Articles in Holidays
There are so many people writing “Eat this!” and “Don’t eat that!” when it comes to the holiday season, it feels like a bit of a buzzkill. After all, food is at the heart of our best-loved holiday traditions and culture, whether baking cookies, shaking cocktails or hosting feasts for friends and family. I would never encourage you to deny these most simple and beautiful of life’s pleasures. I’m a nutrition scientist, not a nutrition Grinch.
Forget denial! Instead, follow these science-based strategies to help your body naturally consume less. Enjoy the season healthfully without making that tired resolution to lose those holiday pounds come the first of the year.
Select smaller plates and cups
Behavioral research conducted at Cornell University and elsewhere has found that selecting smaller plates and cups leads to less food and drink consumed. There’s simply not as much room on your plate for food, which helps manage portions. You can help yourself, and others, by setting your holiday table with smaller place settings. Choosing smaller plates is especially important in a buffet situation, which is a recipe for overindulgence given all of the tasty choices for the taking. This strategy is especially important when consuming calorie-laden foods like cheese and desserts. Another benefit of this tip is that going for smaller portions means you’re more likely to eat what’s on your plate, which means less food waste.
Swap water for wine (sometimes)
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Savor every delectable bite
If you’re taking smaller portions then you’ll definitely want to make sure you are enjoying every single bite. The advice to chew slowly and consume mindfully is never more important than during the holidays. There are so many good reasons to do so. First of all, it takes time for your brain to respond to satiety signals that tell you “Stop eating! I’m full!” We often don’t hear these signals, either because they are drowned out by our desire for more or because we are not giving our body the chance to react. Further, the holiday season in all its succulence is meant to be savored. Enjoy each moment, including the hedonic pleasures that eating evokes. In so doing, you’ll likely consume less food and have fewer stomachaches from over consumption.
Go for green
Holiday treats tend to be rich in calories. Baked brie, iced sugar cookies, boozy eggnog… Where was I? Yet nutrition scientists recommend that you fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits daily. We are lucky that the increased awareness of consuming plant-based foods for optimal health and weight means that restaurants and businesses are increasingly featuring veggies and fruits on their menus. I encourage you to do the same when you’re planning a meal at your own home. This tip may sound tired, but the dishes needn’t be. There are so many festive ways to prepare vegetables for your holiday table. Think: spinach salad with ruby-red pomegranates and crunchy toasted almonds; roasted butternut squash with crimson cranberries and caramelized onions; or herbaceous arugula with figs, pine nuts and a zesty vinaigrette. And why not feature fruit for dessert, like red wine-poached pears with blackberries? Don’t neglect these superfoods this holiday season.
Hara hachi bu at home
Holiday schedules quickly become packed with cheerful gatherings and epic nights on the town. But every night isn’t a party, and there are still times when you’re spending a quiet evening at home. Thinking about what you’re eating and drinking during those days are just as important as your noshing habits when you’re out. “Hara hachi bu” is an adage of the Okinawans, one of the longest-living populations in the world. It roughly means “eat to when you’re 80% full.” It’s outstanding advice for every day and any occasion, given research has shown that limiting calories throughout your life is related to longevity. But the recommendation is even more critical during this most wonderful time of the year. We all know what to expect when attending holiday parties: food, and lots of it. You’ll help balance your overall calorie intake if you can eat less and make healthier choices when at home.
Get out and play (often)
Weight gain is, ultimately, a simple equation: consuming more calories than you’re burning will lead to storage of energy in the form of body fat. Yet maintaining a fitness routine is a real challenge when there are more stresses on our schedules than ever. But the frustrating fact remains that we should actually increase our activity to compensate for the extra calories we’re consuming. I share your pain in the difficulty in making this happen, but I’d be remiss if the other side of energy balance — physical activity –wasn’t on my list. Hate running? Then how about walking to and from work or taking the stairs rather than the escalator when shopping at the mall? Perhaps ice-skating or a family football game? Jump rope? Hula hoop? Figure out what works for you –and stick to it. And if stuff gets in the way, don’t beat yourself up; just get back out there when you can.
