All Italian American families from the East Coast have Stuffed Artichokes as part of their repertoire, typically for special occasions. The stuffing is generally bread based and seasoned with parsley, garlic, and of course a generous splash of olive oil. Stuffed Artichokes might include a bit of anchovy, Parmigiano or Pecorino depending upon the coveted family recipe….
Archives for April 2016
Tuna Spread with Capers has been a staple at our home for years. I first came across the recipe when leafing through Marcella Hazan’s cookbook Marcella’s Italian Kitchen, an autographed copy given to me by a treasured friend. Marcella & Victor Hazan lived in the Cannereggio district of Venice for years and Tuna Spread with Capers reflected the tastes and custom of the Venetian locals. The versatile spread could not be easier, consisting of three main ingredients; imported Italian tuna, butter and capers. Tuna Spread with Capers with your choice of bread is delightful with a late afternoon glass of sparkling Italian wine….
Peperonata, that combination of peppers and onions often with just a tang of acidity, once typical of Southern Italian cuisine has become a staple in many Italian homes. Peperonata has been described as a stew of red peppers of sorts, but I think of it more as a condiment. An uncomplicated dish based on red peppers, Pepperonata can be served with roasted meats or chicken, a topping for bruschetta, alongside a frittata, or as a sauce for pasta.
The history of a people is often reflected in their traditions around food. Some years ago I began researching Jewish holiday foods of Italy while preparing a class featuring a Mediterranean Seder. My intention was for the Seder to be something light and fresh, with historical significance while having a contemporary twist. Since that time, tremendous information has emerged rich in detail about the Jewish communities of the greater Mediterranean diaspora. My own research culminated with a course incorporating the Passover (Pesach) traditions of the Southern European and Northern African Jewish communities.
Haroset, a symbolic part of the Seder, is essentially a fruit and nut paste representing the mortar used by the Israelites in building the Pyramids while slaves in Egypt. Each family has their own special Haroset recipe reflecting their origins. The Jews of Italy were no exception; Livorno, Milano, and Padua to name a few, all had a distinctive mix of fruits and nuts to symbolize the mortar for their Pesach table.
The first Jewish ghetto was established in Venice in 1516 on the site of an iron foundry. The term ghetto is derived the Venetian dialect ghetar or gettare meaning to cast. Today the ghetto remains intact and in fact, is one of the most interesting sites in Venice; providing valuable historical detail about the diverse Venetian Jewish community through the ages. The current Jewish population of Venice is about 500 with about 30 residing in the actual ghetto.
Venetian Haroset reflects the prominence the city heralded as a commercial port, the importing of goods from mysterious lands. Some of the initial recipes I unearthed used chestnuts ground into a paste, walnuts and pistachios. The ingredients have been adjusted over the years to include elements that have become part of our family tradition. This year to bind the fruit and nut mixture, the ever thoughtful Gugliemo hand carried a jar honey from a Kibbutz north of Haifa Israel; the distinctive smokey flavor of the honey balanced out the sweet dried fruits nicely.
Venetian Haroset is a staple at our Seder and the Seder of many of my students and friends. I am not at all suggesting that you abandon your Bubbie’s Haroset, but why not add Venetian Haroset to your Pesach Seder along with a little history of Jewish Venice.
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- 1 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes
- ½ cup dark raisins, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes
- 6 dried figs, ends trimmed and and minced
- ½ cup of dried apricots, minced
- 6 dates, pits removed and chopped
- 1 cup lightly toasted skinned almonds, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
- 2 Tbs of Kosher for Passover Liquor or Grappa
- Grated rind from one large orange
- ⅓ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- ½ to ¾ cup of superior quality honey
- Combine the prepared fruits and nuts, add the orange juice, orange rind, and Liquor. Mix together well, the dates will break down to a paste like consistency and act to bind the mixture.
- Once thoroughly combined, begin to add the honey starting with ½ cup. The amount you need will depend upon the plumpness of the fruit, especially the dates. You want a paste that holds together nicely and can be taken easily with a spoon. Additional honey may be added once the mixture sits for a day or two.
- Cover and refrigerate until needed.