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People rarely associate Judaism with Italy, however, Jewish traders built one of the first synagogues outside of the Middle East in Ostia Antica (near Rome) during the second century BC. With time the Jewish population grew and historians have calculated that by the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD) there were more than 50,000 Jews living in Rome and dozens of Jewish communities scattered throughout Italy.

There are differences in what is considered Kosher in various Jewish traditions. For example, the Ashkenazim consider rice to be chametz, or leavened, and therefore forbid it, while allowing chocolate, cheese and other dairy products. The Italkim and Sephardim instead allow rice, but consider chocolate and dairy products to be chametz, and thus forbidden.

Jewish cuisine through the centuries influenced modern-day Italian cuisine. Wild radicchio flavored with garlic, herb salads, omelettes, pies made with chard, spinach, leeks, marinated cabbage, turnips, eggplant, artichokes, fava beans, polenta chestnuts and raisins are just some of the ingredients contributed by the Jewish immigrants.

Here are some recipes suitable for Passover with Italian Jewish influences.

Tomato Soup with Rice

Ingredients

1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 medium carrot, slice
1 tablespoon olive oil
26 oz container Italian chopped tomatoes (such as Pomi- no salt or sugar added)
8 cups chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons uncooked long-grain rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Directions

In a Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté onion, celery and carrots in oil until softened but not browned.

Add the chopped tomatoes and 1 cup of the chicken broth. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the remaining chicken broth and rice. Season with salt, thyme and pepper.

Simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Serve garnished with parsley.

Honey Lemon Artichokes

Ingredients

1 large lemon, cut in quarters, plus the freshly squeezed juice from 2 or 3 lemons to equal 1/2 cup
4 large globe artichokes (12 to 14 ounces each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 medium roasted red bell pepper, cut into small dice

Directions

Fill a very large bowl with cold water; squeeze a few of the lemon quarters into the water, then place them in the bowl.

Rinse the artichokes. Snap off or use kitchen shears to trim all the pointed outer leaves and then slice off the center leaves at the top.

Leave 1 to 2 inches of stem attached to each artichoke; cut off the rest and discard.

Use a vegetable peeler to remove a thin layer from the remaining stems.

Working quickly so the artichokes don’t discolor, use a grapefruit spoon or a melon-ball scoop to remove the choke, or thistle part, in the center of each artichoke, making sure to remove all fibers.

Quickly transfer each trimmed artichoke to the bowl of lemon water.

Once all the artichokes are trimmed, work with them one at a time, cutting them in half and then again, so each artichoke is quartered.

Preheat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat.

Add the artichokes cut side down, fitting them snugly into the pan.

Cook for 8 to 12 minutes, re-positioning the artichokes in the pan as needed so each one picks up golden color.

Season lightly with salt.

Stir in the lemon juice, honey and water; cover partially, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

The liquid should thicken slightly and the artichokes will be tender.

Transfer to a platter. Spoon some of the sauce over the artichokes.

Garnish with the parsley and red bell pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Braised Chicken and Eggplant

Ingredients

3 lbs chicken pieces; skinned/fat removed
Salt and pepper; to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large Vidalia or sweet onion; halved, sliced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1½ lbs eggplant; unpeeled, cubed
½ lb. fresh Roma tomatoes; cored, cubed
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Directions

Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

In a large deep skillet, heat the oil and brown the chicken on each side.

Remove the chicken from the skillet to a bowl or platter. Don’t clean the skillet.

Add the onion, garlic and eggplant. Cook the vegetables and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, vinegar and chicken broth. Bring to a boil.

Add bay leaf and hot pepper flakes. Return the chicken pieces to the skillet. Baste with the sauce.

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until cooked. Discard the bay leaf before serving and sprinkle with basil.

Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic

Ingredients

2 pounds fingerling or small potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash and pat dry the potatoes and place them in a large bowl.

Add the olive oil, minced garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Toss the potatoes making sure to coat them well with the herbs and oil.

Put them onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, gently moving them around on the pan halfway through cooking.

Serve at once garnished with more fresh rosemary and a drizzle of olive oil.

Almond Cake with Lemon Syrup

Lemon Syrup

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

Cake

1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons matzo meal
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup ground almonds (4 ounces)
1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped (2 3/4 ounces)
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
8 large eggs, separated
Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

In a small nonreactive saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest with 1/2 cup of water.

Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer over moderately low heat for 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat; let steep.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Oil the bottom and sides of a 9-by-3-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper; oil the paper.