Watch your weight (literally)
Weight gain occurs incrementally, and detecting small changes are best observed numerically. Monitoring your weight by stepping on a scale is the best way to tell whether your holiday feasting has gone awry. You might also consider measuring your overall body composition by calculating your body mass index, which is as important as measuring other physiological parameters such as blood pressure and blood lipids; all of these impact your risk of chronic disease. Weight gain around the waist is especially harmful because of its inflammatory effect, so keeping track of how your clothes are fitting throughout the season is also key. If you don’t own a scale, you might consider asking for one as a gift. Better yet, buy this present for yourself today.
Main photo: Prepare festive fruits for your holiday table, such as wine poached pears with blackberries. Credit: Copyright 2015 P.K. Newby
Families all seem to have their own Christmas classics — roast turkey, baked ham, crown roast or pork, or prime rib. Many Italian-Americans will have lasagna or a feast of seven fishes. One spectacular preparation for a change of pace is to follow some families and make the classic Sicilian Christmas tummàla.
Tummàla is a timbale of rice, a magnificent concoction of layers of baked rice, poached chicken, veal meatballs, hard-boiled eggs, cheeses and a cheesed omelet to create a golden mantle.
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Although a Christmas specialty, Sicilian cooks prepare tummàla for all sorts of celebrations when a grand culinary gesture is warranted. It is considered a representative example of cucina arabo-sicula, a contemporary folkloric expression of a supposed Arab culinary sensibility found vestigially in the contemporary Sicilian kitchen, some 800 years after the last of the Arab-Sicilian population disappeared. At the very least, it is considered Arab-Sicilian because the Arabs introduced rice to the island in the ninth or 10th century.
The Italian translation of the Sicilian tummàla is timballo, leading one to believe that this dish is derived from the French timbale, a baking mold in the shape of a kettledrum, hence its name.
In fact, the name comes either from Muhammed Ibn al-Thumna, the 11th-century emir of Catania, or from tummala, the purported Arabic name for a certain kind of plate, although that etymology is not confirmed.
Assembling a Sicilian classic
Traditionally, this dish is made with a chicken with its unborn eggs. The cheeses called for are pecorino pepato, caciocavallo and fresh mozzarella. Pecorino pepato is a young pecorino cheese made with peppercorns thrown into the curd. Caciocavallo is a spun-curd cow’s milk cheese and can be replaced with provolone.
Mozzarella is used in place of fresh tuma, a fresh pecorino cheese that is only found at the source of production, so it’s not available in this country. It is possible to find a young tuma aged between three and six months in Italian markets in the United Sates. One can also try Internet sources such as Murray’s Cheese or igourmet.com.
Finally, don’t let the list of ingredients intimidate you. Great length, in this case, does not mean great difficulty.
Sicilian Christmas Tummàla
Prep time: 1 1/2 hours
Cooking time: 3 1/2 hours
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
One 3-pound chicken
2 medium onions, cut into eighths
2 celery stalks, cut into chunks
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and quartered
5 fresh parsley sprigs
10 black peppercorns
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
3 tablespoons milk
3/4 pound ground veal
3/4 pound pecorino pepato cheese, grated, divided
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
7 large eggs (2 hard-boiled and sliced)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons pork lard
1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/4 pound pork rind (optional), cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 1/2 cups (1 1/4 pounds) short grain rice, such as Arborio rice, soaked in tepid water to cover for 30 minutes or rinsed well in a strainer, drained
Unsalted butter as needed
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
1/4 pound caciocavallo cheese, thinly sliced
1/4 pound pecorino cheese, grated
1. In a large stockpot that will fit the chicken comfortably, place the chicken with its gizzards, onions, celery stalks, tomatoes, parsley sprigs and peppercorns. Cover with cold water and bring to a near boil over high heat. As soon as the water looks like it is going to boil, reduce immediately to a simmer and cook the chicken until the meat falls off the bone when pushed with a fork, without letting the water boil, 2 hours. Don’t let the water bubble; otherwise it toughens the chicken.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the veal croquettes. In a bowl, soak the fresh bread crumbs in the milk. If the mixture looks soggy, squeeze the milk out. Add the veal, half of the pecorino pepato, the garlic, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Lightly beat 1 egg and add to the mixture. Mix well with a fork or your hands. Form croquettes the size and shape of your thumb. Cover and put aside in the refrigerator.
