Jewish Italian Cuisine

We work closely with the Puglia Chef Academy in organizing cooking courses at all levels on Jewish Italian Cuisine. We also teach local Apulian, as well as Arabic, Greek and Spanish cuisine. Our menu includes traditional Italian Jewish dishes like the famous “Carciofi alla Giudia” (Jewish Artichokes) the Caponata Ebraica (based on eggplants and green peppers) and Pizza Romana (Jewish dried fruit pie) as well as some modern reinterpretations of Cuscus, Risotto and Swordfish.

The Jewish Italian tradition as far as food is concerned is a bit different from the one people are used to in the US and the rest of Europe. We found an interesting book “Tha classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews” (Everest House) written by the Italian writer Edda Servi Machlin who lives in New York. She writes that In the US where most Jews are Ashkenazim of Eastern European origin and observe their own customs, the culinary habits of the Italian community are considered rather exotic  .

“In Italy there is no gefilte fish (balls made of several varieties of fish) with horseradish, found on most American Jews' seder tables”. Mrs. Machlin, who also teaches Jewish Italian Cuisine in New York,   had never seen gefilte fish until she married a Jew of Eastern European background. For Passover she serves jellied striped bass with homemade mayonnaise. The traditional sweet Passover wine was also new to her. ''We only have sweet wine with dessert,'' . For the actual seder she will make Italian-style matzoh-ball soup because, by custom, Eastern European Jews do not eat rice during Passover. The matzoh balls are made with olive oil instead of chicken fat.

“Lamb is widely used in Italy but Eastern European Jews do not eat leg of lamb at any time. On the other hand, Italian Jews do not eat chocolate, milk or cheese during Passover, but the Ashkenazim do”.

The Servi family traces its roots in Italy back nine generations, but the British historian Cecil Roth says they probably go back to A.D. 70, when the Second Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem. Mr. Roth, who wrote ''History of the Jews in Italy,'' bases his conjecture on the family name, Servi, which means ''servants'' in Italian; Emporer Titus carried the temple servants, called Levis in Hebrew, from Israel to Rome as slaves.

Jewish Italian food, part two.

Now we would like to offer our readers some info on Jewish Italian food taken from an interesting article by Fabio Parasecoli who teaches history of food at a New York university:

“Although not a Jew -- or a cook -- myself, I was raised in Rome and worked there for a food magazine. It was virtually impossible to overlook the Jewish community's contribution to Roman menus, with dishes such as carciofi alla giudia (artichokes deep-fried in olive oil), anchovies with curly endive, and the fantastic desserts -- above all the ricotta and sour cherry pie -- that I could buy two blocks away from my office in Portico d'Ottavia. This area is the heart of the old Jewish neighborhood, a previous ghetto.

Ghettos -- the first arising in a Jewish neighborhood of Venice in the sixteenth century -- were abolished only after the Italian unification in the 1870, when Jews were given citizenship and civil rights. Until then, each community had developed its own foodways, based on their provenance, their past, and the surroundings in which they lived. As such, Venetian Jews cooked and ate differently from the ones in Turin, in Livorno, and in Rome, each enjoying foods that were the result of centuries of movement, displacement, negotiations, and survival.

The Jewish Sicilian community that had thrived under the Muslims, for instance, was forced to abandon the island in 1492 after it became a Spanish dominion and the kings of Madrid decided to expel all the Jews from their territories. As they took refuge among communities in other Italian states, they quickly spread the techniques and ingredients they had borrowed from the Muslims, including eggplants, spinach, and sugar. It seems that the Jews were also among the first to experiment with new crops coming from the Americas, like squashes and peppers, which the rest of the population considered too lowly or strange.

For many American Jews, both of Ashkenazi and Sephardic descent, the culinary habits of the Italian communities are curious and exotic, even if they adhere to the laws of kashrut, the laws of dietary purity. These differences are an intriguing example of the many dynamics that shape food. Jewish dishes and traditions have been able to evolve over time and space precisely because the communities that created them were able to engage in a resourceful dialogue between the local and the global religious requirements and changing environments, even under duress and in exile. From an article by Fabio Parasecoli.