February 25, 2024

Make Leah Koenig’s fritter recipes from the Roman Jewish kitchen for Hanukkah

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Our cookbook of the week is Portico by Leah Koenig.

Soar to the recipes: combined fried greens (pezzetti fritti), fried salt cod with a fried mozzarella variation (filetto di baccalà and mozzarella fritta) and savoury fried potato pastries (burik con patate).

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The culinary image of Hanukkah, fried meals are central to Rome’s Jewish group — and never only for the pageant of lights. Carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-style fried artichokes), seasoned merely with salt and a squeeze of lemon, are undoubtedly probably the most well-known. This dish of deep-fried, golden thistles was born out of necessity. Now it’s the “Roman Jewish reward to the world,” writes Leah Koenig in her seventh e book, Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen (2023). And artichokes are only the start.

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By papal decree, being a avenue vendor was one of many few professions Roman Jews may maintain throughout the Ghetto interval between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many grew to become friggitori (fryers), promoting pezzetti fritti (combined fried greens). Houses within the Ghetto had range tops however hardly ever ovens, Koenig explains. Frying was a cost-effective approach to cook dinner as a result of, being in Italy, olive oil was considerable.

“That was their livelihood. They usually fried every thing, from what I’ve heard — no matter greens they’d available. Even apples typically. They actually fried every thing aside from (non-kosher) seafood, which is a part of fritto misto that Jews wouldn’t do,” says Koenig. “Out of persecution and strife, they created one thing stunning. So, the fried custom, and its many various expressions of taking elements that had been out there, and frying them and making them scrumptious, sums up Roman Jewish delicacies extra broadly.”

Roman Jewish cooks created a novel model of cucina povera, which nonetheless performs out in kitchens as we speak. Unable to purchase giant, recent, white fish, for instance, the group relied on small fish equivalent to anchovies and dried salt cod.

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The ruins of Portico d’Ottavia (Octavia’s Porch) — the inspiration for the e book’s title — sit on the fringe of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto neighbourhood. From the twelfth century till Italy’s unification within the nineteenth century, it was the location of a fish market. There was a marble slab, and if a fish prolonged previous its edges, Jews couldn’t purchase it, says Koenig. Salt cod grew to become a means for Roman Jews to entry a white fish that lasted virtually indefinitely. As with the numerous different humble elements on the coronary heart of Roman Jewish delicacies, cooks discovered methods to make it tasty.

Koenig typically makes fried salt cod (filetto di baccalà) with recent cod, acknowledging that it’s not precisely the identical dish. “If you happen to don’t love the saltiness of salt cod, you may positively use recent and simply do the identical factor minus the soaking. However it’s a kind of dishes that feels so Roman Jewish in all of the methods.”

Rome’s Jewish group is historic, relationship again greater than 2,000 years. Roman and Roman Jewish cuisines are the results of centuries of cultural trade. Distinctions between the 2 have blurred over time, says Koenig. The roots of sure dishes, equivalent to carciofi alla giudia, are obvious as a result of the phrase Jewish is within the title. However others, equivalent to fritto misto, are extra obscure.

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“Everybody in Rome eats these. They’re at each restaurant, and so they’re scrumptious. However it’s virtually sure that they arrive from the Jewish group first due to the lengthy custom of deep-frying inside Rome’s Jews. And that’s OK — dishes journey; dishes evolve over time. However I feel it’s actually cool that the Jewish group is so previous that it’s so intermingled and intertwined with Roman tradition as a complete.”

Portico book cover
Portico, exploring the meals tradition of Rome’s centuries-old Jewish group, is Leah Koenig’s seventh cookbook. Picture by W. W. Norton & Firm

After her sixth e book, The Jewish Cookbook (2019) — a complete work that includes greater than 400 recipes from around the globe — Koenig knew she wished to write down one thing extra private that may permit her to give attention to one group. She discovered her topic within the metropolis that had impressed her to embark on a profession in Jewish meals within the first place.

Koenig and her husband, musician and composer Yoshie Fruchter, honeymooned in Rome in 2009. On the time, she was new to meals writing and was contemplating whether or not to give attention to Jewish delicacies or take a broader view. Her path crystallized throughout a Shabbat dinner composed fully of Roman Jewish dishes at kosher caterer Giovanni Terracina’s home.