Evenly coat the bottom and sides with the matzo meal, tapping out any excess. Refrigerate the pan.

In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix together the granulated sugar, almonds, lemon zest and egg yolks.

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Stir one-quarter of the egg whites into the almond mixture to lighten it.

Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the remaining egg whites in 3 additions.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for about 1 hour, or until golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out dry.

Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake.

Remove the pan sides and invert the cake onto a wire rack.

Peel off the parchment and let the cake cool to room temperature.

Reheat and strain the syrup. Transfer the cake to a plate and prick all over with a fork.

Pour the syrup evenly over the cake and set aside at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Sift confectioners’ sugar over the cake and serve.

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january_thaw

I live in a climate that is hot about nine months out of the year, so winter time, especially January, is a great time of the year to bake. I can get some extra baking in and save the baked goods in the freezer for when it gets hotter. The recipe for one of our favorite breakfast scones is below.

Soup is another favorite and while tomatoes are not in season, Roma Tomatoes are plentiful and are great for cooking. Salads are hearty at this time of year and chicken salad is a great option. Stuffed vegetables or stuffed meat entrees are very comforting when there is a chill in the air. Try some of the recipes below to warm you up.

Breakfast

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Almond Scones

Makes 8 scones

Ingredients

2 cups self-rising flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon salt)
2 tablespoons sugar
One 7 oz tube almond paste
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup half-and-half (cream and milk)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
½ cup slivered almonds
Sugar for sprinkling

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar. With a pastry cutter, cut the almond paste and the butter into the dry ingredients until a few pea-sized lumps remain. Stir in the almonds.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, egg and almond extract and add to the flour mixture. With a fork gradually stir the dough until the mixture comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and very gently pat into an 8-inch round about 1 1/2 inches high. Sprinkle the top of the dough with sugar.

Using a chef’s knife or bench scraper, cut the dough round into 8 wedges. Transfer the wedges to the prepared baking sheet, spacing the scones at least 1 inch apart.

Bake in the top third of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool.

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Roasted Red Pepper and Egg Wrap

2 servings

Ingredients

1 large, jarred roasted red pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese
2 medium tortilla wraps

Directions

Cut the pepper into one inch pieces.

In a measuring cup beat the eggs with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and the Italian seasoning. Add the peppers and mix.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Stir and cook until the eggs are set.

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Warm the tortillas in the microwave. Divide the cheese in half and sprinkle over each tortilla. Divide the egg mixture in half and place on top of the cheese. Let stand for a few minutes to allow the cheese to melt.

Roll up each tortilla tightly, cut in half and serve.

Lunch

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Winter Tomato Soup

If you don’t like peeling tomatoes as much as I do, here is a technique I use to get around it. I usually purchase fresh Roma tomatoes for cooking and put them in the freezer when I get home from shopping. One day before I am going to cook with them, I place the amount I need in the refrigerator to defrost. The next day, the skins slip right off and are ready for the pot.

Ingredients

6 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
Two 26 oz containers finely chopped Italian tomatoes (Pomi)
1 teaspoon honey
4 cups organic broth (chicken or vegetable)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Optional: add ½ cup half & half to make a creamy version
Basil for garnish

Directions

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Heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Add the onions, cover and cook until they are soft and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the the fresh and canned tomatoes, honey, salt and pepper to taste and the broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes with the cover ajar. Remove the pot from the heat.

With an immersion blender or in a processor, puree the soup. If adding cream, add it here and warm the soup. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve hot garnished with basil.

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Open-Faced Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Slow-poaching the chicken breasts keeps them extra moist.

6 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 scallions, minced
2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped
¼ of a green bell pepper finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
6 slices whole wheat or rye bread, lightly toasted

Directions

In a large saucepan, cover the chicken breasts with water. Bring to a very slow simmer and cook over low heat until white throughout, about 18-20 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a plate and let stand until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Cut the chicken into 1/2-inch dice.

In a large bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the mustard and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the onion, celery, bell pepper, parsley and chicken until evenly coated.

Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Spread some of the chicken salad onto the toasted bread slices and top with tomato slices to serve.

Dinner

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Crab-Stuffed Flounder

This is a hearty entree and only needs one vegetable as a side. flounder comes in large sizes here on the gulf and mine weighed 14 oz. Substitute an equal amount of smaller fillets.

