Sgroppino…I had almost forgotten about that Venetian potion, a cross between a digestivo and dessert until a few weeks ago when we spent an afternoon with the Cheschin family of Il Colle Prosecco.
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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Beefsteak Florentine is a food that represents strong ties and deep friendships. My first foray to Beefsteak Florentine years ago was from the master of Tuscan cuisine – my mentor, teacher and friend Giuliano Bugialli. Long before Italian cooking classes became the rage, Giuliano was teaching at his homes in Soho and Florence. He brilliantly shared the history, techniques and typical dishes of his beloved Tuscany….
Climbing up into the hills of Piedmonte from the town of Alba, the landscape alternates between vineyards of grape varietals and intermittent groves of hazelnut trees; the panorama takes your breath away. Typically, hazelnut trees are planted on hillsides that don’t receive the requisite sun for grapes. Hazelnuts, also know as Filberts in the United States, are emblematic of Piedmonte and provide a stable source of income to some growers….
After years of teaching regional Italian cooking classes, planning Italian adventures, and sharing my travel tips about Italy, starting a blog about Italian food, travels and lifestyle was a just natural next step. Learn More…