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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.

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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.

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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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

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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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

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Basil and Balsamic Beets

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

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Mashed Pumpkin (Zucca Disfatta)

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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..

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Italian-Jewish Pastries (Precipizi)

Ingredients

  • 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)

Directions

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.


Challah

The Jewish presence in Italy dates to the pre‑Christian Roman period (more than two thousand years ago) and continues to this day. There are approximately 28,400 Jews in Italy today. They are concentrated in Rome (13,000) and Milan (8,000), with smaller communities situated in Turin (900), Florence (1,000), Venice (600) and Livorno (600). Other Jewish communities numbering a few hundred members can be found in several other cities. The community’s umbrella organization, the Unione delle Comunita Ebraiche Italiane (Union of Italian Jewish Communities), provides religious, cultural and educational services to Italy’s Jewish population and also represents the community on the national-political level.

The Great Synagogue of Rome.

When the edict of expulsion was issued in 1492, many Jews from Spain and Sicily (which, along with Naples and points south, were under Spanish control at the time) fled north, traveling up the Italian peninsula. The refugees brought their favored foods and flavorings to their new communities, among them marzipan, eggplant, artichokes, a taste for sweet-and-sour and the raisin and pine nut garnish used with meats and vegetables, as well as fish. Caponata, now used throughout Italy, was another Sicilian-Jewish dish. A sweet-savory cold salad of fried eggplant, onions, garlic, olives and capers (and tomatoes—a later addition from the Americas). It is still labeled alla giudea, Jewish-style, on some menus.

Italian Jews have always been exceptionally fond of vegetables and developed countless ways to use them. Spinach is a particular favorite: even the stems might be slowly braised for a side dish or the leaves combined with almonds in a dessert. Pumpkin and other golden squashes—introduced from the New World by Spanish and Portuguese Jews—are often included on the Yom Kippur break-the-fast menu, either pureed with onion and a touch of crystallized citron (etrog) or flavored with Parmesan and raisins as a filling for pasta.

Butternut Squash Risotto

Much of Italian-Jewish cooking is “cucina povera”, cuisine of the poor and vegetables were often used to stretch—or even replace—meat and fish. Sometimes, as in polpettine di pollocoi sedani (chicken meatballs with celery) a Roman Rosh Hashanah specialty, the vegetables are cooked alongside the meat. In other recipes, olives, potatoes, cooked spinach or other vegetables are mixed into ground meat, creating meatballs and loaves that not only make the meat go further, but are more tender and flavorful.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. The themes of this solemn holiday are self-reflection and repentance. There are ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in which Jewish people are charged with taking a reflective look at the past year, repenting for misdeeds, asking for forgiveness and working on ways to become better people.

The home ceremony takes place at sundown and the main event of this special day is a festive seder meal. There are three categories of symbolic foods for Rosh Hashanah and each has its own meaning. The first is sweet tasting foods, such as apples and honey, which represent the desire for a sweet year to come. The second which includes pomegranates and fish, represent one’s wish to be fruitful and multiply. The third category which includes foods such as carrots, beets, leeks and cabbage, represent the destruction and eradication of one’s sins and one’s enemies.

Giuliana Ascoli Vitali-Norsa, author of La Cucina nella Tradizione Ebraica, says that, “among other things, the standard Italian Rosh Hashanah meal will include ricciolini, triglie alla mosaica, polpettone di tacchino, fried yellow squash or other vegetables prepared without vinegar and either a honey cake, sfratti or apples and bananas cooked with rum. Ricciolini are pasta served in broth, a sort of noodle soup, while triglie alla mosaica are reef mullet cooked in a tomato sauce, sometimes with a jolt of hot pepper; you also find them referred to as triglie alla livornese and by extension other kinds of fish cooked in this sauce can be called “alla livornese” too. Polpettone di tacchino is turkey loaf and it can be simple or extraordinary.”

I have put together a menu for an Italian Rosh Hashanah dinner for you to try with the help of some famous Jewish chefs.

Antipasto:

carciofi alla giudia - Picture of Rotonda Restaurant, RomeThis photo from Rotonda Restaurant in Rome is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Carciofi alla Giudia (Artichokes Jewish Style)

A very old recipe, these artichokes became famous in the Jewish community in Rome.

Adapted from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook

Ingredients:

  • 12 small artichokes
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Olive oil for deep frying
  • 1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 10 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Matzoh meal or flour for dredging

Directions:

Trim the tops off the artichokes, working around the globe to retain the shape. Halve the lemons, juice them and cover with cold water. Soak the artichokes in this lemon water until ready to use, then drain and dry.

Hold the artichokes by the stems and bang them a little against the countertop to open the leaves.

Combine 1/2 cup of the olive oil, the parsley, basil, salt, pepper and garlic and sprinkle the mixture between the leaves. Roll each artichoke in matzo meal or flour.

Heat a large pot, wok, or Dutch oven with a cover, filled with about 3 inches of oil, to sizzling. Deep-fry 2–3 artichokes at a time for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally with a tongs; they will puff up as they cook. Serve hot, sprinkled with additional sea salt.

