Hanukkah Treats with Sambuca and Honey (Dairy)
The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem, which had been looted and desecrated by the soldiers of Syrian-Greek King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century BCE. Mattityahu, a Jewish priest, and his five sons, led a successful rebellion against Antiochus, which resulted in the rededication of the Temple by Mattityahu’s son, Yehudah the Maccabee, in 166 BCE. The Talmud reports that the menorah in the Temple was required to burn every night, but there was only enough oil for one night left: however, the menorah burned for eight days on that little oil, giving the Jews enough time to procure more. The oil used for lighting the menorah was pure, extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil, which may explain why Hanukkah resonates so deeply with Italian Jews, inspiring them to create a deluge of mouthwatering recipes.
While the miracle of the oil is described in the Talmud, the Book of 1Maccabees makes no mention of it, stating only that an eight day celebration was proclaimed upon re-dedication of the temple: therefore, a number of historians believe that the reason for the eight day festival was simply that the first Hanukkah was a belated celebration of the harvest holidays of Sukkot and Shemini Azeret, which the Jews had not been able to observe during the war.
Obviously, the two explanations are not mutually exclusive, and Hanukkah can very well celebrate the miracle of the oil while also absorbing the previous holiday.
In this spirit, here is a delicious fried treat that incorporates the oil, and the honey (a recurrent symbol that appears on our tables from Rosh haShana to Shemini Azeret): for holiness, and sweetness. And Sambuca… just for fun!
Ingredients (serves 6-8)
1/2 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter or 1/4 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup Sambuca, Arak or other Anise liquor
4 cups flour
8 gr baking powder
1 cup honey
mild olive oil or peanut oil for frying
Beat 4 whole eggs and one yolk with the sugar; add the melted butter (warm), the liquor and a pinch of salt. Combine the flour with the baking powder, and sift them over the egg mixture, stirring constantly until everything is combined.
Transfer the mixture onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.
Form a ball, cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for one hour.
Roll it into a disc about 0.5 mm thick and cut into shapes with a cookie cutter.
Pour plenty of oil in a wide, heavy pan with tall sides – the oil should be at least 3” high, and stop at least 2” from the top of the pan. The oil is hot enough when a piece of bread dropped into the pan is immediately surrounded by many little bubbles, but does not burn quickly.
Fry the shapes in small batches (if you put too much food into the pan at the same time, the temperature of the frying oil will drop, causing the fritters to absorb fat), turning them quickly so that they brown on both sides. Remove them with a slotted spoon, and dry on a double layer of paper towel. Melt the honey in a saucepan with 3 or 4 tablespoons of water. Arrange the sweets on dessert plates, drizzle them with the honey, and serve.
Holy Pumpkin Fritters (Parve)
Pumpkin arrived in Italy after the discovery of the Americas, and Northern Italian Jews liked it so much that in Venice we called our favorite type “suca baruca” (holy pumpkin, from the Hebrew “baruch”). When it made its first appearance, Venice in general -and Jewish Venice in particular – was a crossroad of peoples and cultures, in which countless examples of what we would now call “Fusion” cuisine came to life. These fritters, which include spices and candied fruit, are a perfect example!
This recipe was published in the Dining Section of the New York Times, Dec 21, 2011.
1 pound pumpkin or butternut squash, cleaned and diced small
grated zest of 2 oranges
¾ cup of sugar and a pinch of salt
1 and ½ cups flour
½ package (8 gr) baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon, if liked
1/3 cup Raisins or Sultanas
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup candied etrog or lemon (if you don’t like it, skip & increase raisins & pine nuts)
Olive oil or peanut oil for deep-frying, at least 3 cups or more
Confectioner’s sugar for decorating
Plump the raisins in a cup of warm water. Chop the candied etrog or lime or lemon.
Place the diced squash in a large platter and cover almost completely, leaving a small opening for the steam to come out, and microwave on high for 10 minutes or until very tender.
Beat the eggs in a food processor with the sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange zest; add the cooked squash and process until smooth.
Drain and dry the raisins, and add them to the mix.
Transfer to a large bowl and gradually add the flour, sifted with the baking powder, using an electric or manual whisk.
In a frying pan, heat the oil to frying temperature (you can test it by dropping a small piece of bread in the oil: if bubbles form around the bread, the temperature is right). Take the batter with a tablespoon, filling it to about ½, and push the batter into the oil with your index finger or a second spoon. The batter should be quite wet and liquid and you won’t be able to shape it: this is normal! You will let it drop into the hot oil and it will puff up quickly, forming the fritters. You will also end up with drops, that would turn into crumbs. Don’t worry about these: you can just discard them every time you take out a ready batch of fritters… or you’ll end up eating them all, like I always do. Fry in small batches until golden all over, turning to cook evenly. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer onto a platter lined with several layers of paper towels.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar right before serving (serve warm).
