Friday, November 14, 2008

The Jews of Italy (and What They Ate) in San Francisco -- Plus a Recipe for Green Sauce for Fish

A new exhibit at the Museo ItaloAmericano in San Francisco takes a look at the lives of Jews in Italy. From ancient Jewish envoys sent by Judah Maccabee to the creation of the first ghetto (in Venice in 1516) to the dismantling of the last (Rome in 1870), the exhibition covers a wide swath of history focusing on the development of an Italian Jewish identity and studying how regional and cultural differences and restrictions shaped the lives of the Jews.

One topic covered in Il Ghetto: Forging Italian Jewish Identities 1516 - 1870 is an overview of what the Jews’ daily life in the ghetto was like including, of course, food. The legacy of Jewish Italian cooking is a rich one imbued with adaptations of dishes brought from the Jews original homelands in Germany, the Iberian Peninsula, France and the Levantine. It was also influenced by local ingredients and the regional tastes and resources of the Italian city states the Jews made their homes. New World foods such as tomatoes and corn and exotic spices also flavored their meals thanks to the rise of Jewish maritime trade and merchants in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The exhibit is at Fort Mason, Building C, until February 15th and Bay area Jewish and other institutions will be sponsoring coordinating films, lectures, and displays. For more information, please go to the musuem's website or call (415) 673-2200.

For more about the historic food ways of Italy’s Jews, perhaps one of the best known cookbooks on the topic is Joyce Goldstein’s Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen (Chronicle Books). Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Smarkand to New York (Knopf) is also a good source.

Here is an Italian green sauce for cold fish, adapted from the Roden book. I like it over poached salmon or milder white fish such as halibut. I’ve also served it over salt-cured salmon such as lox or gravlax instead of gefilte fish as a starter for holiday dinners.

Salsa Verde per Pesce
Serves 8

Note: Do not substitute dill or sour pickles for the gherkins which are smaller and sweeter.

2 cups of flat leaf (Italian) parsley
½ cup unseasoned bread crumbs (toast sturdy white bread and chop in a blender or food processor until fine) OR ½ cup pine nuts
5 small pickled gherkins (also called cornichons)
8 pitted green olives
3 crushed garlic cloves
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup very light, good quality extra virgin olive oil

Remove stems from the parsley and discard. Put parsley leaves, bread crumbs or pine nuts, pickles, olives, garlic, vinegar and salt and pepper in a food processor. Blend until finely chopped. Slowly pour the oil in with the blade running and blend until incorporated and fairly smooth.

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