One of the oldest Jewish communities in the world can be found in Rome, where Jews have been living since the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash in the year 70. At that time many Jews were brought to Rome as prisoners and slaves. By the end of the first century, some 30,000 Jews were living there.
Over the years, there have been two other major migrations: the Ashkenazim who came from Central Europe in the early 14th century, and the Sephardim who came after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. As with Jewish immigrants throughout the world, it’s often difficult to know whose culture was the greater influence.
As with all Mediterranean cuisine, vegetables and herbs play a large part in Italian Jewish cooking. Of course they came up with their own versions of slow cooked foods for Shabbos and special dishes for Yom Tov.
Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins
This is one of the most popular dishes of the Italian Jews.
2 1/2 pounds spinach (frozen is fine)
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, minced
4 tablespoons raisins, plumped in hot water and drained
4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
If using fresh spinach, rinse the leaves well and remove the stems. Place in a large sauté pan with only the rinsing water clinging to the leaves. Cook over medium heat, turning as needed until wilted, just a few minutes. Drain well and set aside. If you are using frozen, thaw and drain as much water as you can.
Add the olive oil to the sauté pan and place over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the spinach, raisins, and pine nuts and sauté briefly to warm through. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature.
Italian Citrus Salad
A light fragrant salad that’s perfect any time!
2 tomatoes, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup bell pepper (red and yellow), chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1 zucchini, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cups finely chopped red onion
3 large oranges, washed, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
In a large bowl, combine all salad ingredients.
Whisk together salad dressing ingredients and add to the bowl of prepared vegetables. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Serve.
Carciofi alla Giudia or Fried Artichokes
This savory vegetable recipe is said to have originated in the ghettos of Rome. It’s a prime example of Jewish ingenuity in creating kosher dishes with local ingredients. Serve hot as an appetizer or side dish.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 (14-ounce) cans artichoke hearts, drained and patted dry
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over high heat. Add artichokes and cook 2 minutes to heat through.
Reduce heat to low. Stir in garlic and lemon juice. Cook 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and add Parmesan cheese. Stir gently to mix.
Transfer to an oiled broiling pan. Finish off under preheated broiler to brown at edges, 2 minutes.
If you’re going to serve an Italian-style meal you will want to end with this simple but tasty fruit tart.
4 Granny Smith or other cooking apples
½ cup sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter or margarine
2 large egg yolks
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup apricot preserves
Preheat the oven to 425° and grease a 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
Peel, core, and slice the apples about a fourth to an eighth of an inch thick. You should have about 24 pieces.
Place the sugar, butter, egg yolks, flour, and salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process gently until the dough forms a ball. Pulsing works best — do not overwork the dough.
Take the ball of dough in your hands and flatten in the center of the tart pan. Working with your fingers and wide spatula, spread the dough evenly around the pan and up the sides. The dough should be about 1/2 inch thick on the sides. Press the dough into the flutes and spread it evenly across the bottom of the pan, then trim and flatten the edges with a knife. Starting on the outside and working toward the center, lay the apple slices in an overlapping, concentric circle.
Place the apricot preserves in a saucepan and heat over a low flame until it has liquefied. Using a pastry brush, glaze the apples and the visible crust.
Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 350° and continue baking until the crust is deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. Bring to room temperature, unmold, and put on a platter or serving dish.
One should consult a Rav regarding checking of problematic vegetables for infestation.