3. Drain the chicken, saving all the broth in a smaller pot. Remove and discard all the skin and bones from the chicken and cut the meat into small pieces.
4. In a large sauté pan, cook, stirring, the chopped onion in 1 tablespoon lard over medium heat until golden, about 8 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the remaining lard to the pan and cook the veal croquettes until they are browned. Add the sausage and the pork rind and cook for 10 minutes. Add the sautéed onion, the remaining 4 tablespoons parsley and the tomato paste diluted in 1 cup hot water. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Set aside.
5. Preheat oven to 350 F.
6. Bring the chicken broth from step 1 to a boil and reduce by one-third. Pour 2 1/2 cups broth into a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil, add the rice and about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Cook, covered and without stirring, until al dente, about 15 minutes. Pour about 3/4 cup broth into the veal-sausage mixture.
7. Drain the rice, if necessary, and mix it with the remaining pecorino pepato.
8. Butter a deep baking dish or baking casserole and spread 1 cup dry bread crumbs on the bottom, shaking vigorously to spread them thin so that they coat the bottom of the baking dish, dumping out any excess.
9. Spread the rice on top of the bread crumbs, about 3/4 inch deep. Spread three-quarters of the chicken and half of the veal croquettes and sausage mixture on top of the rice. Make a layer of hard-boiled egg. Layer the mozzarella cheese on top of the eggs. Cover with the remaining veal and sauce. Spread on a layer of caciocavallo cheese. Mix the remaining chicken with the remaining rice and spread it on top.
10. Beat the remaining 4 eggs lightly and combine with the pecorino cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce evenly over the top.
11. Bake until the top has a nice golden crust, about 1 hour. Check from time to time to be sure it doesn’t dry out. The tummàla can be served directly from the baking dish with the pan sauces or with tomato sauce.
Main photo: Tummàla, a Sicilian Christmas specialty. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright
In spite of recent tragedies and unrest in Europe, a beloved, centuries-old tradition continues this holiday season. From the United Kingdom to Eastern Europe and myriad countries in between, the annual outdoor Christmas markets are now in full swing.
Beginning in the early Middle Ages, the original markets were established to provide meat and other provisions for Christmas dinner. Some, such as Striezelmarkt in Dresden, Germany, lasted only one day. Others, including Christkindlmarkt in Vienna, Austria, stayed open through Advent. Today, they generally run from mid-November to Jan. 1.
Although dozens of cities host seasonal bazaars, several stand out for their old-world charm, delicious foods and exceptional handicrafts. You can banish the thought of buying tchotchkes mass-produced in faraway lands. The specialties offered at these markets are local and handcrafted.
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In Vienna, roughly 20 Advent fairs dot the cityscape. However, if you want to experience a market in all its glittering glory, head to the 19th-century Rathausplatz, or Town Hall Square. At Rathausplatz, twinkling lights, carolers, puppet shows and a young, blond woman playing Christkindl, the market’s Christ child, join 150 merchant stalls in celebrating the season. As of Nov. 19, as an act of European solidarity, the square’s towering Christmas tree now displays the blue, white and red colors of the French flag.
With Vienna’s ornate, neo-Gothic city hall, or Rathaus, looming behind them, shoppers stock up on wooden toys, glass ornaments, beeswax candles, candied fruits, roasted chestnuts and glasses or 750-mililiter bottles of weihnachtspunsch. Comprising red wine, brandy, rum, oranges, cloves, cinnamon and other spices, this heated punch is a warming, seasonal treat.
Prague, Czech Republic
The striking Czech Republic capital of Prague sponsors five Christmas markets. One of the largest takes place in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, World Heritage site of Old Town Square. Surrounded by Baroque and Gothic architecture, a medieval astronomical clock and the imposing, 14th-century Church of Our Lady before Tyn, this is an especially festive event. Solo musicians, folk bands and choirs perform daily. Horse-drawn carriage rides; a nativity scene; stabled sheep, donkeys and goats; and an enormous Christmas tree enhance the merry mood.
