Sgroppino…I had almost forgotten about that Venetian potion, a cross between a digestivo and dessert until last April 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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So many visits to Rome, yet for some reason we never made it to the iconic Da Enzo in Trastevere. Hailed by many respected food writers and bloggers, it has certainly been on our list. The bit of reluctance was due to the popularity Da Enzo had achieved from well… let me say it, the “tourist trade”.
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…