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She didn’t acknowledge any of the plates Terracina served, says Koenig. However they instantly felt acquainted due to the context — sitting at a Shabbat desk saying the blessing over wine and bread. She felt related.

“I had this lightbulb second the place I used to be like, ‘Oh, wow, Jewish meals is even broader and deeper and extra numerous than I even knew already.’ And that dinner, it’s not likely a hyperbole to say that it was the second the place I stated, ‘I can do that. I’ll by no means tire of monitoring down and sharing tales from the worldwide Jewish world.’ So Portico is my means of thanking the Roman Jewish group for the way in which it has impressed my profession and me as an individual.”

As fascinated as Koenig was by the historical past and as enamoured as she was of the individuals she met and the dishes she ate, it took time for her to reach on the thought of writing a e book about Rome’s Jewish group. Koenig had included Roman Jewish recipes in a number of of her earlier books, together with Fashionable Jewish Cooking and The Jewish Cookbook, and she or he discovered herself revisiting them with renewed focus. However it was on the peak of pandemic lockdowns, lacking travelling and dreaming of Rome, that the thought got here to her.

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Unable to journey, she did quite a lot of her analysis over the telephone, interviewing dozens of individuals and Zooming into their kitchens for instruction on making their household’s almond cake or beef stew or trimming an artichoke the Italian means. Then, in September 2021 — post-vaccine and pre-Omicron — journey restrictions lifted. Koenig and photographer Kristin Teig jumped on the probability to spend every week in Rome.

“I cooked in individuals’s kitchens and had meals at eating places and in individuals’s properties and simply put my ft again on the cobblestones within the Ghetto neighbourhood and remembered that the partitions had been this beautiful coral color — that’s what the e book’s cowl alludes to — and simply was in a position to make connections with my very own recollections, and fill in and enliven and convey to life quite a lot of the work I had accomplished remotely.”

As Koenig explains in Portico, three teams make up Rome’s Jewish group: the Italkim, who arrived within the second century BCE; the Sephardim, who moved there after the Spanish Inquisition, introducing greens equivalent to artichokes and eggplants, savoury and candy functions of pine nuts and raisins, and ground-almond desserts; and the Libyan Jews, who immigrated within the late twentieth century. She questioned whether or not she ought to embody Libyan recipes in Portico, however a dialog with Rome-based chef and tv character Laura Ravaioli helped her resolve.

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“There are two spirits to Jewish Roman meals, Roman and Libyan,” Ravaioli advised Koenig. “Either side have discovered to create one thing stunning out of nothing.”

Associated Tales

Zuppa per couscous (vegetable stew for couscous) and shakshuka might not be conventional Roman recipes. Nonetheless, full-flavoured, spiced dishes like these epitomize the house cooking of Rome’s Libyan Jews, says Koenig. Whether or not cershi bel hal (garlicky pumpkin unfold) or burik con patate (savoury fried potato pastries), Libyan Jewish dishes are a part of the Roman Jewish story. “Their households, and the meals they share, are only a newer thread in an historic tapestry.”

Although it’s much less widespread as we speak, Koenig additionally explores the significance of offal, the offcuts of cows and lambs known as the quinto quarto (“fifth quarter”). Many dishes within the cucina povera custom, equivalent to braised oxtail, fried brains and sweetbreads, probably originated within the Roman Jewish Ghetto, “a four-block vast gated slum in one of many metropolis’s most undesirable, and nearly uninhabitable, areas,” the place Pope Paul IV ordered the Jews of Rome to reside for greater than 300 years.

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Romans, typically, care an incredible deal about custom, says Koenig. One cook dinner may inform you precisely find out how to make a dish, emphasizing if in case you have one additional garlic clove, it’s now not right. Then, you can meet somebody equally passionate a few totally different recipe for a similar dish.

“The great thing about that’s that custom is paramount. And I feel for Roman Jews, that additionally simply is smart as a result of the group went by means of a lot persecution for a lot of its historical past that the meals and the tradition and the connection to these issues is anchoring for a group that’s had quite a lot of trauma,” says Koenig, noting that, as an American, she doesn’t share these boundaries round custom. “I used to be stunned to see how tightly individuals maintain (onto them) and the way a lot these recipes appear intertwined with id.”

