Traditional Tuscan Rosh Hashanah Cookies

— by Ronit Treatman

“Evictions?!  Who gives a cookie a name like that?” I asked Alessandra Rovati.  Rovati, the founder of Dinner in Venice, shared her traditional Tuscan recipe for Rosh Hashanah with me.

More after the jump.  
She described Sfratti, rolled cookies filled with nuts and dried fruits.  “Sfratti means “evictions” in Italian.  These cookies, in their original version (without the figs and candied fruit, only with honey and walnuts), are said to have Jewish origins.  Sfratti are served for Christmas in several Tuscan towns from Pitigliano to Sorana. Apparently their shape is a reminder of the sticks that landlords used to drive the Jews away from their communities. Jews in many areas of Central Italy serve them on Rosh Hashanah,” she explained.  “Why would they want to remember that when they are celebrating the New Year?” I asked her. “It is the custom of the Jews of Italy to temper happiness with memories of suffering, just as we temper mourning with hope of future redemption.  That is why we often mix vinegar with honey.  I am thinking of a tradition we have of saving the candle we use to read Lamentations on Tisha BeAv until Hanukka, when it becomes the Shamash to light the menorah.  Thus tying the holiday that commemorates the destruction of the Temple with the one that celebrates its rededication, and reminding us that there should be hope even in despair.”

Tuscan Sfratti
Adapted from Dinner in Venice

  • 3 cups flour

  • 1 cup sugar

  • A pinch of salt

  • 1/3 cup cold margarine or cold butter
  • 2/3 cup marsala or other sweet wine

  • 2/3 cup honey

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • A pinch of ground cloves, or nutmeg (optional)

  • A pinch of black pepper

  • 3/4 cups coarsely chopped walnuts or other nuts
  • 3/4 cups mixed dried and candied fruit (dried figs, raisins, candied orange or your favorite type/s), finely chopped
  • Grated zest of one lemon or mix of lemon and orange zest

  • 1 egg yolk
  1. In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt; add the margarine or butter; process until crumbly. Add the sweet wine, and process until it holds together. Roll the dough into a ball. Divide the dough in two parts, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  2. In the meantime, heat the honey in a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil, add the spices, and simmer until syrupy (it forms a ribbon when a spoon is lifted): this should take between 5 and 15 minutes.
  3. Add the nuts the dried fruit, and the lemon or/and orange zest, and simmer for 10 more minutes. Allow to cool off until you can touch it without burning your fingers.
  4. On a floured surface, roll the honey filling into 6 long ropes, working quickly before it hardens. Now divide the dough into 6 rectangles.
  5. Roll out each piece on a floured surface into a long rectangle (about 4″x12″ or even longer) and lay a piece of filling along the center of each piece. Roll up the dough around the filling (kind of like a Moroccan cigar). Now cut the long cylinders into shorter cookies. I’ve seen them cut shorter (about 1 inch) but I make them longer, like a finger.
  6. Place the cookies on a greased baking sheet (or lined with parchment) and brush them with the egg, mixed with a couple teaspoons of water. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden, in a pre-heated 375 F oven.

Photo credit: Dinner in Venice.

Venetian Passover Dishes: A Taste Of Multiculturalism From The Past

Venice Grand Canal— by Ronit Treatman

Visiting Venice is an incredible adventure!  Architecturally, it is one of the most sumptuous cities in the world.  Its Jewish history goes back to the tenth century, when Jewish traders first came to Venice to engage in commerce.  By the 1500s, Venice had the world’s first ghetto, in which Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German Jews coexisted.  The community practically disappeared after World War II.  Currently, only about 500 Jews live in Venice.  It is possible to sample some Jewish Italian specialties in Venice’s only kosher restaurant, which is run by the CHABAD in the Ghetto Nuovo.  In order to really savor Venetian Jewish specialties, I turned to Alessandra Rovati, one of the few Jews who is originally from Venice.  She shares her family’s Venetian Jewish recipes on her Dinner in Venice website.

More after the jump.
Trying to find kosher food in Italy can be daunting.  When we visited Venice, I confidently asked our waiter in Italian about the ingredients in a sauce.  “Does it have pork?” “A porco?” I queried.  He threw his napkin down angrily and stomped off in a huff!  I had no idea why this question would have insulted him, until another waiter explained that “porco” is a slang word with many off color connotations.  I should have said “maiale.”  Trying to find authentic Jewish Italian food is just as hard.  It is possible to find Jewish artichokes, or “carciofi alla giudia” in any Jewish neighborhood in Italy.  We sampled these crispy, lemony artichokes in the Gam Gam kosher restaurant.  If you would like to taste genuine Jewish Venetian recipes, there is nothing better than getting yourself invited to a Jewish Venetian family’s home.  

In her site, Ms. Rovati invites us into her virtual home to share some unique Jewish recipes from Venice.  These recipes have been passed down in her family.  They are healthy, colorful, and full of Mediterranean vegetables.  Here is an adaptation of her Venetian spinach frittata.  Its ingredients reveal that it came to Venice with the Jews of Turkey and Catalonia.  This frittata is pareve, and kosher for Passover.

Venetian Passover Spinach Frittata
Adapted from Alessandra Rovati

  • 1 lb. baby spinach leaves, pre-washed, in a microwavable bag
  • 1 Spanish onion
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of matza meal (you may substitute
  • ground almonds to make this gluten-free)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Granulated sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • 4 tablespoons of raisins
  1. Place the raisins in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Cover the bowl, and allow the raisins to absorb the water.
  2. Cut the onion in half, and chop up one half of it.  Reserve the other half for another dish.
  3. Pierce the bag in three spots, and microwave the baby spinach for three minutes.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a pan.  
  5. Sauté the chopped onion for about five minutes.
  6. Add the steamed spinach to the onion and stir well.
  7. Season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon to taste.
  8. Set the spinach aside and allow it to cool.
  9. Drain the raisins.
  10. In a bowl, blend the four, eggs, matza meal (or ground almonds), one tablespoon of granulated sugar, a pinch of salt, a pinch of cinnamon, raisins, and pine nuts.
  11. Mix the spinach into this batter.
  12. Take a large frying pan, and heat some olive oil in it.
  13. Pour the spinach batter into the frying pan.  Lower the flame to medium, and allow it to cook for a few minutes.  You can check the bottom to see when it turns brown.  When the bottom is brown, flip the frittata over.  
  14. Place the spinach frittata on a serving platter, and sprinkle it with some confectioner’s sugar.

This eggy, spinachy dish is a little bit sweet, and a little bit savory.  It is very satisfying, and works well as a vegetarian main course or a side dish.

All of Ms. Rovati’s recipes are straightforward, without too much fuss.  The featured ingredients are healthy, and the resulting dishes are both delicious and exotic.  This year, add a historic Venetian accent to your Passover Seder.  If you visit Ms. Rovati’s Facebook page, you will note that there are many discussions in Italian about different recipes.  Fortunately for us, her website is in English.  This will help us avoid both pork and vulgar affronts!