Italian cooking is as varied as the regions in Italy. There's also a centuries-long but little-known tradition of Jewish cooking in Italy.
She joined the show to share a few recipes from the book!
Concia di zucchini / Fried Zucchini in a Garlic-Herb Marinade
Starting in the spring and then all the way to the end of summer, fried zucchini is a staple recipe on every Roman Jewish family’s Shabbat menu. Any type of zucchini will work, but in Rome, concia is made with the special Italian zucchini called zucchine romanesche; they are small and light green with thin, pale stripes and have beautiful flowers. If you can’t find them, try Persian zucchini or Mexican squash.
This marinated fried zucchini dish is generally made ahead, to ensure that the flavors blend well, and is served as a starter or a side, but it also makes the best snack on top of crusty pizza bianca, or sandwiched between two slices of crunchy bread such as ossi.
Serves 4 to 6 as a starter or side dish
- 2¼ pounds (1 kg) zucchini
- Sunflower or peanut oil for deep-frying
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- A handful of parsley or basil leaves, or both, finely chopped (see Variations)
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup (120 ml) white wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Slice the zucchini lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick (6 mm) strips. People debate the best way to slice the zucchini for this dish; some like to cut the slices at an angle to obtain wide ovals instead of strips. Any shape will do as long as your slices are even in thickness.
- If you are not pressed for time, let the zucchini slices dry on a baking sheet lined with paper towels for a couple of hours, so they lose some of their moisture. If you are in a hurry, go straight to frying.
- Pour about 2 inches (5 cm) of sunflower or peanut oil into a large saucepan and heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°F (180°C). (You could use a deep skillet for frying if you prefer, but I find that a saucepan helps contain the oil if it bubbles up too much.) You can test the oil by dropping a small piece of zucchini into it: if it sizzles nicely but doesn’t bubble up too wildly, the oil is ready.
- Working in batches to avoid crowding, gently place some zucchini slices into the pan, making sure that they all lie flat and do not overlap. Fry, turning once, for about 5 minutes, until deeply golden, almost brown. Transfer the slices to a tray lined with paper towels to drain and continue frying the zucchini in batches.
- Place one-third of the fried zucchini in one layer in a deep rectangular dish. Sprinkle with some of the minced garlic, herbs, and salt and season with pepper to taste. Repeat with two more layers, finishing with one last sprinkle of minced garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper.
- Cover the zucchini with the vinegar, top with the olive oil, and refrigerate for at least 5 hours, and up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature to serve.
- Leftovers keep well in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap or in an airtight container, for a couple of days.
You can swap eggplant for the zucchini to make concia di melanzane.
Some concia recipes feature parsley, some basil, some both parsley and basil, and some mint. Find your favorite combination!
Montini / Almond Paste Mounds
The shape of these little almond cookies is supposed to remind you of Mount Sinai. They are generally given to family and friends in the Purim gift basket, because they travel well and last a long time.
The traditional recipe for montini is quite hard to prepare, as it requires sugar cooked to the thread stage, not something everyone can master, so I’ve settled on a much easier version made with eggs that was taught to me by Anna Levi Cogoi many years ago. I promise you, no one will be able to tell the difference between the difficult classic recipe—which you’ll find in the sidebar—and this modernized one.
Makes 50 cookies
- 5¼ cups (600 g) almond flour or finely ground almonds
- 2 cups (400 g) sugar
- 2 large (100 g) eggs
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (40 ml) liqueur, such as cognac or other brandy
- Chopped candied or dried fruit for decoration (optional)
- Food coloring (optional; see Variations)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Pour the almond flour into a large bowl. Add the sugar, eggs, and liqueur. Mix and knead the ingredients with your hands in the bowl until they come together into a soft dough.
- Pull off walnut-sized portions of dough and shape them into small mountain-shaped mounds, or into slightly flattened balls, if you prefer. Place the little mounds on the prepared pans and decorate them with candied or dried fruit, if desired.
- Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 7 to 10 minutes, just until they are golden on the bottom and dry on the outside. Remove from the oven and let cool.
- Montini keep well in an airtight container or cookie tin for a week.
Montini can be white or colored. For brown montini, add a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to the dough. For a pink version, add 1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur plus some red food coloring. If you want to make a multicolored cookie, divide the dough into two or three portions, color each one, and then sandwich the portions of dough together.
You can use this recipe to make walnut paste. Substitute walnut flour for the almond flour and brewed coffee for the liqueur.
The almond dough, which is essentially almond paste, can also be used for stuffed dried fruits. Dates, dried apricots, and dried plums (prunes), filled with almond paste are served, especially in Venice, at Passover and Tu B’Shvat; walnuts can also be sandwiched with almond paste and served as well.
Traditional Montini Made with Cooked Sugar
Makes 20 cookies
- 1¾ cups (200 g) almond flour or finely ground almonds
- ½ cup minus 1 tablespoon (100 ml) water
- 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar, plus more for rolling
- 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
- Candied or dried fruit for decoration (optional)
- Food coloring (optional; see Variations)
- Pour the almond flour into a bowl.
- In a small nonstick saucepan, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and cook until the sugar syrup reaches 230°F (110°C), the thread stage. Pour the sugar syrup over the almond flour and mix with a heatproof spoon, then knead with your hands until a smooth dough forms.
- Sprinkle the confectioners’ sugar on the counter, turn the almond dough out onto the counter, and shape into a flat disk. Wrap it with plastic wrap and let rest for 12 hours in the fridge before using it.
Excerpted from "Cooking alla Giudia" by Benedetta Jasmine Guetta (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
"Cooking alla Giudia" is the ultimate tribute to the wonderfully rich, yet still largely unknown, culinary heritage of the Jews of Italy. From Roman deep-fried artichokes (carciofi alla giudia) to Venetian sarde in saor (sweet-and-sour sardines), Apulian orecchiette pasta, and Sicilian caponata, some of Italy’s best-known dishes are Jewish in origin. But little is known about the Jewish people in Italy and their culinary traditions. It was the Jews, for example, who taught Italians to eat the eggplant, and thus helped inspire the classic eggplant parmigiana and many other local specialties. With a collection of kosher recipes from all regions of Italy, including plenty of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, author Benedetta Jasmine Guetta is on a mission to tell the story of how the Jews changed Italian food, to preserve these recipes, and to share with home cooks the extraordinary dishes prepared in the Jewish communities of Italy. Highlighted throughout the book are menus with regional Italian specialties, along with short, useful guides to the Italian cities with Jewish history. The book will show how to integrate the recipes into your everyday meals and holiday traditions as well.