Considered one of her favorite examples is concia (silky marinated zucchini), the primary recipe within the e book. Many individuals she interviewed for Portico talked about it as one in every of their central Shabbat or summertime dishes. Half advised her, “You have to minimize the zucchini into cash.” The opposite half insisted, “Slice it into planks.” She respects this dedication to custom whereas acknowledging that she has a distinct perspective. “I like each methods,” says Koenig, laughing. “They’re each scrumptious.”

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MIXED FRIED VEGETABLES

Mixed fried vegetables, pezzetti fritti
Blended fried greens (and typically fish), generally often called fritto misto, are beloved by all Romans, however the deep-​frying technique hails initially from the Roman Jewish kitchen,” writes Leah Koenig of pezzetti fritti. Picture by Kristin Teig

Pezzetti Fritti

Serves: 4 to six

Gentle olive oil or vegetable oil (equivalent to sunflower or grapeseed) for deep-​frying

For the batter:
1 3/4 cups (245 g) all-​goal flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups (475 mL) chilled glowing water

For the combined greens:
1/2 lb (227 g) inexperienced beans, ends trimmed
1/2 lb (227 g) cremini mushrooms, halved lengthwise (stems left intact)
1 medium fennel bulb (about 1/2 lb/227 g), trimmed and really thinly sliced lengthwise
2 small zucchini (about 1/2 lb/227 g), ends trimmed and minimize lengthwise into 8 wedges every
Kosher salt and lemon wedges for serving

Step 1

Warmth 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) of oil in a medium saucepan over medium warmth till it reaches 350F (180C) on a deep-​fry thermometer. Line a big baking sheet with paper towels and set close by.

WHILE THE OIL HEATS, MAKE THE BATTER

Step 2

Whisk collectively the flour, salt, baking soda and glowing water in a big bowl till easy and the consistency of a unfastened pancake batter. (Don’t overmix.)

Step 3

Working in batches, drop the greens into the batter to coat, then take away with tongs, permitting the surplus batter to drip off, and slip into the recent oil, being cautious to not crowd the pan (which might result in soggy fritters). If you’re including a few items directly, jostle them barely with the tongs in order that they gained’t stick collectively in clumps. Fry the greens, flipping them as soon as, till crisp and golden, 4 to six minutes per batch. Switch the fried greens to the paper towels to empty as they’re accomplished. Add extra oil to the pan if wanted, letting it come as much as warmth earlier than continuing.

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Step 4

Switch the greens to a serving platter and sprinkle with salt. Serve scorching, with lemon wedges on the facet for squeezing.

FRIED SALT COD

Mozzarella fritta, fried mozzarella
The identical batter used to make fried salt cod (filetto di baccalà) can be utilized to fry mozzarella balls (mozzarella fritta; see the variation). Picture by Kristin Teig

Filetto di Baccalà

Serves: 4 to six

1 1/2 lb (680 g) baccalà (boneless salt cod)
Gentle olive oil or vegetable oil (equivalent to sunflower or grapeseed) for deep-​frying
1 1/2 cups (210 g) all-​goal flour
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) chilly water
Lemon wedges for serving

Step 1

Place the baccalà in a big bowl and canopy with water. Refrigerate for at the least 24 hours (ideally, nearer to 48 hours), altering the water a number of occasions, till the fish is softened and pliable and a lot of the salt has washed away.

Step 2

Drain the fish, pat dry with paper towels and minimize into roughly 4 x 1 1/2-​inch (10 x 4 cm) items (assume a deck of taking part in playing cards minimize lengthwise in half). Put aside.

Step 3

Warmth 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) of oil in a medium saucepan over medium warmth till it reaches 350F (180C) on a deep-​fry thermometer. Line a big baking sheet with paper towels and set close by.

WHILE THE OIL HEATS, MAKE THE BATTER

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Step 4

Whisk collectively the flour, salt, baking soda and water in a big bowl, till easy and the consistency of pancake batter. (Don’t overmix.)

Step 5

Working in batches, dip the baccalà items into the batter to coat, then take away with tongs, permitting the surplus batter to drip off, and slip into the recent oil, being cautious to not crowd the pan. Gently stir and jostle the coated fish items as wanted to stop them from sticking collectively. Fry, flipping as soon as, till crisp and evenly golden, 4 to six minutes per batch. Switch the fried fish to the paper towels to empty and sprinkle with a bit salt. Add extra oil to the pan as wanted, letting it come as much as warmth earlier than continuing.

