Romaniote Jewish Pastitsada

A shorthand way to differentiate between Jewish communities is to denote them as Ashkenazi or Sephardi. There are, however, several Jewish groups that do not fit into either of these categories. One such group is the Romaniote Jewish community of Greece.

Romaniote Jews have lived in Greece for over 2,000 years, initially arriving after the fall of the Second Temple. Some of them were brought as slaves. The name “Romaniote” is derived from the Greek name for the Byzantine Empire, “Romaioi.” The Romaniote Jews speak Yevanic, or Judeo-Greek. Many of them settled in Corfu, one of the Ionian Islands in northwestern Greece. The majority of the Romaniote community was deported to concentration camps and killed during the Holocaust. Fewer than 50 Romaniote Jews remain in Corfu today.

First settled by the Phoenicians, Corfu was conquered by the Venetians in 1386. The Venetians ruled over Corfu for 400 years. Corfu withstood two sieges by the Ottomans, never succumbing to Ottoman rule.

The original cuisine of Corfu was Mediterranean. It mainly consisted of wine, olive oil, wheat, fish and foraged edible weeds. During the Middle Ages, when the Venetians captured Corfu, Venice controlled the spice and sugar trade. The Venetians brought new foods to Corfu from America and the Far East, including coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, corn, peppers and beans.

The Jewish community in Corfu adopted these foods. Pastitsada is one of the most famous dishes from the island, and every cook has a signature mix of spices that seasons the sauce. Traditionally, pastitsada was cooked with rooster meat, but today, cubed beef may be substituted by the modern urban chef.

Pastitsada

  • 2 lbs. cubed beef
  • 1 lb. pasta
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup tomato, cubed
  • 4 onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/4 tsp. ground chili pepper
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot.
  2. Brown the meat, and place in a separate pot.
  3. Brown the onions, and add them to the meat.
  4. Heat the meat and the onions while stirring in the wine, chili pepper, cinnamon sticks, cloves, salt and black pepper.
  5. When the wine boils down, add the tomato paste. Stir the contents of the pot until all the meat is coated with tomato paste.
  6. Add the cup of cubed tomato.
  7. Pour in enough water to cover the meat.
  8. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 1 1/4 hours.
  9. In a separate pot, boil water, and add salt and a few drops of olive oil.
  10. Stir in the pasta, and cook until it is al dente (about 10 minutes).
  11. Drain the pasta, and serve it with meat sauce ladled on top.
  12. Adapted from Authenic Greek Recipes.

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