Chanukah Menu Dishing Up a Travelogue of Treats

Just back from Italy, I was inspired by the foods served at our favorite restaurants. My Chanukah menu this year is a travelogue of those culinary experiences.

We devote Chanukah to our children and grandchildren, and many of the dishes are easy to prepare and perfect for the whole family. In addition to the traditional potato latkes, I have included two special treats to begin our Chanukah celebration.

We discovered baked homemade potato chips at Restaurante dal Pescatore, a three-star Michelin restaurant in the Po Valley. Created by chef Nadia Santini, she calls them Tuiles of Potatoes and Rosemary. After dinner, when the guests had left and I complemented her on the paper-thin delicacies, she gave me a lesson on how to prepare them.

Along with the potato latkes and Nadia’s Tuiles, another fried treat sure to become part of our Chanukah tradition is Gnoccho Fritto, small squares of pizza dough deep fried in olive oil.

We were first introduced to them at our favorite seafood restaurant located in Varigoti. We have been known to travel several hours just to eat at Muraglia Conca Di Oro on the coast just north of Genova. It has been their custom, when diners arrive, to serve them hot Gnoccho Fritto, along with a glass of sparkling wine.

This incredible restaurant is strictly a family affair. As dad Enzo is in the dining room grilling fish, one of his daughters greets guests and waits tables with his sister, while his wife, Emma, and his other daughter are cooking in the kitchen.

Our family loves chopped chicken liver, but my new presentation will be a surprise. We visited Modena during the annual festival celebrating balsamic vinegar, Balsamico Gusto.

That evening we were guests at a special dinner in Villa Cavazza, where every dish served included balsamic vinegar. The dinner was prepared by French chef Michel Troisgros and Italian chef Massimo Bottura, chef-owner of Ristorante Francescana in Modena.

Bottura, one of the cutting-edge chefs in Italy, served a dish that was fun, as well as delicious. It consisted of chopped liver coated with roasted hazelnuts, served on a stick in the shape of an ice cream bar and garnished with balsamic vinegar. I am sure my family is going to enjoy this dish, especially the grandchildren, because it is picked up by hand and eaten off the stick.

In Naples, we returned to another of our favorite restaurants, L’Europeo di Mattozzi. A traditional Neapolitan restaurant, the owner, Enzo Mattozzi, knows all his customers by name. His pizza is the best in Italy, but the dish that won us over was Baked Eggplant in a rich Onion-Tomato Sauce.

Most of the dishes are served family-style, so when we finished the first large platter of eggplant, we couldn’t help but order another. We had to try it again just to see if it was as delicious as we thought — and it was. When preparing a dairy menu, add fresh mozzarella cheese for an added taste adventure.

Dessert features a traditional pastry made in the Puglia region, called Cartellate (Italian Wine Cookies). Since fried foods are eaten during Chanukah, commemorating the miracle of the one day’s supply of oil that burned for eight days, these pastries are perfect. The dough is rolled out like pasta, cut into thin strips, then each strip is twisted into a lacy round, deep fried in olive oil and drizzled with a wine-honey syrup and nuts. It is crunchy and delicious.

Nadia’s Tuiles of Potatoes and Rosemary

1 small Idaho potato

1 tablespoon nondairy margarine

2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup cold water

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

Peel and dice potato, place in water to cover, bring to a boil and simmer until soft. Transfer to a shallow bowl and mash until smooth. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat margarine and saute onions and mix with a wooden spoon until soft. Add rosemary and continue cooking for two minutes. Add three tablespoons of mashed potato and mix well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, add the flour, water, salt, olive oil and mix to combine. Add the potato mixture and mix well. Mixture should have an elastic consistency.

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat pad or aluminum foil and brush with olive oil. Using a tablespoon, place a small amount of the potato mixture on the prepared baking sheet and spread into a paper-thin oval shape. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. They crisp up as they cool. Continue with remaining potato mixture.

Makes about three or four dozen.

Gnocco Fritto (Fried Dumplings)

2 packages active dry yeast

Pinch of sugar

1 1/4 cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

1/4 cup olive oil

3 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

Olive oil for frying

Salt for dusting

Dissolve the yeast with the sugar in 1/2 cup of a cup of water. Set aside until foamy.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining three-quarters of a cup water, the olive oil and yeast mixture. Stir in the flour and salt and stir in one cup at a time, until the dough begins to come together into a rough ball.

Spoon onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, brush top of the dough with oil, cover and set in a warm place to rise for about one hour, until doubled in bulk (or can be used immediately).

In a deep pot, heat four inches of olive oil to 350 degrees. Divide dough into four parts, and with a rolling pin, roll out one part to a rectangle about one-eighth-inch thick. With a pizza wheel, cut the dough into one-inch squares. Repeat with remaining dough.

Fry them a few at a time in the hot oil until puffed and golden brown on both sides. Transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt. Serve warm.

Makes about eight or nine dozen.

Chicken Liver Nut Bars

1/4 cup olive oil

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 1/2 pounds chicken livers (prepared according to kosher dietary laws)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Roasted chopped hazelnuts

In a large, heavy skillet, heat olive oil and saute the onion until lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Add the livers to the skillet with additional olive oil if needed, and saute, turning the livers on both sides, until lightly browned. (Do not overcook.) Add the balsamic vinegar and simmer three to four minutes.