Similar to the other Prague markets, Old Town Square vendors showcase Bohemian crystal, garnet and amber jewelry; carved wooden toys; ornaments; marionettes; and sundry Czech goods. They also provide ample opportunities to nosh on grilled sausages, potato pancakes, deep-fried flatbread called langos and the sweet pastry known as trdelnìk. Coiled around a metal spit, rotated over an open fire until browned and then rolled in a mixture of sugar and nuts or cinnamon, trdelnìk is a must for hungry patrons.
While Dresden’s Striezelmarkt may be the country’s oldest, Germany boasts of an array of atmospheric marketplaces. This includes the seven Weihnachtsmarkte of Cologne.
The grandest happens in front of the 13th-century Roman Catholic, Gothic cathedral and UNESCO World Heritage site, Cologne Cathedral. More than 160 wooden stalls filled with German lacework, blown glass, nutcrackers, leather goods, woodcrafts, roasted nuts, bratwurst, beer, mulled wine, gingerbread and fruitcake line the cathedral square.
Along with regional crafts and cuisine, the Cathedral Weihnachtsmarkt contains western Germany’s largest Christmas tree. Roughly 82 feet tall, this Nordmann fir shimmers with more than 50,000 LED lights. For a bird’s-eye view of the sparkling tree and city, climb the 553 steps of the cathedral’s south tower. The brave can take in these breathtaking sights from a 328-foot-high observation platform.
Stockholm, Sweden’s first holiday market occurred on Stortorget in the city’s Old Town, or Gamla Stan, more than 500 years ago. Located outside the Nobel Museum near the Royal Palace, today’s Christmas mart features authentic Swedish pottery; glassware; knitted accessories; mulled wine, or glögg; pepparkakor, or ginger cookies; saffron buns; elk meat; and reindeer sausage. Whatever you do, just don’t tell children where the sausage came from.
In addition to these locales, travelers will find charming, historic expos in Amsterdam, Netherlands; Antwerp, Belgium; Barcelona, Spain; Budapest, Hungary; and Copenhagen, Denmark, among others. Some, such as the market in Frankfurt, Germany, date back hundreds of years. Others, such as in Manchester, England, have existed for merely a decade or two. All include the traditional foods and arts of their regions.
Main image: The Christmas market in Antwerp, Belgium. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kathy Hunt
For simple holiday entertaining, take a cue from Italy and select a few quality ingredients that are wonderful alone, but that can dress up for any party. Three Italian classics — Grana Padano aged cheese, Prosciutto di San Daniele and Mortadella Bologna — can create dozens of delectable nibbles.
Following is a look at some of the possibilities.
Thinly slice prosciutto or Mortadella Bologna and serve on a pretty wooden board. Set out wedges of Grana Padano with a cheese knife and clusters of grapes for simple, elegant party nibbles.
Wrap a slice of succulent prosciutto around veggies for Italian umami “sushi.” Try zucchini, carrots, enoki mushrooms, cucumber and avocado, which all pair wonderfully with prosciutto. Mortadella Bologna also makes a great roll-up. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios for color and crunch.
Fruit pair perfectly with cold cuts and cheese. Melon is a classic with prosciutto, so for a festive variation, dice cubes to create mini bites. Cantaloupe and honeydew melons make a pretty color mix.
Figs and fruits
Figs too are a classic pairing, but fresh figs aren’t readily available during the holidays, so use dried instead. Simmer a dozen dried figs in a cup of white wine to make them soft and summer sweet.
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Guests love a little skewer to nibble with a glass of bubbly Prosecco Superiore. Try Prosciutto di San Daniele and Grana Padano served with fried sage leaves and cubes of Mortadella Bologna accompanied by pistachio cream, made by blending finely ground pistachios with a little heavy cream and mascarpone or cream cheese. Fresh fruit like pears, apples and grapes pair perfectly with the naturally creamy sweetness of Grana Padano. It’s also wonderful with dried fruit. Spear chunks with olives and dried cranberries for a tangy-savory combo.
A toast to the party
Grana Padano lends itself to all sorts of bruschetta toppings. Melt onto bread to accompany Prosciutto di San Daniele or Mortadella Bologna, or for a vegetarian option top with chopped fresh or sun dried tomatoes or red bell peppers.
