
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon freshly minced parsley
- A pinch of nutmeg
- 4 tablespoons of matzah meal, plus more to dust the gnocchi
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon kosher approved extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 leeks
- 1 clove garlic
- 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes
- Pinch of sugar
Soak the matzah in cold water or broth for at least 1 hour or until soft. Drain, squeeze well and place into a clean bowl; add the eggs, salt and pepper, parsley, nutmeg and matzah meal. Mix all the ingredients together.
In a second bowl, place some more matzah meal. With a wet tablespoon or a small scoop, take some of the mixture and place it on top of the matzah meal. Using your hands, roll the mixture evenly over the matzah meal and shape it into a ping-pong size ball. Proceed with the rest of the mix and place the rolled gnocchi on a piece of wax paper.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; drop in the gnocchi and scoop them out as they rise to the surface using a slotted skimmer. Place them in with the tomato sauce and serve.
Prepare the sauce:
Heat olive oil and add thinly sliced leeks (white and light green parts) and a whole clove of garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring, and discard the garlic.
Add the tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon . Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar. Cook for about 10-15 minutes uncovered, allowing the sauce to thicken.
Passover Rolled Turkey Breast With Mushroom-Spinach Stuffing
FOR THE STUFFING:
- 2 tablespoons kosher-for-Passover olive oil
- 2 leeks, white part only, chopped
- 1 pound mushrooms, chopped fine
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- 6 cups fresh spinach, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2 cups matzah meal
- Salt and pepper to taste
FOR THE TURKEY:
- 1 Kosher whole turkey breast, boned, with skin (4-5 pounds)
- 1 tablespoon kosher-for-Passover olive oil
- 3 cups reduced-sodium Kosher chicken or vegetable broth, divided
- 1 cup kosher-for-Passover dry white wine
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
TO PREPARE THE STUFFING:
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add oil. Saute leeks and mushrooms until leeks are tender and mushrooms are browned, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, Italian seasoning and spinach and stir until spinach wilts. Remove to a large bowl to cool slightly. Sprinkle with lemon juice and stir in matzah meal. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
TO PREPARE THE TURKEY:
Lay turkey breast skin side down on a cutting board or wax paper. Trim any excess skin. Holding a knife parallel to the meat, make lengthwise cuts on both breast halves, cutting away from the center, so meat is of a consistent thickness (creating a rectangular shape). Cover with wax paper and pound to 3/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread with the spinach stuffing mixture, leaving about a 1/2-inch border. Starting from the left side, roll into a cylinder. Tie at 1-inch intervals with kitchen string and secure open edges with toothpicks.
Place turkey on a rack, seam side down, in a roasting pan. Brush with oil. Combine 2 cups chicken broth with the wine and pour over the turkey. Roast for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, basting with stock mixture every 15 minutes (add broth if evaporating too quickly) or until temperature registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and juices run clear.
Remove from roast the oven and let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.
Skim fat from the roasting pan and pour pan juices into a small saucepan with the remaining stock and season with salt and pepper. Cook until slightly thickened. Remove toothpicks and string, and slice turkey into 1-inch-thick slices. Serve with sauce.
These latkes are oven fried.
- 1 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, about 3 medium potatoes
- 1 medium onion
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons Matzah meal
- Kosher approved vegetable oil for the baking sheets
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly spray two large cookie sheets with rims with cooking spray.
Grate or shred the potatoes. You can use the fine shredding attachment on a processor or mixer. Wrap the grated potatoes in a cotton dish towel (a flour sack towel works well), and twist the towel closed at the top. Bring the potatoes to the sink and squeeze them, wringing as much liquid as possible from them.
Shred or grate the onion. Don’t use the finest shredding disk of your food processor, as it will turn the onion to mush; the medium shredding disk is preferable.
Combine the drained potatoes, onion, egg, salt and matzah in a bowl, stirring until everything is thoroughly mixed.
Pour a thin layer of oil into each baking pan. It should be deep enough that when you tilt the pan, you can see it move. For easier-to-clean pans and slightly less greasy latkes, heat the pans in the oven briefly, to warm the oil.
Drop the pancake batter onto the sheets by the 1/4 to 1/3-cupful. Space them far enough apart so that you can easily get a spatula between them to flip them over when the time comes.
Bake the pancakes for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Remove the pans from the oven, turn the pancakes over and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom.
Remove from the oven and drain the pancakes on paper towels. Serve with applesauce and sour cream, if desired.
Roasted Root Vegetables
- About 3-4 pounds, in any combination: turnips, parsnips, carrots, celery root, shallots, golden beets, butternut or kabocha squash
- 1/3 cup kosher approved olive oil
- 3 sprigs rosemary
- 6 sprigs thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Peel all the vegetables and dice into 1 inch pieces.
Combine al lthe ingredients in a mixing bowl and transfer to two rimmed cookie sheets lined with foil or parchment paper.
Roast about 20-30 minutes, until very tender.
Discard the thyme and rosemary sprigs. Serve with the turkey roast.
Italian Almond Passover Cake
Dress this simple cake up by dusting the top with confectioners’ sugar and topping it with fresh fruit.
- 2 tablespoons matzah meal, plus more for coating the cake pan
- 2 cups whole blanched almonds or 2 cups packaged finely ground almonds
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 1/4 cup kosher approved extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C). Grease a 10-inch springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment or wax paper and grease the paper. Evenly coat the bottom and sides with matzah meal, tapping out any excess.
If you are using whole blanched almonds, pulse the whole blanched almonds in a food processor with 2 tablespoons of matzah meal and 1/4 cup of granulated sugar until very finely ground. If using packaged finely ground almonds, mix by hand: packaged ground almonds with the matzah meal and the 1/4 cup sugar.
In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with the brown sugar and the remaining granulated sugar at high-speed until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. At low-speed, gradually add the ground almond mixture, the extracts, the olive oil and the lemon zest.
In a medium bowl, using clean beaters, whip the egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. Beat 1/4 of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it; then quickly fold in the remaining whites.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Bake the cake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Run a small, sharp knife around the side of the cake, transfer it to a rack and let cool completely in the pan. Remove the side of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Remove the base of the pan, then carefully peel off the paper. Garnish according to taste.
- Recipe: Chocolate Caramel Matzo Brittle – Recipes from The Kitchn (thekitchn.com)
- Passover in Israel (401j.wordpress.com)
- Passover Primer (boiseweekly.com)
- Passover Chocolate Cake (adinamenashe.wordpress.com)
- Pesach Strategies for Eating Healthy & Shopping Smart (nourishingisrael.wordpress.com)
April 10, 2014 at 9:20 am
Jovina – I shared these recipes with my Jewish friends. They all sound wonderful. – Wendie
April 10, 2014 at 9:21 am
Thank you Wendie
April 10, 2014 at 9:27 am
The turkey breast looks lovely.
April 10, 2014 at 9:38 am
I like stuffing a breast instead of cooking an entire bird. There are so many stuffings that you can use.
April 10, 2014 at 10:26 am
The stuffed turkey looks and sounds terrific.
April 10, 2014 at 11:21 am
Has lots of flavor – give it a try.
April 10, 2014 at 12:28 pm
Jovina, this is so interesting and what a cool gnocci recipe. The rest are great too. I think you’re telling a very important story. I actually have a cool Spanish Passover cake on my blog with an interesting history: http://sercocinera.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/torta-de-santiago/
April 10, 2014 at 12:35 pm
Your post is very interesting and the cake recipe is definitely one to make. Looks delicious. Your history very fits with what I have learned. It was after the Spanish Inquisition that many Jews moved to italy. That is why there are so many Jewish communities in italy.