Delizioso: Chanukah with an Italian flair

Sicilian rice cakes (Risotto latkes)

While enjoying my favorite foods on a recent trip to Italy, I began to think about Chanukah, even though it was only October. This was a natural association, because the Italians love to prepare foods with olive oil, and the traditional dishes served during Chanukah are fried in oil to commemorate the tiny supply of oil that burned for eight days and nights in the ancient temple — a real miracle.

Chanukah favorites include latkes and sufganiyot (deep-fried jelly-filled doughnuts). These and other Chanukah specialties will be enjoyed by many families during the eight-day holiday, which begins at sundown on Dec. 20.

Chanukah is always a festive occasion for my family. We gather together on at least one of the eight nights to celebrate with favorite foods and exchange gifts, and the children spin the dreidel, a game that dates back to ancient times.

This year, a different flavor will be added to our menu by including some of the recipes I collected in Italy with Chanukah in mind.

Olive oil is the oil of choice in Italy and a healthful one, as it is among the highest in monounsaturated fat.

The recipes I have chosen offer a wide variety of authentic Italian flavors. There is even a latke made with polenta (boiled cornmeal). Shaped into pancakes and fried in oil, it can be served with olive paste or your favorite latke topping.

Sicilian Rice Cakes, also called L’Orancini — or, as I like to call them, Risotto Latkes — are made with Italian arborio rice and filled with two Italian cheeses, tomato paste and parsley, and are hearty enough to serve as a vegetarian main course.

For an Italian sweet touch, make Farfallette (Butterfly) cookies. Ribbons of dough are twisted and tied into butterfly shapes, fried in oil and dusted with powdered sugar. Another favorite is Scavatelle, deep-fried pastries. I can’t help but think how perfect these fritters, fried in olive oil and dipped in a honey syrup, would be to serve for our Chanukah celebration.


1/2 cup chopped or grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 cup breadcrumbs
Risotto (recipe follows)
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Combine mozzarella, Parmesan, parsley and tomato sauce in a small bowl.

Place breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle hands lightly with breadcrumbs, scoop up 1 tablespoon of Risotto in your hands and shape into a flat oval; make an indentation in the center of each with your thumb. Place 1 teaspoon of mozzarella mixture in the center and cover the oval with another tablespoon of the Risotto. Mold into 2- to 3-inch ovals, enclosing mozzarella mixture completely. Roll in breadcrumbs to coat.

Heat oil in a nonstick skillet, and fry rice cakes, a few at a time, until crisp and golden brown on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to paper towels to drain.

Makes about 12.


3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy skillet. Add onion and sauté over medium heat until soft. Add rice and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add 1 or 2 ladles of hot broth or enough to cover the rice. Cook, stirring constantly, as the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth, a little at a time, until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, whipping cream and Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue cooking 2 to 3 minutes longer. Cool.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


2 1/2 quarts milk or water
2 1/2 cups coarse yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 jar (6 ounces) olive paste

Bring milk to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Pour the cornmeal in slowly, in a thin stream, stirring constantly. Add salt and pepper, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has absorbed and the cornmeal is thick, about 30 minutes.

Wet a large cutting board with water; spread the cooked polenta evenly over the surface with a wet spatula to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Set aside until completely cooled.

Cut polenta into 3-inch rounds with a cookie cutter.

In a nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil and fry the latkes until golden brown on both sides. Spread with olive paste.

Makes 24 Risotto Latkes.


2 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon sweet wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar

Beat egg yolks in a large bowl. Blend in granulated sugar. Add lemon juice, milk, wine and olive oil. Gradually add flour and salt, mixing well after each addition.

Knead dough on a floured board until smooth. Cover with a towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

Roll dough out very thin. With pastry cutter or sharp knife, cut dough into strips 6 inches long and 3/4 inches wide. Tie each strip into a knot to make butterfly shapes.

Heat vegetable oil to 370 F in a deep fryer or deep, heavy pot. Fry pastries until golden brown on both sides, turning once, being careful not to crowd. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Cool. Place on a large platter. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes 2 dozen.


1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon olive oil
Peel of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup flour
Honey Syrup (recipe follows)
Olive oil for frying

Place water, cinnamon stick, olive oil, lemon peel, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove peel and cinnamon stick. Add flour all at once and, using a wooden spoon, mix until dough comes together. It will be lumpy.

Spoon dough onto a floured board, punch down, and knead into a flat disc to remove lumps. Pull off pieces of dough and roll out into thin ropes. Cut into 6-inch ropes and, working with one rope, bring one end of the rope around to form a loop, crossing over the other end (leaving 1-inch ends) and pinching to resemble a bow tie. Place on paper towels and cover with a clean, dry dish towel.

Heat oil in a deep fryer or heavy saucepan and fry pastries until browned. Dip in Honey Syrup and serve at once.

Makes about 4 dozen.


1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon sugar
Peel of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon water

Place honey, sugar, lemon peel and water in a saucepan. Mix well, simmer over low heat, and discard lemon peel.

Makes about 1/4 cup.

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