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There are three categories of symbolic foods for Rosh Hashanah and each has its own meaning. The first is sweet tasting foods, such as apple and honey, which are symbolic of the wish for a sweet year. The second, which includes pomegranates and fish, are foods that allude to abundance and to the wish to be fruitful and multiply. The third category, which includes foods such as carrots, beets, leeks and cabbage, allude to the destruction and eradication of sin. The combination of sweet and sour is also prominent in Jewish cooking because it correlates with times that are hopeful and happy while also remembering the challenges of Jewish history.

What makes these basic food categories particularly fascinating is how their preparations can vary as we move from country to country and culture to culture.

Since 1442, when the Kingdom of Naples came under Spanish rule, considerable numbers of Sephardi Jews came to live in Southern Italy. Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, from Portugal in 1495 and from the Kingdom of Naples in 1533, many moved to central and northern Italy. In addition to Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Italy has been host to many Sephardi Jews from the eastern Mediterranean, Dalmatia and many of the Greek islands, where there were large Jewish communities and for several centuries they were part of the Venetian Republic. As such, they have greatly influenced the cuisine of Italy.

Italian Jewish cuisine for Rosh Hashanah often includes chestnut turnovers, goose or veal, spinach or swiss chard, artichokes, caponata and fennel. The seder often begins with figs (fichi). Figs are in season in Italy in the fall and they represent renewal for a good and sweet year (Shanah Tovah Umetukah). It is also full of tiny seeds (like the pomegranate) representing abundance and rebirth.

First Course

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Fish in Tomato Garlic Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ lbs. fish fillets, such as halibut, grouper, cod or tilapia
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine, vegetable broth or water
  • 4 medium-size tomatoes, diced small
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons. chopped fresh herbs (dill, parsley, basil)

Directions

Check fish carefully and remove any bones. Rinse fish and thoroughly pat dry. Cut it in 8 pieces.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick. Add fish, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and sauté over medium to medium-high heat 1 minute per side. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Added remaining oil to the pan and add the garlic. Sauté for about 30 seconds or until fragrant, then add the wine and bring to a boil, stirring. Add tomatoes and heat for about 1 minute. Returned fish to the pan, cover and cook over medium-low heat for 2 or 3 minutes or until its color has changed from translucent to opaque. Add pepper flakes and herbs. Serve fish in the sauce.

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Sephardic Challah

Sephardic Jews of the Mediterranean favor their challah seasoned with caraway and anise. Many challahs are braided, but this one is twisted into a round, turban-shaped loaf.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons anise seeds
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Cornmeal for dusting
  • 2 large egg yolks

Directions

In a skillet, toast the sesame, caraway and anise seeds over moderate heat until fragrant, 2 minutes; transfer to a plate and let cool.

In a small bowl, combine the yeast with 2 tablespoons of the water and let stand until thoroughly moistened, about 5 minutes.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour with the olive oil, the honey and the remaining water and mix at low-speed until a very soft dough forms. Add the kosher salt, yeast mixture and all but 1 tablespoon of the seeds and mix at medium-low speed until the dough is supple and smooth, 10 minutes. Using oiled hands, transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a draft-free spot until the dough is risen, 1 hour.

Lightly oil 2 small cookie sheets and dust them with cornmeal. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press to deflate. Cut the dough in half and let rest for 5 minutes. Roll each piece into an 18-inch-long rope and let rest for 5 minutes longer, then roll each rope into a 32-inch rope. Beginning at the center and working outwards, form each rope into a coil and tuck the ends under the coils.

Transfer each coil to a baking sheet and cover each loaf with a large, inverted bowl. Let stand for 1 hour, until the loaves have nearly doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the egg wash over the loaves and let stand uncovered for 30 minutes. Brush with the egg wash once more and sprinkle with the reserved 1 tablespoon of seeds.

Bake the loaves side-by-side in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, until they’re golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer the loaves to racks and let cool completely before slicing.

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Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 2/3 cup bottled pomegranate juice (100% pure juice)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • About ½ cup white flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • About ½ cup pomegranate seeds

Directions

Add the honey to the pomegranate juice and stir to combine; set aside.

If using chicken breasts cut each in half and remove any fat; pat dry with paper towels.

Pour the flour into a shallow bowl and lightly dust each piece of chicken with the flour.

Heat the olive oil over low heat in a large nonstick frying pan. When hot, add the chicken and sprinkle  with salt. Turn the heat up and let them cook for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden.

Add the pomegranate and honey mixture and reduce the flame. Let cook for another few minutes, adding more salt and turning each piece so it absorbs the sauce well.

Arrange on a large serving platter, pouring the sauce on top and sprinkling with the fresh pomegranate seeds to garnish.

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Saffron Rice

Ingredients

  • Pinch of saffron
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts or pistachios
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Stir the saffron into 2 tablespoons hot water in a bowl, and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed ovenproof pan. Add the onion and nuts; cook over medium heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and the nuts are fragrant and beginning to change color.

Lower the heat, and stir in the rice. Add the saffron water, the bay leaf, the salt, freshly ground pepper to taste and 2 cups water.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a slow simmer, cover, and cook for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Fluff the rice with a fork and  remove the bay leaf.

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Sephardic Spinach Patties

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for cooking
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach, stemmed, cooked, chopped, and squeezed dry, or 20 ounces thawed frozen chopped spinach, squeezed dry
  • About 1 cup matzo meal
  • About 3/4 teaspoon table salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Directions

In a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the spinach, matzo meal, salt and cayenne. Stir in the eggs. If the mixture is too loose, add a little more matzo meal. The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for a day.

Shape the spinach mixture into 3 inch patties. In a large skillet, heat a thin layer of oil over medium heat. In batches, saute the patties, turning, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm, accompanied with lemon wedges.

Dessert Course

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Honey Cake

The cake can be made a day ahead; just wrap it tightly in plastic, store it at room temperature, and glaze it just before serving.

Serves 10-12

Ingredients

  • 2 3⁄4 cups flour, plus more for the pan
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup vegetable oil, plus for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1⁄4 cup fresh orange juice, divided
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
  • 1 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Heat oven to 325°F. Oil and flour a 4-qt. Bundt pan; set aside.

Whisk together flour, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, baking powder and soda and salt in a bowl; set aside.

Beat 3⁄4 cup sugar and egg yolks in a bowl on medium-high speed of a mixer until tripled in volume, about 4 minutes. Stir in oil, honey, 2 tablespoons orange juice, zest and liqueur.

Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Beat egg whites in a bowl on high-speed of a mixer until soft peaks form. Add remaining sugar; beat until stiff peaks form. Fold whites into batter.

Pour into the prepared pan; smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of cake comes out clean, about 60 minutes.

Let cool and invert onto a serving plate. Whisk remaining juice with confectioners’ sugar; drizzle over cake.

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