Step 6

Switch the baccalà to a serving plate and serve scorching, with lemon wedges alongside for squeezing.

Mozzarella Fritta

As a substitute of baccalà, use 1 pound (454 g) cherry dimension mozzarella balls (ciliegine), drained and patted dry with paper towels. Proceed as above, frying them for two to three minutes per batch.

SAVOURY FRIED POTATO PASTRIES

Burik con patate, savoury fried potato pastries
For “a tasty shortcut,” use store-bought sq. egg roll wrappers for these Libyan fried potato pastries (burik con patate), suggests Leah Koenig. Picture by Kristin Teig

Burik con Patate

Makes: about 20 burik

For the filling:
3 medium russet potatoes (about 1 1/2 lb/680 g), peeled and minimize into chunks
2 tbsp extra-​virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp floor cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus extra if wanted
3 tbsp finely chopped recent flat-​leaf parsley

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For the burik wrappers:
1 1/2 cups (210 g) all-​goal flour, plus extra if wanted
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp vegetable oil (equivalent to sunflower or grapeseed)
3/4 cup water (180 mL), plus extra if wanted
Vegetable oil (equivalent to sunflower or grapeseed) for cooking the wrappers and frying the burik

MAKE THE FILLING

Step 1

Add the potatoes to a medium pot, cowl with water and convey to a boil over excessive warmth, then cook dinner till potatoes are very tender, 20 to half-hour.

Step 2

In the meantime, warmth the olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium-​low warmth. Add the onion and cook dinner, stirring usually, till softened however not browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir within the cinnamon and salt, and take away from the warmth.

Step 3

When the potatoes are accomplished, drain, switch to a big bowl and mash with a potato masher till creamy.

Step 4

Add the softened onions to the mashed potatoes, together with the parsley, and stir to mix. Style and add extra salt if wanted. Put aside. (The potato combination will be made as much as 2 days prematurely and saved, lined, within the fridge.)

MAKE THE BATTER

Step 5

Add the flour, salt, vinegar and oil to the bowl of a meals processor and pulse to mix. Add the water and course of till you might have a really easy batter the consistency of a unfastened (however not skinny or runny) pancake batter. If wanted, add extra water or flour 1 tablespoon at a time till the specified consistency is reached. Switch the batter to a bowl and let relaxation for 1 hour.

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MAKE THE WRAPPERS

Step 6

Place an 8-​inch (20-cm) nonstick frying pan over the bottom doable warmth. When it’s scorching, add about 1/2 teaspoon of oil to the pan and use a paper towel to unfold it round. (You’re going for the naked minimal of oil.)

Step 7

Pour about 1 tablespoon of the batter into the pan and, utilizing a big pastry brush, rapidly brush it into a skinny layer all around the backside. (If the batter is just too thick to unfold successfully, whisk in a bit extra water.) Prepare dinner till the highest of the wrapper is absolutely dry and the sides are starting to twist, then fastidiously switch to a plate. (It’s okay if there are just a few small holes within the wrapper.) Proceed making wrappers, stacking them with squares of parchment paper between them, till you’ve used all of the batter.

FILL AND FRY THE BURIK

Step 8

Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the potato filling into the centre of 1 wrapper, fold it in half to make a half-​moon form and press the sides collectively to seal. Proceed till both all the filling or all the wrappers are used up.

Step 9

Line a big baking sheet with a layer of paper towels and put aside. Warmth 1/4 inch (6 mm) of oil in a big frying pan over medium warmth till shimmering. Working in batches of 4 or 5, gently slip the burik into the oil and cook dinner, turning as soon as, till crispy and golden on either side, 1 to 2 minutes per facet. Switch the fried burik to the ready baking sheet to empty. Serve heat.

Observe: If you’re quick on time, store-​purchased sq. egg roll wrappers make a tasty shortcut.

Recipes and pictures excerpted from Portico by Leah Koenig. Textual content copyright ©2023 by Leah Koenig. Images copyright ©2023 by Kristin Teig. Used with permission of the writer, W.W. Norton & Firm, Inc. All rights reserved.

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