The Virtues of Patience of Good Taste

Without a doubt, the Jewish book of the season that will both expand your vision of Jewish cooking and make you want to cook is Joyce Goldstein's "Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen" (Chronicle Books, $29.95).

Leaving behind the daily pressures of running her San Francisco restaurant, Square One, which she closed in 1996, gave Goldstein the time to more fully research Italian Jewish cuisine, a subject that has obsessed her since 1959. That was the year she and her former husband went to live and study art and architecture in Italy for two years. One of the first places in which they spent time was the Umbrian town of Perugia. The following passage from Goldstein's introduction to "Cucina Ebraica" describes the series of occurrences that led, nearly 40 years later, to her newest book.

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The Fulbright committee, probably not by coincidence, billeted us with an Italian Jewish family named Coen. . . . World War II had so decimated the Italian Jewish population of the region that the synagogue was now located in a room in the Coen home. I had to pass through it every day on my way to the bathroom. Once a week, the rabbi came from Florence to perform services and special holiday ceremonies. On his visits, he would take over the balcony where he would proceed to kill chickens according to kosher law.

Being in the home-cum-synagogue put me in touch with my Jewishness in a way I hadn't known before. Both my parents were born in Russia and came to the United States as children. They made conscious efforts to bury the past. I was raised to be an American and, even more specifically, a New Yorker. Our family was not at all religious. We rarely attended temple except for an occasional bar mitzvah or wedding. . . . Like most New Yorkers, the Jewish cuisine I was exposed to was Ashkenazic. Being in an Italian Jewish home about to learn about Italian Jewish food, from people who had lived through Nazi persecution and the war and had survived, filled me with a sense of wonder and anticipation. It made me humble, grateful and anxious to make an emotional connection. . . .

At some point during the day I would spend time with [sisters] Livia, [84], and Albertina, [82], watching them prepare what I thought was going to be special Italian Jewish food. Albertina fancied herself to be quite a cook. Livia . . . was her reluctant assistant. Alas, they were terrible cooks. Every day for lunch we had plain boiled spaghetti with watery tomato sauce. Occasionally, Albertina would present her "capolavoro," her culinary masterpiece, insalata russa, with cold, overcooked vegetables bound in an oily mayonnaise. At night we ate a weak chicken broth with pastina, a little dry meat and a few overcooked vegetables. The overcooking did seem familiarly Jewish, but the flavors were definitely Italian. My first attempt to discover the good food of the Italian Jews hit a snag in Perugia.

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Goldstein eventually did find good Italian Jewish food. Her book is a compilation of her favorite recipes collected in good part from books published in Italy as well as from photocopied recipe cards from family collections and ideas from conversations with restaurant chefs in Italy. Goldstein imposes her good taste on these disparate original sources in a way that makes the selection seem inevitable, as if the recipes came from one cook instead of hundreds. And she uses her chef's judgment to fill in missing ingredients and methods, as well as to update the recipes for "modern" tastes. On this subject, at least, she is the perfect culinary gatekeeper.

Goldstein suggests several holiday menus in her book, including three for Rosh Hashana. The following recipes, however, we think give a better sense of the wonderful food to be found in "Cucina Ebraica"--and they make a terrific holiday dairy menu.

CROSTINI WITH CHEESES AND HAZELNUTS

1/4 pound mascarpone cheese

1/4 pound Gorgonzola cheese

1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and coarsely chopped

12 slices coarse country bread, toasted or grilled

Combine mascarpone and Gorgonzola in food processor. Add nuts and pulse briefly. Do not over-process or texture will be ruined. Spread on bread and serve.

6 servings. Each serving:

375 calories; 726 mg sodium; 37 mg cholesterol; 18 grams fat; 41 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams protein; 0.37 gram fiber.;

ARTICHOKE SOUP

The artichoke flavor of this soup intensifies as it sits, so it's best to prepare it a few hours or even a day ahead of time and reheat to serve.

Juice of 1 lemon

12 artichokes

3 tablespoons butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and diced, or 1/2 cup white rice

3 cups vegetable broth plus more if needed

Milk or heavy whipping cream

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Chopped, peeled, toasted hazelnuts or pine nuts, optional

Chopped flat-leaf parsley or mint, optional

Fill large bowl with water and add lemon juice. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, cut off stem flush with bottom. Trim away all leaves until you reach pale green heart. Pare away dark green area from base. Cut artichoke in half lengthwise and scoop out and discard choke from each half. Then cut each half lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices and drop into lemon water.

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Drain artichokes and add to pan. Saute until shiny, then add garlic, potatoes and enough broth to just cover artichokes, about 1 1/2 cups. Cover pan and simmer over medium heat until artichokes are very tender and almost falling apart, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from heat. Transfer to food processor and puree until smooth. Return puree to saucepan and add remaining 1 1/2 cups broth. Reheat over low heat, adding more broth and/or milk or cream to achieve consistency you prefer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve in shallow soup bowls. Garnish with chopped hazelnuts, pine nuts, parsley or mint.

6 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings:

173 calories; 601 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 29 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 2.44 grams fiber.

PEPPERS STUFFED WITH EGGPLANT

3 eggplants, about 1 pound each, peeled and diced

Salt

Olive oil

1 egg

5 tablespoons chopped basil

3 to 4 tablespoons fine dried bread crumbs

Freshly ground black pepper

4 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise and stems, seeds and thick ribs removed

1/2 to 3/4 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

3 to 4 tablespoons water

Sprinkle eggplant with salt and place in colander. Let stand about 1 hour to drain off any bitter juices. Rinse and pat dry.

