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)
People rarely associate Judaism with Italy, probably because Rome has hosted the seat of the Catholic Church for close to 2000 years. Jews arrived long before the Christians, however. Jewish traders built one of the first synagogues in Ostia Antica (an area just outside of present day Rome) during the second century BC. With time the Jewish population grew and swelled 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 the Roman territory.
Like their fellow countrymen, Italian Jews suffered through thousands of years of invasions that followed the fall of the Roman Empire, but they managed to live fairly peacefully almost everywhere — from Venice, where the Isola della Giudecca (across the canal from Piazza San Marco) is so named because it was the home of many Jews, to the Arab lands of south Italy. At least until 1492, when the Spaniards drove the Arabs back across the Mediterranean Sea into Africa and turned the liberated territories of Sicily and Southern Italy over to the Inquisition. Southern Italian Jews fled north to more tolerant regions, where they were joined by Jews from other parts of Europe as well. Florence, Torino, Mantova and Bologna all had strong Jewish communities during the renaissance.
Edda Servi Machlin, whose father was the Rabbi in the Tuscan town of Pitigliano, joined the partisans in the hills when Italy surrendered to the Nazis in 1943. After the war, she settled in the United States and raised a family. However, she didn’t forget her homeland, nor the foods her family ate. Through the years, she has lectured widely on Italian Jewish life and gathered her recollections of life and cuisine into a book titled, The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews.
The Jewish people celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation over 3,300 years ago from slavery in ancient Egypt. When the Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise. For the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten and that is why Passover is also called “The Festival of the Unleavened Bread”. Matzo (flat unleavened bread) is a symbol of the holiday. Other scholars teach that in the time of the Exodus, matzo was commonly baked for the purpose of traveling because it did not spo[l and was light to carry, suggesting that matzo was baked intentionally for the long journey ahead.
It is traditional for Jewish families to gather on the first night of Passover for a special dinner called a seder. The table is set with the finest china and silverware to reflect the importance of the meal. During this meal, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special text called the Haggadah. The Passover seder is one of the great traditions of the Jewish faith, but it can also be a test of endurance. As the premeal chants and readings stretch on, empty stomachs growl and attention wanes until the moment when the charoset is passed around. “With unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it,” is recited while biting into the Passover matzoh, horseradish and charoset. One of the most revered of Jewish dishes, it closes the ceremony and begins the feast.
Charoset comes from the Hebrew word cheres, which means “clay.” Charoset is a dense fruit paste that represents the mortar used by the ancient Hebrew slaves in Egypt to make bricks.
Because Passover celebrates freedom, a small amount of charoset is placed on the seder plate as a reminder to Jews that they were once slaves and they should not take their freedom for granted.
Recipes for charoset are as many as there are Jewish people. Italian varieties vary from family to family, including everything from almonds, apples and pears to chestnuts, oranges and even hard-boiled eggs.
- 1 pound apple slices, peeled
- 3/4 pound boiled chestnuts, peeled
- 1/2 pound walnuts, shelled
- 1/2 pound pitted dates
- 1/2 pound dried apricots
- 1/2 pound raisins
- 2 small bananas
- 1 small seedless orange, peeled
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- Sweet wine
Put everything in the blender and process until combined, but it shouldn’t be too smooth.
Cook on a low flame for 15 minutes, stirring. Add some sweet wine or grape juice right before serving.
Matzo Gnocchi Soup
- 1 large kosher chicken
- 3 large carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 head of celery, stalks cut into 1-inch pieces, leaves set aside
- 3 large leeks, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 1 large (11–12-ounce) russet potato
- 1/4 cup matzo meal
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh chives
- 1 tablespoon finely minced flat-leaf parsley
- Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
- Kosher salt
- 3 large egg yolks, beaten to blend
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil (for drizzling)
- Celery leaves, for garnish
Place first 8 ingredients and 5 quarts water in a large soup pot; season with salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Skim foam from surface; reduce heat to low and cook, keeping at a low simmer and skimming occasionally, for 3 hours.
