Self-taught kosher Italian cook, Alessandra Rovati launched www.dinnerinvenice.com to celebrate colorful, healthy and kosher foods that talented and passionate Italian Jews have brought to their tables over the centuries.
Best known for her healthy and delicious Italian recipes for the holidays, Rovati highlights classic Italian dishes for Rosh Hashanah such as meat and turkey loaves stuffed with spinach, broccoli and eggs, pomegranate chicken, roasted fish with fennel, swiss chard cheese burekas, sweet and sour or mashed pumpkin, leek frittata, quince paste, pear and honey cake and stick cookies stuffed with dates, dried fruit and honey on her Facebook page Italian Kosher Food which has reached 6,000 fans in a year.
Alessandra Rovati is a food writer and chef, raised in Venice, Italy, and living in New York City. Her popular website, www.dinnerinvenice.com was the first blog to focus specifically on kosher Italian food. With each recipe, Alessandra offers a glimpse into the ancient and rich culinary history of Italian Jews. Alessandra’s articles and recipes have been published in several magazines and websites, including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Joy of Kosher, The Jewish Daily Forward, Hadassah Magazine, Bitayavon, Kosher Inspired, The Jewish Journal, and of course, the Jewish Voice.
Presented here for our readers just in time for the holiday, here are some of Alessandra’s favorite Rosh Hashahah recipes. For more, we encourage our readers to visit www.dinnerinvenice.com.
(“Holy” Pumpkin orButternut Squash) (Parve)
Pumpkin or Butternut Squash is an important part of our Rosh HaShana Seder. While the symbolic foods of the Pesach Seder are meant to internalize the memory of Passover, the symbols of Rosh HaShana point to the future to wish us a good New Year. The Aramaic term for squash/pumpkin is ‘Kerah.’ Because of its resemblance to the Aramaic root “Kara” (to cut), when we eat this vegetable we pray that any of our bad deeds will be cut out of the Book of G-d’s Judgment. Pumpkin arrived in Italy after the discovery of the Americas, and was such a hit with Northern Italian Jews that in Venice we call it “Zucca Barucca” (Holy Pumpkin – from the Hebrew “Baruch“).
Different communities and different families prepare it in different ways, but here are a sweet-and-sour version, plus my favorite (but not very photogenic) Venetian version, mashed.
Sweet & Sour Pumpkin
(or Butternut Squash)
1 pound butternut squash or pumpkin (weight peeled and seeded)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced or minced
2 tablespoons honey or sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar (to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
Peel the squash and discard the seeds.
Cut into wedges, about 1/2” thick.
In a skillet or wok, heat the olive oil over medium/high heat. Add the squash and cook until soft inside and golden brown on the outside (8 to 10 minutes).
Discard most of the frying oil, and put the skillet back on the stovetop with the squash. Drizzle with the vinegar and add the salt, pepper, sugar (or honey), garlic and mint.
Cook for about 10 more minutes on low heat, stirring gently.
It can be eaten warm or at room temperature.
2 pounds butternut squash or pumpkin, diced (weight peeled and seeded)
1/2 cup to 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil (to taste)
1 medium onion, very finely minced
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
(in Ferrara they even add candied Etrog)
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and cook the onion in it, adding a couple of tablespoons of water if necessary. Add the diced pumpkin, parsley, salt and cook it on low heat, covered, stirring often, until it’s so soft that it can be mashed easily. At this point, mash it with a fork or potato masher.
Sweet Quince Paste
Quinces are from the same family as apples and pears. They are much uglier than both, and they taste horrible when eaten raw (I tried!). Feed them to the geese? Think again: as usual, our great-great-great grandmothers were able to turn even this ugly-duckling of a fruit into a delicious treat. So delicious, in fact, that many communities in Italy and elsewhere eat them instead of apples and honey as Tapuach, the first element in our Rosh HaShana seder symbolizing a sweet new year.
(Other Italian traditions begin with dates – in Aramaic, Temareh – for the first blessing, and conclude with figs, apples or quinces).
I hope you try this easy recipe and offer it next to your apples and honey. You will understand why, when quinces were still hard to come by in Manhattan stores, a friend of mine’s 80-year-old Italian grandmother (who shall go unnamed) would be found climbing up the trees in the garden of the Cloisters in Upper Manhattan before Rosh HaShana. We saw her in action and she was quite agile.
2 lbs. quinces
1 ½ lbs.sugar
1 organic lemon
4 or 5 cloves
Clean the quinces, eliminating all the fuzz and any parts that are damaged.
Cook them in a pot of boiling water with half an organic lemon and the cloves.
When they are as soft as boiled potatoes (about an hour) drain them, discarding the lemon and cloves and setting aside about a ladleful of the cooking water.
Halve the quinces and allow them to cool off; then peel them, eliminate the cores, and reduce them into a smooth puree using a food mill or an electric mixer.
Combine this puree with the sugar and ½ a ladleful of the cooking water. Cook on low heat for about an hour, stirring regularly. The paste is ready when it sticks to the spoon.
Wet a large cutting board or your countertop, and pour the cotognata on top, forming an even 1/2-inch
layer. After it has started to dry, you can cover it with parchment paper. After at least 24 hours (48 is better), cut into shapes with cookie cutters.
This roasted chicken is a perfect main course for Rosh HaShana, since the Pomegranate (Rimon) is the sixth of the symbols on our holiday table, eaten with the prayer ”May our merits/good deeds be as numerous as the seeds in a pomegranate”. Apparently the Sages took the time to count the seeds in a lot of pomegranates, and decided that they average 613, the number of Mitzvot Jews are bound to observe – which is also why silver Rimmonim (pomegranates) are used to decorate Torah scrolls.
1 chicken, cleaned (I buy kosher, organic, grass-fed and it makes a difference!)
2 pomegranates or 1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, slightly pressed
⅓ cup dry white wine
salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Cut the pomegranates in half and using a citrus reamer scoop out the seeds. Set 2 tablespoons of the seeds aside and press the rest through a food mill or potato masher, gathering the juice in a bowl. .
Heat the olive oil with the garlic in an oven-proof pan or sauteuse; add the chicken and brown it on all sides. Add salt and pepper and the white wine and allow the wine to evaporate.
Transfer the pan into your oven and roast for an hour at 350 F, turning it and basting it with its own juices a couple of times. When you notice that the garlic is becoming dark, discard it.
When the chicken is cooked, transfer it to a serving bowl; add the pomegranate juice to the roasting oil/juice in the pan, and heat it on the stovetop, allowing it to simmer for about 3 minutes. Add the 2 tablespoons of pomegranate seeds, and serve this sauce as an accompaniment to the chicken.
To see more Rosh Hashanah recipes go to www.dinnerinvenice.com.