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Fried cheese with fresh tomato sauce

Time Active work time: 1 hour Total preparation time: 1 hour 30 minutes plus 1 1/2 hours chilling
Yields Serves 6
Fried cheese with fresh tomato sauce
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Hanukkah is a festival dedicated to olive oil, so where better to go for inspiration than Italy, where it is almost considered a beverage?

This Hanukkah menu gets its inspiration from friends from the Jewish community in Italy who have shared holiday recipes. The fried foods that are served during the holiday commemorate the miracle of the one day’s supply of olive oil that burned for eight days after the destruction of the temple. Hanukkah begins at sundown Thursday.

One of my favorite discoveries is fried mozzarella topped with a fresh chopped tomato sauce. The cheese mixture may be prepared in advance, and, when cool, cut into cubes. But, it is important to fry the cheese cubes just moments before serving, so that they have a creamy consistency inside the crisp batter.

Latkes are normally made with potatoes, but in Italy I found polenta latkes, which are delicious by themselves, or they can be served as a side dish with fish or meat. They are also wonderful as an appetizer topped with sauteed mushrooms or sour cream.

Supermarket cornmeal can be used to make polenta--the coarse yellow variety is most traditional. Because nothing goes to waste in our home, the trimmings from the polenta rounds are delicious cooked in the fresh tomato sauce that is served with the fried cheese.

Pasta Latkes, made with fine egg pasta and fried in olive oil, were described by my Italian friends as the most ancient Hanukkah recipe still served today. They’re delicious when fried crisp and crunchy and served with apple sauce.

If you have leftover latke batter, you can bake the mixture kugel-style in the oven, adding two additional eggs, a quarter-cup of raisins and a little cinnamon. Spoon this into a greased baking dish or muffin pan and bake at 375 degrees until crusty, 20 to 30 minutes.

For their Hanukkah dessert, Italian Jews serve Sweet Rice Frittelle (fritters), similar to the sufganiyot eaten in Israel during the holiday. Roll them in sugar and serve them with homemade fruit preserves. These delicious confections make a wonderful treat for the whole family. Fill gift baskets with a dozen or so for everyone to take home.

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Zeidler is author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” and “30-Minute Kosher Cook,” both published by William Morrow.

Fresh tomato sauce

1

Heat oil in nonstick skillet. Add onion and saute over high heat until transparent, 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to medium-low, add sugar, and saute until tomatoes are very soft, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Cool. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.

Fried cheese

1

Melt mozzarella in double boiler set over, but not touching, simmering water. Pour it into large mixing bowl of an electric mixer and beat in 2 eggs. Add 1/4 cup bread crumbs, oregano, half the garlic, and salt and mix well.

2

Press cheese mixture into 8-inch square glass dish. Cover and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

3

Lightly beat remaining 4 eggs in bowl. Blend in vermouth. Set aside.

4

In a processor or blender, process remaining bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, basil and remaining garlic. Set aside.

5

Cut cheese mixture into 1 1/2-inch squares (about 15 pieces). Dip each into flour, then egg mixture, and finally into bread crumb mixture to coat evenly. Place on paper towels and refrigerate 30 minutes.

6

Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees in heavy skillet or deep fryer. Fry cheese pieces, a few at a time, until evenly golden brown on both sides, 1 minute. Drain on paper towels. Serve at once with Fresh Tomato Sauce.