Edda Servi Machlin and Joan Nathan became my saviours when first facing the Jewish Holidays meals many years ago. I quickly realized that the Ashkenazi staples from Eastern and Northern Europe were not for my palate and I set out to make some changes.
I began collecting cookbooks of Italian Jewish recipes, which made me realize how many of the dishes that were intrinsically Italian had Jewish roots: anything made with eggplant or pumpkin, for example, or the Roman torte with ricotta and cherries.
Edda Servi Machlin has written the most reliable compendium of Italian Jewish cooking, mainly rooted in the Tuscan tradition. She is my go-to for any Jewish recipe that will taste quintessentially Italian (coincidentally, a friend gave me a signed copy of The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews, that she found while clearing her mother in law’s cookbook collection).
Joan Nathan, on the other hand, has been writing cookbooks on Jewish cuisine from all over the world for decades, from Israel to Azerbaijan, and recently penned “King Solomon’s Table”, a beautiful compendium of eclectic recipes, all tied to together by the history of the communities where they originated.
Last week I went to the presentation of King Solomon’s Table, where Ms Nathan, interviewed by Pulitzer prize winner Jonathan Gold, regaled us with stories of plucking recipes from taxi drivers in Paris, grandmothers in Israel and the Yemenite community on the East Coast. The book is incredibly beautiful, splendidly illustrated with mouth-watering food and extremely interesting: it weaves the story of Jewish cooking around the world from 2,000 years ago to now and offers unusual or hard to find recipes.
For this year’s Passover I picked Joan Nathan’s Haroseth, the same the Jews from Ferrara have been making for centuries. Ferrara, a lovely city near Bologna, used to have a vibrant Jewish community and, not coincidentally, it is also where pumpkin ravioli hail from.
Haroseth (meaning clay in Hebrew and meant to recall the mortar the Israelites used to make adobe bricks when enslaved in Egypt) is a paste made of fresh and dried fruit and nuts. This particular one includes chestnuts and pears, a Ferrara twist.
But you don’t need to be Jewish or wait for Passover to enjoy this compote. It’s perfect as a topping for hot or cold cereal, or even ice-cream. Or, as I am known to do, spooned into your mouth directly from the bowl.
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2 pears, peeled, cored and chopped
1 banana, peeled and chopped
2 T raisins
8 dates, pitted
3 dried figs
1/4 C almonds (35 g)
1/4 C pine nuts (30 g)
1/2 C kosher wine or grape juice (118 ml)
1/4 C orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed (60 ml)
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
Pinch of salt
3 T sugar
1 C cooked and shelled chestnuts (115 g)
- Place all the ingredients, except the chestnuts, in a large pot.
- Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until the fruit starts breaking down.
- Add the chestnuts. Let cool and put in a food processor and pulse to obtain a chunky consistency.