Mashed Potato Latkes with Fresh Herb Medley (Dairy)
Whenever a survey is done on the topic of comfort food in America, mashed potatoes beat out a variety of favorites, including meatloaf and cinnamon rolls. Among Jews, latkes seem to hold a special place in everybody’s heart – and stomach, conjuring up fond memories from childhood. What would happen, then… if we made latkes from mashed potatoes?
Something so cozy and delicious that you’ll wish you could celebrate Hanukkah all year long!
2 pounds potatoes
4 medium eggs
2 tablespoons grated parmigiano cheesea pinch of grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons mixed thyme, parsley, rosemary, chives, freshly minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, to dip
salt and pepper to taste
enough mild extra-virgin olive oil for deep-frying
Bake the potatoes until soft, peel them and mash them. Place them in a bowl and add the nutmeg, herbs, parmigiano, pepper and little salt. Add the eggs one at a time (if the eggs are large, 3 may be enough).
With a tablespoon and your hand, form little patties and dip them into the flour.
Heat at least 1” or more of the oil in a deep fryer or a heavy pan with tall sides. When the oil is at frying temperature, start frying in small batches, without overcrowding the pan. Fry on higher heat for the first 30 seconds or until the patties forem a crust, then lower the heat to mediumand fry until crunchy and golden (turning them once).
Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain them well on a double or triple layer of paper towel or/and a drying rack. Serve them hot, after sprinkling them with a little more salt.
About the Food Expert
Alessandra Rovati was born and raised in Venice, Italy, and lives in New York City, where she is a food writer, lecturer and cooking instructor. She also posts free recipes and how-to’s, offering a glimpse of Jewish Italian culinary history, on her website, Dinner in Venice. Her Facebook page has reached over 6000 fans in one year.
Alessandra’s articles and recipes have been published in several magazines, including the New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Forward, Joy of Kosher, Hadassah Magazine, The Jewish Journal, the Jewish Press, and many more.
Her Jewish Italian Cooking lesson has appeared on the Jewish Week’s website, and she has been a featured guest on radio programs and on Fox News.
Sfenz – Libyan Hanukkah Fritters (Parve)
Jewish Italian food has been a tradition for over 2000 years – but it still continues to evolve, even in recent times. The Jewish exodus from Libya in the late 1960es brought about 5000 Libyan Jews to Rome, and their earthy dishes are yet another extraordinary influence on our culinary kaleidoscope.
I reached out to my friends at Labna, one of my favorite Italian food blogs, and Jasmine shared these yummy pancakes, a traditional recipe from the Libyan side of her family. Jasmine tells us that in her grandparents’ house the kitchen was usually her grandmother’s realm -she was always the one cooking, and her grandfather only walked in there to obtain coffee. But every year on Hanukkah, Jasmine’s grandfather would wake up early, brave the kitchen and prepare the Sfenz, the traditional water-flour pancakes, like they used to make in Tripoli: a few minutes of easy kneading, a couple of hours of rest, and a dive into the hot oil…. for a most irresistible breakfast. Enjoy Labna’s special treat!
Ingredients (Serves 6 to 8):
· 1 pound pastry flour or 00 flour (you can use all-purpose, but the result will be heavier)
· 1/cube fresh yeast, or 1 tablespoon dry yeast
· 1 cup water, or enough for a soft, elastic dough
· enough oil for deep frying (peanut or canola)
· confectioner’s sugar to decorate
Place the flour in a large bowl or your stand mixer. In a second bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water, and add the mix to the flour. Combine well with your hands, or process in the mixer into a soft, elastic, slightly sticky dough.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow to rest in a warm area for about one hour. Now knead again quickly with your hands, and allow to rest for one more hour.
Place the bowl with the dough next to the stovetop, and fill a second bowl with warm water.
Heat abundant oil in a heavy pot with tall sides; when the oil is hot, wet your hands, take a small ball of dough and pull it with your hands into a small “pancake” shape. It’s OK if by doing so you create a few “holes” in the middle. Wet your hands after making each sfenz, so that the dough won’t stick to your fingers. Fry the sfenz in the oil, one at a time or in small batches, turning them once. Remove them with a slotted spoon when they are golden, and drain them on a double layer of kitchen towel. Serve them hot after decorating them with confectioner’s sugar.
Jasmine Guetta is a 23-year-old foodblogger from Italy. She lives in Milan with her family, works in social media and loves cooking, writing and photography. With her best friend Manuel Kanah, she created the popular Italian food blog Labna. Jasmine and Manuel also host a popular radio program on “JewBox” web radio and teach cooking classes at one of the main synagogues in Milan. Labna’s recipes have also been featured in several Italian magazines.
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