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.
Zeidler is author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” and “30-Minute Kosher Cook,” both published by William Morrow.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Add polenta slowly, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until polenta comes away from sides of pan, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
While still hot, spread polenta about 1-inch thick onto an oiled baking pan. Cool, cover and refrigerate until cold and firm, several hours or overnight. Using a (2-inch) round scalloped cookie cutter, cut polenta into rounds and transfer to a large platter.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in nonstick skillet and brown polenta rounds, turning occasionally, until brown and crispy on both sides, 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining polenta rounds, adding additional oil as needed. Serve immediately or reheat just before serving.
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