Using tongs, remove chicken from broth and reserve for another use. Strain broth into a large bowl through a fine-mesh sieve (if desired, line sieve with cheesecloth for clearer broth); set aside. Discard solids. Add kosher salt and pepper to taste.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Chill uncovered until cold. Cover; keep chilled.
Preheat oven to 400°. Bake potato until tender, about 1 hour. Let cool slightly. Peel potato and pass through a ricer or food mill, or press through the holes in a colander into a medium bowl. Add matzo meal, herbs and nutmeg; season to taste with salt and pepper. Add yolks; stir to form a dough.
Divide dough into 4 pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time and keeping the others covered with a kitchen towel, roll dough into a 12-inch-long rope. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Transfer gnocchi to a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet. Cover with towel.
Bring broth to a simmer in a large pot over medium heat. Add gnocchi; simmer until tender, 4–5 minutes. Divide mixture among bowls. Drizzle with oil; garnish with celery leaves.
Baked Snapper — Spigola Arrosto
This baked snapper is an Italian Passover tradition. It’s also an interesting variation on the standard roasted fish one generally encounters in Italy, which simply has rosemary and lemon in the cavity and a little more rosemary and lemon outside. In this recipe there are anchovy fillets added and the dish will work with any kind of fish.
- 1 four-pound red snapper, or 2 fish totaling five pounds
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 anchovy filets
- Olive oil
- 1/4 cup matzo meal
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley
- 1 teaspoon freshly chopped rosemary leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 lemon cut into 6 wedges
Clean the fish, wash the cavity and pat it dry inside and out. Lightly season it inside and out with salt and pepper, set the fish in an oiled baking dish and place the rosemary into the cavity, distributing them evenly. Measure the thickness of the fish at its thickest point.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F .
Heat the anchovies in a quarter cup of olive oil, stirring them around until they dissolve into a paste. Remove the pot from the fire and stir in the matzo meal and the parsley. Spread the mixture over the top of the fish.
Figuring ten minutes per inch of thickness, bake the fish until done. This will be between 20 and 30 minutes for smaller fish and up to about 45 for a large one.
Serve with the lemon wedges as garnish.
Pan-Sauteed Spinach (Spinaci Rifatti)
- Two pounds fresh spinach, washed well
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium cloves garlic, halved and crushed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Pick over the spinach, removing and discarding tough ribs and coarsely chop the leaves.
Place in a large pot and heat until it has wilted.
Drain it well, squeezing it to remove most of the water.
Add the oil, garlic and crushed red pepper to the pan. When hot, add the spinach and stir vigorously. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Note: If you’re pressed for time, you can use frozen spinach, though you should thaw it before sauteeing it.
Yield: 4 servings
Roasted Garlic Cauliflower
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large head cauliflower, separated into florets
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (kosher approved brand)
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Grease a large casserole dish.
Place the olive oil and garlic in a large resealable bag. Add cauliflower and shake to mix.
Pour into the prepared casserole dish and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Bake for 25 minutes, stirring halfway through.
Top with Parmesan cheese and parsley and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, until golden brown.
Passover Carrot Cake
Did you think carrot cake was an American dessert? In the Veneto region, Italian Jews have had many versions of this dessert for centuries, minus the cheese frosting.
- 1.5 cups of granulated sugar
- 2.5 cups of ground almonds
- 9 ounces carrots, grated
- 6 eggs, separated
- A pinch of salt
- Amaretto liqueur or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
- Parve margarine (non-dairy) and matzo meal for the pan
Beat the yolks with the sugar, add the grated carrots, the almonds, salt, cinnamon and Amaretto. In a separate clean bowl beat the egg whites until thick.
Gradually fold the whites into the carrot mixture.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a 9 inch tart pan and dust with matzo meal
Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for 30-40 minutes.
- Mom’s matzo balls (miamiherald.com)
- What are your best seder recipes? (ask.metafilter.com)
- How-To: Seder Plate Setup (coffeeshoprabbi.com)
- The Unanticipated Passover Seder (mymorningmeditations.com)