Yield: 6 servings

First Course:

Three Bean Minestrone

Joy of Kosher by Jamie Geller

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 cup cooked (or canned, drained & rinsed) white kidney, cannellini or Great Northern beans
  • 1 cup cooked (or canned, drained & rinsed) pinto beans
  • 8 cups Water or Vegetable Broth
  • Rind from a small piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
  • 1 cup Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 2 medium red tomatoes, diced
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated, optional

Directions:

In a large stock pot over low heat, combine the olive oil and onions. Sweat the onions until wilted and soft, about 10 minutes. Add carrots and cook 3 minutes. Add celery, beans, water and Parmigiano rind and cook for about 20 minutes.  

Add diced potatoes and zucchini and cook for another 20 minutes.  Add tomatoes and their juices, cover, and cook at a low simmer for at least 30 more minutes. Add spinach, season with kosher salt and black pepper, and cook 2-3 minutes longer.  Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, if using.

Main Course:

Ezekiel’s Olive Chicken

Alessandra Rovati was born and raised in Venice, Italy and she writes and teaches about Kosher and Jewish Italian food.

Several Jewish Italian recipes for poultry have Biblical names. Here is one of the most popular examples, which appears in different variations in most cooking books on the topic, from Vitali Norsa, to Servi-Machlin to Joyce Goldstein. It’s not a surprise, because chicken cooked with this technique stays moist and juicy. It’s a variation on the basic “pollo in umido”, which Americans call “chicken cacciatore”.

Ingredients (4 servings)

  • One chicken, cut into serving pieces
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced (depending on your tolerance)
  • 1/3 cup green or/and black olives, pitted
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons mix of freshly chopped herbs (sage, rosemary and basil or mint or parsley)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 or 3 peeled tomatoes (I use the canned type)
  • 1/3 cup dry wine, red or white

Directions:

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Heat the olive oil, add the chicken and saute until golden. Add the salt, pepper, olives, garlic, herbs and the chopped (and drained) tomatoes.

Cook for 2 minutes, stirring, then lower the flame and cook covered until tender (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally. Now uncover, add the wine and allow it to evaporate it on high heat.

This dish can be made ahead and reheated just before serving.

Spinach With Pine Nuts and Raisins

From Joyce Goldstein’s Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen

So, how did kosher find its way to the land of pasta and polenta? ‘Through persecutions and emigrations,’ Goldstein says. ‘The Jews carried their culinary traditions with them and shared them with the world.’ They brought ingredients like tomatoes and squash and peppers to Italy, as well as styles of cooking — preparing room temperature dishes, for example, was their way around cooking on the Sabbath. In Italy these traditions were embraced and absorbed completely; something Goldstein is proud of. ‘Perhaps his is the positive side of the ‘Wandering Jew,’ ” she considers. ‘Food is a strong cultural continuum, and it’s nice to be able to rediscover some of these dishes as Jewish.'”

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds spinach
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small yellow onions or 6 green onions, minced
  • 4 tablespoons raisins, plumped in hot water and drained
  • 4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Rinse the spinach well and remove the stems. Place in a large sauté pan with only the rinsing water clinging to the leaves. Cook over medium heat, turning as needed until wilted, just a few minutes. Drain well and set aside.

Add the olive oil to the now-empty pan and place over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the spinach, raisins and pine nuts and sauté briefly to warm through. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature.

Dessert:

Sfratti (Honey And Nut Pastries)

The Italian police, as the legend goes, used sticks to forcibly evict the Jews from their homes. Sfratti, the Italian word for stick, was a pastry the Jews of that region created to resemble those sticks. These honey and nut pastries (a cross between rugelach and biscotti) are baked as sticks and then sliced into cookies. The honey-laden pastry is traditionally served for dessert on Rosh Hashanah.

Dough Ingredients:

  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup sweet white wine
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted margarine

Filling Ingredients:

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 1 pound walnuts, finely chopped

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, add the flour and make a well in the center. Place the sugar and salt in the well. Add the wine and oil gradually while mixing with a fork until you form a smooth dough. Empty the dough onto a floured cutting board and knead for 5 minutes. Return the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in the refrigerator.

To make the filling, bring the honey to a rapid boil in large saute pan over high heat and cook for 2 minutes without stirring. Add the spices, orange zest and nuts and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to stir until the mixture is cool enough to handle. Divide into 6 equal portions. On a floured cutting board, roll each portion into a thin log, about a foot long, and set aside.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 6 equal portions. Using a rolling pin, roll one piece of dough to form a 4 x 14 strip. Place one honey/nut log at the edge of the dough and fold the sides over the ends of the log. Then wrap the dough around the filling, covering it completely. Place on a sheet pan, seam-side down.

Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 20 minutes. Allow the sfratti to rest only for 5 minutes before removing from the sheet pan, then immediately wrap in foil. Once completely cool, cut on bias into 1-inch slices, just before serving.

Sfratti keep for several weeks without refrigeration when wrapped in foil. In fact, they taste better after they have been allowed to age for a few days.

I wish you all l’shana tova (a good year) filled with many years of life and happiness.



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