The Jewish New Year is one of the most important occasions on the Jewish calendar. A central part of its observance is the Rosh Hashanah dinner, which emphasizes sweet foods in hopeful anticipation of a sweet year. These special foods are incorporated into menus in different ways. Frequently, each is prepared on its own as a cold appetizer. Leeks are often braised with a touch of tomato. Chard is sautéed with garlic, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Italian Jews might include beets among the sweet vegetables and make them into a salad or combine them with potatoes and green beans. Some Moroccan Jews poach the vegetables with raisins or other dried fruit and serve them sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar as a sweet topping for the hearty holiday entrée known as, Couscous with Seven Vegetables. Rosh Hashanah is about traditional symbolic foods.
Italy is one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe. Jews have been living in Rome, for more than 2,000 years. Italian Jewish cuisine has been inspired by traditional Italian cooking but modified to conform to kosher rules. Italian cuisine has been influenced by Jewish cuisine. Every region in Italy has its own traditions. For example, in Venice, they eat Sarde in Saor, a sweet and sour sardine dish with pine nuts and raisins.
Roman Jews say the blessing over 10 foods and each blessing is a symbol for something or a wish. These include pomegranate (fulfilment), pumpkin (to remove bad judgement), fish (fertility), figs (wish for a sweet New Year), dates (to banish enemies and bring sweetness) and a few others.
It is customary to wish people a sweet New Year on Rosh Hashanah. At the dinner table, these friendly wishes translate into the custom of dipping apple slices into golden honey. It is also customary to eat foods that feature one or both of these foods, including apple cake, honey cake, tzimmes,a root vegetable and dried fruit stew sweetened with honey, and teiglach, a sticky, Old World confection made from bits of dough boiled in honey.
As the Jewish calendar’s New Year’s equivalent, Rosh Hashanah is a great time to hope for a full, round year ahead. That is why one tends to see round or spiral-shaped challahs, instead of the typical braided bread loaves on the Rosh Hashanah dinner table. As an added bonus, challah often comes studded with raisins for an extra dose of sweetness. Pomegranates, the globe shaped fruits packed with overlapping layers of ruby-colored seeds, are commonly incorporated into Rosh Hashanah menus. In addition to being one of the fruits mentioned in the Old Testament, the pomegranate’s many seeds are said to represent both the 613 commandments the Jewish people received from God and their wish to do many good deeds in the coming year.
On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, the custom of eating a “new fruit,” is common. A new fruit is a fruit that one has not been eaten in the last year, or that has recently come into season. This custom offers a way to physically taste the newness of the year and is accompanied by a blessing of thanks for reaching the New Year. Pomegranates are often used for this purpose, as are star fruits, ugli fruits, lychees and other less common fruits.
Slowly braised dishes embrace the meditative nature of the holiday. Jewish-style brisket is simple, familiar and always braised. It is Jewish comfort food at its finest. Jewish home cooks tend to keep a tried and true brisket recipe in their back pocket. Some people prefer it flavored with tomato sauce, while others like it sweetened with brown sugar or a cranberry sauce glaze. Still others prefer to take a minimalist approach, using little more than garlic, onion and bay leaves to perfume the meat.
Risotto with Raisins
The combination of sweet and savory one encounters in many Italian Jewish recipes is quite old and suggests it originated from the first Jewish communities to arrive in Italy — well before the birth of Christ.
- 2 1/2 cups (500 g) rice
- 1/4 pound (100 g) raisins
- 5 cups (1 1/4 liters) steaming low sodium chicken broth
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- Minced parsley
- 1 whole clove garlic, smashed
- Salt & Pepper to taste
Sauté the garlic and the parsley in a deep pot in the oil, until the garlic begins to color, then remove the garlic with a slotted spoon and discard it. Return the pot to the fire.
Sauté the raisins for about a minute, then add the rice and continue sautéing, stirring briskly, for about 5 minutes more.
Add the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until it is absorbed. Continue adding broth and stirring over medium low heat until all the broth has been added.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is done, about 20-25 minutes.
Italian Beef Brisket
Use a leaner, flat-cut, or first-cut brisket with a layer of fat that’s about 1/8 inch thick. If you can’t find a 6-pound piece, buy 2 smaller pieces. Like most braised dishes, this brisket is best made a day or two ahead.
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons chopped thyme
- 1 teaspoon chopped oregano
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- One 6-pound flat-cut brisket
- 1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms (1/2 ounce)
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 1 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
- 2 cups chopped canned Italian tomatoes
- 3 bay leaves
- 4 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
In a small bowl, combine 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper with the thyme, oregano and paprika. Rub the seasonings all over the brisket.
In a medium heatproof bowl, cover the porcini with the hot water and set aside until softened, about 20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid; rinse and coarsely chop them. Reserve the soaking liquid.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Heat the oil in a large oven proof pan until shimmering. Add the brisket, fat side down, and cook over moderately high heat until well-browned on both sides, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer the brisket to a platter and pour off any excess fat from the pan.
Add the wine and chicken stock, then pour in the reserved mushroom soaking liquid through a cheesecloth lined sieve. Scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and stir in the tomatoes, porcini and bay leaves.
Return the brisket to the pan, fat side up. Scatter the onions and garlic over the meat and into the liquid and bring to a boil. Cover, place the pan in the oven and cook for 1 hour.
Uncover and cook for 30 minutes. Spoon the onions on top of the brisket and cook for about 30 minutes longer to brown the onions. Push some of the onions back into the liquid, cover and braise for another 2 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender.
Transfer the brisket to a carving board and cover loosely with foil.
Simmer the sauce for a few minutes and season with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaves.
Carve the brisket across the grain into thin slices and arrange on a large, warmed platter. Spoon the sauce over the meat and serve.
MAKE AHEAD: The seasoned brisket can be refrigerated overnight before cooking.
If cooking the brisket a day ahead, let the meat cool in the sauce before refrigerating. When ready to serve, skim the fat from the surface and slice the brisket; then rewarm the meat in the sauce.
Basil and Balsamic Beets
- 2 pounds beets
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
In 13″ by 9″ roasting pan, toss beets with olive oil. Roast in a preheated 450 degree F. oven 1 hour or until tender. Cool beets; peel and discard the skins.
Dice beets; toss with basil, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and salt. This dish may be served at room temperature.
Mashed Pumpkin (Zucca Disfatta)
- 2 pounds butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled, seeded and diced
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, very finely minced
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Parsley, for ganish
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and cook the onion in it. Add the diced pumpkin, parsley, salt and cook over low heat, covered, stirring often, until it’s so soft that it can be mashed easily. Mash the squash with a fork or potato masher and turn into a serving bowl. Garnish with chopped parsley..
Italian-Jewish Pastries (Precipizi)
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white rum or other clear spirits
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup honey
- Powdered sugar (optional)
Mix together the eggs, flour, sugar, olive oil and rum and lightly knead until a smooth, soft dough forms.
Shape the dough into one inch balls.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan over high heat.
Add the dough balls and fry until golden on all sides, working in batches. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
When the dough balls have all finished cooking, wipe the pan clean with a paper towel and add the honey.
When the honey is hot, add the dough balls back into the pan and stir to coat.
Pour onto a greased baking sheet and allow to cool.
Place in a round serving bowl and top with powdered sugar, if you wish.
- Great Quotes on the Meaning of Rosh Hashanah (algemeiner.com)
- Rosh Hashanah Blog Party!!! (lifeinthemarriedlane.com)