Spoon the chicken livers with the onions and eggs into a meat grinder and grind into a large bowl or chop in a wooden bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Shape into bars, insert a wooden stick in the bottom and dip in hazelnuts. Cover and refridgerate. Serve with balsamic vinegar.

Makes about 24 bars.

Baked Eggplant Onion-Tomato Sauce

1 large eggplant, unpeeled

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the onion-tomato sauce and set aside. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into half-inch-thick slices. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil on both sides, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place on an nonstick, oiled baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, turn and bake five minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork.

Brush the bottom of a 7-by-11-inch or 8-by-10-inch baking sheet with olive oil and spoon a little of the sauce in the bottom. Place a layer of the sliced eggplant over the sauce and spoon additional sauce over eggplant slices. Repeat, ending with sauce. You should have two or three layers of eggplant.

Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil on top of the sauce and transfer to a preheated oven. Bake covered for 15 minutes, uncover and bake another 15 minutes or until liquid is reduced and eggplant is tender. Remove from the oven and serve.

Makes four to six servings.

Onion-Tomato Sauce

This sauce keeps for one week in a refrigerator or up to four months in a freezer.

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, 1/4-inch diced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 carrot, finely diced

3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped

1 (28-ounce) can peeled whole tomatoes, diced

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a three-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic until soft and light golden brown, about six to eight minutes. Add the carrot and rosemary and cook five minutes more, until the carrot is soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often.

Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until thick. (If tomatoes are still in chunks use a potato masher for a smoother sauce.) Season with salt and pepper.

Makes about two cups.

Cartellate (Italian Wine Cookies)

Cartellate are little wheels of dough, pinched to look like flowers, which are fried and dipped or drizzled with wine cotto (a thick wine-honey syrup) and allowed to dry.

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup warm sweet white wine

1/2 cup honey

Pistachio nuts, optional

4 cups olive oil

In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add olive oil and warm wine and mix until the dough comes together (add additional wine if needed). Transfer to a floured board and knead until smooth. Cover in plastic wrap to keep from drying out. Using a pasta machine, knead dough and refrigerate until ready to use.

Form rosettes by putting small pieces of dough through the roller of a pasta machine until smooth (or place dough on a floured board and using a rolling pin, roll out to a 12-inch long piece.

Using a ruffled pastry wheel, cut dough into strips 12 inches long and one inch wide. Pinch each strip at one-inch intervals and beginning at one end roll up like a snail or rosette. Place each pastry on a towel to dry a little.

In a large heavy pot, heat olive oil to 350 degrees and fry rosettes until golden; drain on paper towels.

In a small saucepan, add wine and honey and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half. Dip the fried Cartellate in this syrup, or drizzle the syrup onto the pastry. Sprinkle with toasted pistachio nuts, optional.

Makes about two dozen.

Star Sandwich Cookies

One morning while having cappuccino at a coffee bar in the south of Italy, I discovered another delicacy. As I gazed at their display of delicious pastries, what caught my eye was a six-pointed star cookie sandwich filled with chocolate frosting. I learned that the dough was rolled out, cut into stars, baked covered with a chocolate filling and topped with another star cookie. Remember to make extra cookies for everyone to take home to enjoy during the Chanukah celebration.

Chocolate Filling

1 cup unsalted nondairy margarine

1 cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 tablespoon grated orange peel

3 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Flour for rolling out dough

Prepare the chocolate filling and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend margarine and sugar and beat until light in color. Add egg, orange juice and peel and beat to combine. Gradually add flour, baking powder and beat until mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Divide the dough into four parts and knead each part into a smooth ball. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Working with one part of the dough at a time, sprinkle work surface generously with flour and using a rolling pin, roll out dough to one-quarter-inch thick, moving dough around and check underneath to make sure it is not sticking.

Cut out star shapes, using a six-pointed star cookie cutter. Cut out holes from the centers of half of the star cookies, using a one-quarter-inch diameter circular cookie cutter, resembling a ring in the center (these will be the top of the sandwich).

Place the cookies one inch apart on greased baking sheets or silicone baking mats, and bake for seven minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time.

Allow the cookies to rest on baking sheet for two minutes after removal from oven, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble the cookie sandwiches: Lay the cookies on your work surface and spread 1 1/2 teaspoons of chocolate filling on the cookies without the holes. Carefully place the cookies with the holes on top of the chocolate filling, pressing gently. Once filled, the cookies should be served within a day.

Makes about three to four dozen.

Chocolate Glaze Filling

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 tablespoon seedless preserves (raspberry or apricot)

1/4 cup espresso coffee

In a large glass bowl or measuring cup, add semisweet chocolate, preserves and coffee. Place in a microwave or over simmering water and heat until melted, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Gnoccho Fritto (Fried Dumplings)

Ristorante Muraglia

Conchiglia d’Oro

Via Aurelia, 133

17029 Finale Ligure Varigotti (SV)

Tel: (019) 698-015

Chopped Liver Nut Bars

Osteria La Francescana

Chef Massimo Bottura

Via Stella, 22

41100 Modena


(059) 210118

Baked Eggplant

L’Europeo di Mattozzi

4, Via Marchese Campodisola


Tel: (081) 552-1323

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