Mini sandwiches are always a party favorite. For an Italian riff — called “panettone gastronomico” — horizontally cut tall brioche bread into 7 equal slices to create 3 sandwich layers. Use your favorite filling, then stack and slice into triangles. The top section sits above as a decorative garnish.
Little baked pasta cups make a versatile appetizer. Just a quarter pound of pasta makes 24 bite-sized treats that can be eaten plain or topped. To make, combine cooked angel hair pasta with a beaten egg and some grated aged cheese. Twirl on a fork and bake into mini muffin tins until firm and golden at the edges. Then serve plain or topped with Prosciutto di San Daniele, Mortadella Bologna, shaved Grana Padano or pesto.
Everything Cheese Crisps
The usual bag of chips is OK for everyday, but dazzle party guests with these creative cheese crisps by cookbook author and PBS TV host Ellie Krieger who notes, “These easy, cheesy nibbles are a gigantic punch of Grana Padano flavor in a light lacy crisp. I brought in an extra touch of fun by flavoring them with all of the seasonings of my favorite “everything” bagel.”
Adapted from Comfort Food Fix, © 2011 by Ellie Krieger. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 8 minutes
Total time: 18 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
2/3 cup finely grated Grana Padano cheese (2 ounces)
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine the cheese, flour, seeds, onion, and garlic powder. Spoon heaping teaspoons of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each mound. Using your fingers, pat the mounds down, spreading them so each is about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Bake until they are golden brown, about 8 minutes. Allow to cool completely on the baking sheet before lifting them off carefully. Make the crisps up to 2 days ahead and store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Main photo: Try serving a “panettone gastronomico,” a sandwich tower, at your next party. Credit: Copyright Rovia Signorelli, Alessandria Italy
There are several legends about the birth of the Milanese panettone. The most common dates back to the 1476. It tells of Ugo, a young falconer who worked for Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan. The boy was secretly in love with Adalgisa, daughter of Toni, the most popular baker in Milan. To spend more time with her, Ugo managed to become a pastry cook apprentice.
Christmas was coming, and Ugo wanted to give a twist to the usual bread. He sweetened up the dough, adding sugar, butter, eggs, raisins and chopped candied fruits, then he cooked and shaped it like a giant muffin. The novelty instantly became the talk of the town. Everybody wanted the new Toni’s bread (pan de Toni) soon named panettone.
After centuries, the panettone is still the delicious centerpiece at many festive tables, although many chefs are coming up with year-round recipes.
Milan celebrates the cake with two important events. Re Panettone (King Panettone), a unique contest featuring 40 Italian artisanal pastry cooks competing for the King Panettone Award, and the Feast of San Biagio (the traditional belief is that eating leftover panettone for breakfast on this day will safeguard against any throat illness).
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I am a seventh-generation Milanese and an insatiable panettone lover, eager to find the best. Recently I was in Vicenza and had the opportunity to talk with the family behind Loison, long considered among the best panettone makers.
I drove to the little town of Costabissara, where Tranquillo Loison opened a small bread shop in 1938. The end of World War II and the improvement of the economy led to an increase in the demand for sweeter and tastier products. That is when Tranquillo began producing focacce with figs and raisins. One of his sons, Alessandro, soon expanded the range of products, specializing in panettone and pandoro cakes. In 1992, Alessandro’s son Dario took over the company, remaining true to its artisan roots and focusing on tradition, innovation, substance and creativity. Today, their products are exported to over 30 countries.
What is the secret?
I met with Dario in the Costabissara store. Who better to ask the secret of making a great panettone?
“Ingredients and … patience!” he told me, smiling. He went on to add, “Fresh eggs from safe farms, milk, butter and cream produced in the mountains of Italy, superfine flour, top-grade Italian sugar and the sweet Cervia sea salt. As per the aromatic products, I love the Venetian raisin wines, candied peel of Sicilian oranges, figs from Calabria, up to some exotic ones, like the soft raisins from Turkey, the top-rated cocoa from South America, and Slow Food-certified products, like the late mandarin from Ciaculli, the mananara vanilla from Madagascar and the chinotto [orange bitters] from Savona.”
