Passover around the world: Recipes from the Balkans, Italy, France, Poland

Rich culinary variety is a result of the Jewish Diaspora

Following the outlandish success enjoyed by Israeli restaurants (Palomar, outpost of a Jerusalem mainstay, was voted best restaurant in London for 2015) and cookbooks (about Zahav, a new book by Michael Solomonov, the New York Times’ Melissa Clark wrote “I wanted to walk right into the book, sit down and join the meal” Israel’s embassy in Rome hosted a glittering meal last week highlighting commonalities between Italian cuisine, which is Mediterranean royalty, and the up-and-coming, rough-and-tumble upstart from across the sea.

The Italians played with pasta and pizza, presenting 120 VIPs with surprising, glam variations. The Israelis served high-end adaptations of chraime, masabacha and kadaif.

Does that not sound like anything you think of when you think about Jewish food?

No bagels were served, but the food presented by the Israeli chefs was as Jewish as Jewish can be.

Israeli cuisine has flourished in the blends of its Diasporic influences. Chreime, originally a Tunisian dish of fish poached in a tomato broth, has now undergone so many transformations it is presented as the national dish of what Israelis like to call The State of Tel Aviv. Masabacha is not more than a steaming hot plate of freshly made hummus garnished with overcooked equally hot chickpeas. Kadaif? Those are vermicelli noodles, often used to give crunch and structure to local pastries.

In the spirit of new Israeli cuisine, The Media Line is happy to present three unusual Passover recipes representing the cookery of Italy, Turkey and Eastern Europe.
Sweet Ricotta Fritters (Frittelle di ricotta)

Ingredients

•4 large eggs
•1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
•2 cups (about 1 lb) ricotta
• 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
•1/2 cup corn starch
•1/2 cup sugar
•2 teaspoons baking powder
• Canola, peanut, grapeseed, or other neutral oil
• Confectioners’ sugar
•Cinnamon

Directions

1. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat together the eggs with vanilla, then blend in the ricotta and zest.

2. Making sure you eliminate all clumps, sift cornstarch, sugar, and baking powder over the egg mixture, folding together until it is a smooth batter.

3. Preheat the oven to 200°F (for keeping warm)

4. In a wide, deep skillet, bring 2 inches of oil to 375°F, or until it shines and sizzles when you put a drop of batter in it. Add tablespoon-sized chunks of batter to the oil, working in batches to avoid crowding the pan. Fry the fritters for about 2 minutes on each side, flipping mid-way with a slotted spoon until each side turns a deep golden brown.

5. Remove fritters to a paper towel-lined sheet pan and keep them warm in the oven. Let the oil return to its original temperature to fry the next batch. Put your serving platter in the oven to warm before adding the last of the batter to the pan.

6. Serve the fritters on the warmed platter, lightly but consistently dusted with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon.

(adapted from traditional Italian recipes)
Almendrados (Sephardic Almond-Lemon Cookies)

Ingredients

•2 cups whole blanched almonds
• 36 whole blanched almonds for adornment
•1 cup granulated sugar
•1 large egg
•the finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Directions

1. Using a food processor set with a metal blade, grind 2 cups almonds very finely until they have the consistency of sand, not a paste. Add 3/4 cup sugar, the whole egg and lemon zest, and pulse till the dough holds together.

2. Transfer to a medium bowl, cover and refrigerate for an hour.

3. Pinch off pieces of dough about the size of a walnut, roll them into balls, and roll the balls into the sugar. Gently press an almond point first into top of each cookie, so that half the almond can be seen.
Arrange cookies one inch apart on baking sheet and leave, uncovered, in fridge for 12 hours or overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet and place the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl.

5. Removing from sheet from fridge, bake cookies until they display the barest hint of color but still remain soft, 8 to 10 minutes. (Cookies must be soft when removed from oven to avoid excess hardening when they cool.) Cool completely, and store in an airtight container.

(adapted, via Joan Nathan, from Ana Benarroch de Bensadón.)

Passover Crêpe Kugel

This recipe can be made sweet or savory. Follow instructions below.

Ingredients

For the crêpes:

•10 eggs
•2 cups water
•1 cup potato flour
•2 tablespoons matzo meal or corn starch
•vegetable oil for frying

For the filling:

•650 gr walnuts, pinenuts or almonds
•10 eggs, separated
•2 tablespoons water
•Juice of 3 lemons
•1 cup matzo meal or potato flour
•½ cup vegetable oil, plus oil for greasing the pan and brushing between layers
•¼ cup cognac or whiskey
•1 ½ cups sugar (optional)
•2 teaspoons vanilla essence (optional)
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs like thyme, oregano and sage (optional)

Directions

1. For crêpes: beat the eggs and 2 cups of water in a bowl. Add the potato flour and combine until smooth. Add the matzo meal and stir to obtain a thin pancake batter.

2. Brush oil on a non-stick skillet. Use small ladle to pour batter in and tilt the pan until its entire surface is covered with a thin layer of batter. Fry until the bottom starts to turn golden, flip and heat a few moments more. Remove from the skillet, set on a plate and repeat process until you have approximately 30 thin crêpes. Allow to cool.

3. For filling: use a food processor to crush the nuts into large-ish, uneven crumbs. Whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and, if you making sweet crêpes, gradually add 1 cup sugar and 2 tbsp water until the mixture stiffens further.

4. If making sweet crêpes, add the remaining half-cup sugar to the yolks and mix well until there are no lumps. Add the lemon juice and mix well. If making savory crêpes, add the chopped fresh herbs.

Fold the yolk mixture into the beaten egg whites and combine well. Add the nuts, matzo meal, 1/2 cup oil and the cognac (if sweet) or whiskey (if savory) and mix well.

To form kugel: Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a 9 or 10-inch round baking pan with waxed paper and grease well. Place a tablespoon of filling on a crêpe, spreading in a thin layer all over its surface. Fold the crepe into a half-circle and again in half into a triangle. Place the filled and folded crepe in the pan, rounded edge alongside of pan. Repeat the process, filling each crepe and placing each in pan in a circle, tightly pressed together. When the first layer is complete, start on the second layer, and so on, brushing a thin layer of oil between layers to keep them from sticking together. Brush the top of the kugel with oil.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the edges of the top layer are crisp.
(Traditional Eastern European recipe.)

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