Warm 1/4 cup olive oil in skillet over low heat. Add eggplant in batches and saute until tender, about 10 minutes, adding more oil as needed. Transfer to bowl and mash with fork or pulse in food processor. Add egg, basil, bread crumbs and salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange peppers hollow sides up in baking dish. Stuff eggplant mixture into peppers and top each pepper half with slice of mozzarella. Drizzle small amount of olive oil into baking dish and add water. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees until peppers are tender and cheese is melted, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm.

4 servings. Each serving:

357 calories; 856 mg sodium; 98 mg cholesterol; 27 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 15 grams protein; 1.12 grams fiber.

SPINACH PUDDING

Serve this pudding from the baking dish in the manner of a souffle or, more traditionally, unmold it and accompany it with sauteed mushrooms or with a light tomato sauce.

3 pounds spinach, stems removed, or 3 (10-ounce) packages frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

7 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, finely minced

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups milk, heated

6 eggs, separated

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons fine dried bread crumbs

Omit following step if using frozen spinach. Rinse spinach and remove stems. Place in large saucepan or skillet with only rinsing water clinging to leaves. Cook over medium heat, turning as necessary until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water and drain again. Chop, then squeeze dry.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in cooked or thawed spinach and season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Transfer to large bowl and set aside.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring, until well blended and bubbly, 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add hot milk, whisking continuously. Cook, stirring, until sauce coats back of spoon, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add sauce to spinach. Stir in egg yolks and Parmesan cheese, mixing well. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into spinach mixture just until no white streaks remain.

Pour into large casserole or souffle dish greased with remaining 1 tablespoon butter and sprinkled with bread crumbs to coat evenly. (For more foolproof unmolding, line pan with buttered parchment paper or use springform pan.) Bake at 400 degrees until golden and set, about 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Run knife around edge of pudding. Place inverted warmed platter on top of pan. Hold mold and platter together, shake once, then invert together and lift off mold. Pudding should unmold easily. Serve warm or hot.

6 servings. Each serving:

322 calories; 557 mg sodium; 257 mg cholesterol; 22 grams fat; 18 grams carbohydrates; 18 grams protein; 2.12 grams fiber.

FISH WITH WALNUT SAUCE

Walnut Sauce

3 hard-boiled egg yolks, chopped

1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

3/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped, pitted black olives, optional

1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and chopped, optional

Broth

6 to 8 pounds fish frames (bones, heads, tails with gills removed) from mild fish such as snapper, rockfish, halibut or sea bass

3 cups dry white wine

3 to 4 onions, chopped

5 celery stalks, chopped

1 large bay leaf

4 lemon zest strips

10 black peppercorns

4 coriander seeds

3 whole allspice

5 flat-leaf parsley sprigs

2 thyme sprigs

Dried chile pepper, optional

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, optional

8 cups water, about

Fish

2 pounds mild white fish fillets such as sea bass, flounder, rock cod, halibut or sole

WALNUT SAUCE

Combine egg yolks, walnuts, parsley, garlic, oil and salt and pepper to taste in bowl. Add olives and capers if desired. Mix well.

BROTH

Rinse fish frames well and set aside. Combine wine, onions, celery, bay leaf, lemon zest, peppercorns, coriander, allspice, parsley and thyme and, if desired, dried red chile and fennel seeds in deep saucepan. Add water to cover generously and bring to boil. Add fish frames and return to boil. Reduce heat to maintain steady simmer. Cook, skimming off foam as needed, 20 minutes.

Strain through colander lined with wet cheesecloth. There should be about 2 1/2 quarts broth. Refrigerate, uncovered, until cold. Then cover and refrigerate up to 4 days or freeze up to 4 months.

FISH

Pour fish broth 1 1/2 inches deep in wide saucepan. Reserve remainder of broth for another use.

Bring broth to boil. Slip in fish, cover pan, reduce heat to maintain gentle simmer and poach gently until fish can easily be pierced with toothpick, 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Transfer to platter with slotted spatula. Serve with Walnut Sauce.

4 to 6 servings. Each of 6 servings:

800 calories; 254 mg sodium; 288 mg cholesterol; 56 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 46 grams protein; 1.57 grams fiber.

DOUBLE-CRUSTED CARROT AND GINGER TART (Torta di Carote e Zenzero)

Pastry

2 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch salt

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) butter, chilled

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons cold water

Filling

2 pounds carrots, peeled and coarsely grated, 7 to 8 cups

1 1/2 cups sugar

6 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger

1 egg, optional

2 tablespoons water, optional

PASTRY

Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender until mixture is consistency of coarse meal. Add egg, vanilla, lemon juice and water and stir and toss with fork until mixture just holds together. Remove dough from bowl and gather into ball. (Dough can also be made in food processor, pulsing to cut in butter and processing to bring dough together.) Divide dough into 2 portions, 1 slightly larger, and flatten each half into disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.

FILLING

Combine carrots and sugar in heavy enameled cast-iron pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, to reduce to thick conserve, adding 1 or 2 tablespoons water if mixture begins to scorch, 18 to 20 minutes. Stir in candied ginger and remove from heat. Cool. (Recipe can be made 1 day ahead to this point.)

ASSEMBLY

Roll out larger pastry disk on lightly floured board into round 11 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick. Carefully transfer to 9-inch pie plate, pressing gently into pan. Spoon in carrot filling. Roll out second disk in same way and position over filling. (Or, if desired, create lattice.)

Trim edges evenly. Dampen with water, turn under to form slight rim and press to seal. Press edges with tines of fork to create attractive rim. Form Star of David in center of tart with tines of fork. Beat egg with water and brush top of crust if desired.

Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely before serving.

6 to 8 servings. Each of 8 servings:

744 calories; 380 mg sodium; 108 mg cholesterol; 28 grams fat; 119 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 1.73 grams fiber.

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Prop credit: French platter from Audrey's Museum Store, Skirball Cultural Center.

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