For 2-3

Ingredients

Crab Filling

1 tablespoon each of minced onion, celery and bell pepper
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon seafood seasoning (Old Bay)
1/2 pound lump crab meat

Flounder

12-14 oz flounder fillet or fillets
Paprika
Chopped fresh parsley

Directions

In a small bowl, combine all the filling ingredients, except the crab. Then, gently fold in the crab. Place the flounder in a baking dish coated with olive oil.

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Spoon the crab mixture evenly over the fillet or fillets. Sprinkle with paprika and parsley.

Bake at 400°F for 20-24 minutes or until the fish is cooked through.

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Southwest Stuffed Peppers

January is a good time to try different ethnic cuisines. They can spice up some typical winter produce. While I find an occasional taco or quesadilla tasty, I am generally not a fan of Southwest recipes. This recipe turned out quite well, though, and is a nice change from regular stuffed peppers. It is also good served with a green salad with ranch dressing.

2 servings

Ingredients

1 large green bell pepper
¼ lb lean ground beef or turkey
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 scallion, chopped
½ cup of corn kernels
¼ cup salsa
½ cup Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds. Place the pepper halves in a small baking dish.

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat and cook the ground beef until brown.

Turn off the heat and add the scallion, corn and salsa; stir to combine. Spoon this mixture into the pepper shells. Add water to cover the bottom of the dish.

Bake for 45 minutes, until the peppers are fork tender. Drain the water from the baking dish. Sprinkle the peppers evenly with the shredded cheese. Return the baking pan to the oven and bake just until the cheese melts.


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Now that summer is here in my part of the world, the swimming pool is in full swing. I know that it is probably not summer hot in May where you live, but here is it about 85-86 degrees every day. The 90s will be here next month. This time of year, I like to invite friends over for swimming and either lunch or a BBQ supper. Lunch is a good idea because it can be served easily poolside and most of the food preparation can be done in advance. Seasonal soups are always a big hit with my friends. I usually like to prepare a sandwich or a salad that complements the soup. Here are some of my ideas for lunch that you can make for your family or for guests.

Corn Chowder

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 leeks, white and light green sections, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 6 cups fresh corn kernels, divided
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • Grated cheddar cheese, chopped chives or crumbled bacon, for garnish

Directions

Heat the butter in a Dutch oven or large soup pot. Add the leeks, celery, carrots, bell pepper and potatoes to the pot and saute for ten minutes until soft.

Add 3 cups of the corn, the vegetable broth, chili powder and the thyme. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for an hour. Remove the thyme branches.

Remove the pot from the heat and puree the contents with an immersion blender. Add the half and half, salt and pepper to taste and the remaining 3 cups of corn.

Return the pot to the heat and simmer the soup for about 30 minutes.

Serve in individual soup bowls with any or all of the garnishes.

Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches

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For each sandwich

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 F.

Place the eggplant on the bottom half of a ciabatta roll. Top with a slice of mozzarella cheese and the roll top.

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Wrap the sandwich in foil and place on a baking tray. Bake the sandwich for 15 minutes or until hot and the cheese has melted.

Cut the sandwich in two and serve with Tuscan peppers and olives.

Fresh Tomato Basil Soup

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Ingredients

  • 4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 6 oz can  tomato paste
  • 2 pounds plum tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or half & half
  • Thinly sliced fresh basil for garnish

Directions

Combine the  first 6 ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 30 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender. Stir in salt and pepper and the cream. Return the pot to low heat and warm the soup. Do not boil.

Serve in individual soup bowls with basil for a garnish.

Shrimp Pie

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Ingredients

  • 1 refrigerated or frozen deep dish pie crust, at room temperature
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ½ cups fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined and diced
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay (seafood) seasoning
  • ½ cup jarred roasted red peppers, diced
  • 2 tablespoons dry vermouth or white wine
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1⁄2 cups grated cheddar cheese or your favorite cheese
  • Hot sauce, a few dashes

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Fit the pastry into a 9 inch pie pan coated with cooking spray and flute the edges. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

Cook the shallots in the butter for 1-2 minutes over moderate heat until tender, but not browned.

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Add the shrimp and stir gently for 1 minute. Sprinkle on the seafood seasoning.

Add the wine, raise the heat and boil for a minute. Allow to cool slightly. Stir in the roasted red peppers.

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Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl with the cream, tomato paste and hot sauce. Gradually fold in the cooled shrimp mixture.

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Spread 1 cup of the cheese on the bottom of the pie crust.

Pour the shrimp mixture into the pastry shell and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

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Bake in the upper third of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until the pie has puffed and browned on the top.

Cool for 15 minutes before cutting.

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