Cooking alla Giudia is the ultimate tribute to the wonderfully rich, yet still largely unknown, culinary heritage of the Jews of Italy. From Roman deep-fried artichokes (carciofi alla giudia) to Venetian sarde in saor (sweet-and-sour sardines), Apulian orecchiette pasta, and Sicilian caponata, some of Italy’s best-known dishes are Jewish in origin. But little is known about the Jewish people in Italy and their culinary traditions.
It was the Jews, for example, who taught Italians to eat the eggplant, and thus helped inspire the classic eggplant parmigiana and many other local specialties. With a collection of kosher recipes from all regions of Italy, including plenty of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, author Benedetta Jasmine Guetta is on a mission to tell the story of how the Jews changed Italian food, to preserve these recipes, and to share with home cooks the extraordinary dishes prepared in the Jewish communities of Italy.
Highlighted throughout the book are menus with regional Italian specialties, along with short, useful guides to the Italian cities with Jewish history. The book will show how to integrate the recipes into your everyday meals and holiday traditions as well.
Eggplant and Vegetable Stew
Caponata alla giudia
Caponata is somewhere between a cooked salad and a vegetarian stew that vaguely resembles ratatouille. It’s one of the most ancient preparations of Sicilian cuisine, and it likely has Jewish origins, indicated by the presence of eggplant in the dish. As you slowly cook the eggplant with tomatoes, celery, olives, capers, and herbs, it all turns into a savoury, briny mix, one that tastes even better the next day.
Cut the eggplants into ¾-inch (2 cm) cubes. Transfer them to a colander, salt generously, weight them down with a plate, and let drain for 30 minutes in the kitchen sink.
2 celery ribs
5 cherry tomatoes
¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 cup (200 g) chopped ripe tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes, with their liquid
2 tablespoons mixed black and green olives, pitted
1 tablespoon capers
½ cup (120 ml) white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Sunflower or peanut oil for deep-frying
Freshly ground black pepper
5 basil leaves
Cut the half onion into very thin slices. Cut the whole onion into chunks roughly the same size as the eggplant cubes. Cut the celery into chunks and cut the cherry tomatoes in half.
Pour the olive oil into a large nonstick skillet set over medium heat, add the sliced onion and garlic, and cook for about 3 minutes, until the garlic is slightly browned. Add the celery, tomatoes (both cherry and chopped), olives, capers, and the chopped onion to the pan and cook for 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the vinegar and sugar and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Remove the plate covering the eggplant and squeeze the eggplant in the colander to remove any remaining liquid.
Pour 1 inch (3 cm) of sunflower or peanut oil into a large saucepan and warm over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°F (180°C). You can test the oil by dropping a small piece of food, such as a slice of apple, into it: if it sizzles nicely but doesn’t bubble up too wildly, the oil is ready. (An apple is said to help minimize the smell of the frying oil, so I generally go for that, but any bit of food will do.)
Add only as many eggplant cubes to the pan as will fit in a single layer without crowding and fry until golden, turning often. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon and spread out on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Cook the remaining eggplant cubes in the same manner, adding more oil if needed.
Once the fried eggplant has drained, add it to the pot of vegetables. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste, adding a bit of water if the vegetables look dry, and cook the caponata over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
Stir in the basil leaves, remove from the heat, and let the caponata cool to room temperature before serving.
Caponata keeps well in the fridge, in a bowl covered with plastic wrap or in an airtight container, for 3 to 5 days; it can also be frozen. Leftovers can also be used to dress pasta, in which case, add either grated Parmesan cheese or mozzarella, torn into small pieces, to the caponata.
Excerpted from Cooking alla Giudia by Benedetta Jasmine Guetta (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022.