It is a long process, Dario said. The soft, airy cake needs to be baked in a wood-burning oven for 72 hours. During that time, no additives or substances that might alter the flavors should be used.
In the store, I found some unexpected combinations, like saffron with licorice, ginger with apricot, and pear with cinnamon and cloves. Finally, I tried the new Chamomile Panettone, with chamomile fragrance and sultana raisins, a unique and mild flavor that lingered long after the first bite and reminded me of honey and pollen.
King all year long
Panettone was originally created as a cake for the holiday season. However, many chefs have come up with daring yet wonderful recipes to be used year-round.
Chef Mattia Barbieri (Enoteca Centrale in Mestrino, Padua) dusts the traditional saffron risotto with an unusual licorice panettone powder, then tops it with a deep-fried crunchy goat cheese ball whose soft interior will ooze out on the risotto once the ball is cracked open.
Chef Fabrizio Ferrari has created a panettone breaded monkfish. The recipe is quite simple: Sauté courgettes and monkfish fillet. Once browned, bake for 10 minutes. Toast a few slices of panettone, make fine bread crumbs, dip the still-hot fish, cut into even cubes and serve on a bed of courgettes.
And chef Antonio Marangi (Le Cirque, New York; Giannino, Milan; and executive chef of AFM Banqueting) places a scoop of pineapple sherbet over Mandarin Panettone, which he then garnishes with fruit, mango coulis and chocolate dip. He tops it with chocolate shaving and dusts it with gold flakes.
What about Dario Loison himself? “I would pair toasted slices of panettone with a salmon tartare with baked black salt from Hawaii, or I would dust it crumbled over grilled squid,” he said.
Main photo: Panettone has long been a traditional part of Italian holiday festivities. Credit: Courtesy of Loison
When it comes to Hanukkah, are you of the latke persuasion or are you in the fried pastry camp: sufganiyot, buñuelos, zengoula?
"The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen"
By Amelia Saltsman,
Sterling Epicure, 2015, 320 pages
Before we jump in, I should tell you that Hanukkah is my favorite holiday. And that I’m the daughter of an Iraqi father and a Romanian mother, whose families immigrated to Palestine in the early 1930s. My parents met in the Israeli army, came to Los Angeles a few months before I was born to further their education and stayed.
You should also know that I’m devoted to the farmers who grow my food. All of which make fertile ground for what comes next. As the young child of busy students, my affection for Hanukkah didn’t stem from elaborate presents, large parties or even alluring aromas from the kitchen. Far from extended family and time-honored traditions, we drew to the glowing candles of the Hanukkah menorah (hanukiyah) as though to a cozy fireplace. The sense of warmth and togetherness fed my soul long before I could have articulated the concept. Little did I know that I was tapping into Hanukkah’s very heart.
A child’s favorite holiday
Much of the Hanukkah story is common Sunday school stuff. The Festival of Lights, a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, commemorates the triumph of Judah and his band of Maccabees over Syrian-Greek rule and forced assimilation, the rededication of the temple and the miraculous bit of oil that lasted eight days, which is why we eat fried foods.
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So far, so familiar. But here’s the thing: Hanukkah begins on the dark moon closest to the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the pre-electric world would have most craved light and warmth. With autumn crops tucked away and the rebirth of spring far off, a festival of light to cheer a dark winter would have been just the ticket. Aha! The seasonal touchstone is the absence of growing things, the hiatus that drives us all indoors. However did I channel that at the age of 6? Funny how one’s life passions are present before we ever understand their implications. For me, this little marvel is on a par with the eight days of oil. (For the record, Hanukkah is thought to be a reenactment of Sukkot for the fighters who had missed the autumn harvest pilgrimage festival.)
Doughnuts and latkes
My Hanukkah food memories from those years are pretty sketchy, other than the Israeli holiday favorite, sufganiyot (doughnuts) that my father would bring home from the bakery where he worked evenings after class.
Latkes entered the scene when I was 9 and my sister was a baby. My mother received a gift of Sara Kasden’s “Love and Knishes,” a popular Jewish cookbook filled with Yiddish schtick. Although Hanukkah latkes are a European Jewish (Ashkenazic) custom to symbolize the oil, my mom considered them a New World treat and embraced them with gusto.
