The Piazza Barberini menorah designed by Galia Raccah and engineer Daniel Raccah is an architectural marvel weighing 6,878 pounds and standing at 22.5 feet. (Photos: Francesca Di Majo, public relations office of Rome)

The Piazza Barberini menorah designed by Galia Raccah and engineer Daniel Raccah is an architectural marvel weighing 6,878 pounds and standing at 22.5 feet. (Photos: Francesca Di Majo, public relations office of Rome)

Hanukkah (also Chanukah) is the Jewish Festival of Lights. The word Hanukkah means rededication (hanu kan). Today, the celebration honors the hard-fought victory for freedom. It is an eight-day holiday. The first night usually includes a big family dinner and after dinner the family gathers to light the menorah candles. Blessings and songs are part of the ceremony.

Given its proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah has taken on holiday importance in the United States and in many other countries where Christmas has been commercialized. It is traditional to exchange gifts with friends and relatives on each night of Hanukkah. With over thirty-thousand Jews calling Italy home, it isn’t surprising that Hanukkah is celebrated just as passionately as Christmas.

No festivities are complete without delicious treats and the Jewish communities celebrate with a fried feast. Fried Chicken, fried eggplant, latkes (potato pancakes) and sweet fried dough fritters are all part of an Italian Hanukkah meal.

Italian Hanukkah Specialties

hanukkaheggplant

Melanzane alla Giudia (Jewish-Style Eggplant)

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds eggplant
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Cut the eggplant into quarters lengthwise. Cut out the seeds and much of the flesh, leaving about ½-inch along the skin. Cut the eggplant into bite sized pieces.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook the garlic for a few minutes until lightly browned.

Add the eggplant and stir to coat in oil. Cook, partially covered and stirring often, until tender and cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and serve.

hanukkahcheese

Fried Cheese with Tomato Sauce

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large or 3 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

Directions

Heat oil in a skillet. Add onion and saute over high heat until transparent, 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium-low, add sugar and saute until tomatoes are very soft, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Cool. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

Cheese

  • 1 pound mozzarella cheese, finely diced
  • 6 eggs, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs, divided
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced and divided in half
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons dry vermouth or brandy
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 sprigs parsley, stems removed
  • 4 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup flour
  • Oil for frying

Directions

Melt mozzarella in a double boiler set over, but not touching, simmering water. Pour the cheese into the large mixing bowl of an electric mixer and beat in 2 eggs.

Add 1/4 cup bread crumbs, oregano, one clove of the garlic and salt. Mix well.

Press cheese mixture into 8-inch square glass dish. Cover and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Lightly beat remaining 4 eggs in bowl. Blend in vermouth. Set aside.

In a processor or blender, process remaining bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, basil and remaining garlic. Set aside.

Cut cheese mixture into 1 1/2-inch squares (about 15 pieces). Dip each into flour, then egg mixture and finally into bread crumb mixture to coat evenly.

Place on paper towels and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees F in heavy skillet or deep fryer. Fry cheese pieces, a few at a time, until evenly golden brown on both sides, about 1 minute.

Drain on paper towels. Serve at once with the tomato sauce.

hanukkahchicken

Fried Chicken Cutlets, Italian-Jewish Style

This is an adaptation of “Pollo Fritto per Chanuka”, a recipe from Edda Servi Machlin’s, The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews, (Dodd, Mead & Co.)  This is a traditional Hanukkah dish in Italy.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds chicken cutlets, pounded thin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges or tomato sauce for serving

Directions

Combine the salt, nutmeg, garlic salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle the chicken cutlets evenly on both sides with the mixture.

Place the cutlets in a shallow bowl or container. Mix the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small measuring cup and pour over the cutlets, lifting them to make sure that the liquid reaches all surfaces.

Cover and let the chicken marinate for an hour or place in the refrigerator for up to several hours. Move the cutlets around once in a while to insure evenness of seasoning.

Heat 1/2 cup of olive oil in a large pan. Place the flour and beaten eggs in separate pie plates or shallow bowls.

Coat the cutlets in flour and then in the beaten egg.  Fry in the hot oil over moderately high heat for a couple of minutes on each side, until golden brown.

Drain on paper towels to remove any excess oil.

Serve immediately or place in a preheated 400-degree F oven with the door slightly open (broiler-style) for up to 10 minutes, in order to keep warm and crisp. Serve with lemon wedges or tomato sauce.

hanukkahpolenta

Polenta Squares

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 4 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 1/2 cups polenta or yellow cornmeal
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Marinated grape tomatoes, optional

Directions

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add stock and bring to a boil. Add polenta slowly, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until polenta comes away from the sides of the pan, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

While still hot, spread polenta about 1-inch thick onto an oiled baking pan. Cool, cover and refrigerate until cold and firm, several hours or overnight.

Cut polenta into 2 inch squares and transfer to a large platter.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a nonstick skillet and brown polenta, turning occasionally, until crispy on both sides, about 8 minutes.

Drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining polenta, adding additional oil as needed. Serve immediately or reheat just before serving. Garnish with marinated grape tomatoes, if desired.

hanukkahricefritters

Sweet Rice Frittelle

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup medium-grain rice
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Oil for frying
  • Granulated sugar for garnish

Directions

Mix rice and milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking to the pan. As rice begins to cook, add 1 tablespoon sugar, salt and zest.

Cover the pan and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the rice has absorbed almost all the liquid and is reduced to a soft pudding, 20 minutes. Stir in butter and set aside to cool.

When the rice mixture cools, add egg yolks one at a time, then the vanilla and then the flour, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition.

Heat oil in large saucepan to 360 to 375 degrees F.

Beat egg whites with dash of salt until soft peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over them and continue beating until stiff.

Gently fold beaten egg whites into the rice mixture. (May be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated until ready to fry.)

Working in batches, drop batter by tablespoons into the hot oil and fry, turning once, until frittelle are crisp and brown, about 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and roll in sugar while hot.

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