Kasden’s book defined our latke approach: thin, crisp and made from grated — not pureed — potatoes as the secret to great potato pancakes instead of ones that are raw, burnt and greasy all at the same time (a sort of negative miracle of its own). Over the years, three generations (my mother, me, my children) have perfected our skills into a zen-like rhythm, three abreast at the stove, to produce enough delicious latkes to satisfy our now-large family gatherings. (More hot tips: heat oil — no more than 1/4 inch deep — over medium heat, get oil hot enough that batter sizzles on contact, keep latkes thin — one generous tablespoonful of batter flattened with a spoon makes a three-inch pancake.)
A grandmother’s legacy
It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered another Hanukkah miracle: my Iraqi grandmother’s recipe for zengoula — crisp fried funnel cakes drenched in simple syrup. The coiled pastries are a centuries-old favorite in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia (where they are called jalebi), and were adopted by Iraqi Jews for Hanukkah.
The Sephardic treats are addictive, each crunchy bite shattering to a burst of sweet syrup. How had I missed the fun all these years? Although our family began transatlantic visits back and forth in 1961 and I had vivid memories of the dishes my Safta Rachel cooked for us, this one had escaped me.
But my cousin Elan Garonzik remembered them. Whenever our Safta visited his family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, before heading west to us, Elan took careful notes as he cooked with our grandmother and still has his handwritten zengoula notes from the 1960s. I needed his help to work up a proper recipe.
Relearning a recipe
As luck, or miracle, would have it, I visited Elan, now a New Yorker, when the Museum of Jewish Heritage was showing “Iraqi Jewish Archives.” The exhibit depicts the discovery by a U.S. army team of thousands of books, Torah fragments, shopping lists and other ephemera that tell the 2,500-year story of Jews in Iraq, instead of the WMD they were seeking in that Baghdad basement. Go figure.
Elan and I whisked up the simple batter, set it to proof and headed to the museum. We wandered the exhibit, gazing at photos of youngsters who reminded us of his mother and my father. We came around a corner to a display about Hanukkah, which described local holiday customs including zengoula, the only dish mentioned in the show. It was, as they say in Yiddish, beshert (meant to be).
Today, we’re four generations celebrating together. Over eight days, our latkes, zengoula and sufganiyot pay tribute to “free to be you and me” diversity and remind us that it is indeed about the oil — not too much and hot enough. And in the spirit of our forefathers, we bask in the warmth of candlelight as we embrace a “minor” holiday to its fullest measure.
Zengoula With Lemon Syrup: Iraqi funnel cakes (Pareve)
Prep time: 30 minutes, plus 6 to 24 hours to proof
Cook time: 45 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
Traditionally soaked in sugar syrup, zengoula are infinitely more wonderful when infused with a tangy lemon syrup. It takes only a few minutes to whisk together the forgiving batter the night before you want to serve zengoula, and the pastries can be fried early in the day you want to serve them. You will need to begin this recipe at least six hours before you want to serve zengoula.
For the dough:
1 1⁄8 teaspoons (half package) active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the syrup:
2 to 3 lemons
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 quarts mild oil for frying, such as grapeseed, sunflower or avocado
To make the dough:
1. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and 1/4 cup of the warm water and let stand in a warm place until the mixture bubbles, about 10 minutes.
2. In a medium bowl, using a fork, stir together the flour, cornstarch and salt. Stir in 1/2 cup of the warm water and the yeast mixture. Slowly stir in enough of the remaining 1/2 cup warm water until the dough is lump-free and the consistency of thick pancake batter.
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until doubled in bulk, at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.
To make the lemon syrup:
Using a five-hole zester, remove the zest from 1 of the lemons in long strands. Halve and squeeze enough lemons to yield 1/3 cup juice. In a small pot, stir together the lemon juice and zest, water and sugar over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved and clear, about 1 minute. Pour into a pie pan and let cool. (The syrup can be made 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated.)
To make the fritters:
1. Scrape the dough into a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag or large pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain pastry tip and set the bag in a bowl for support. Let the dough stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
2. Pour the oil to a depth of 3 1/2 inches into a 4- or 5-quart pot, wok or electric fryer and heat to 375°F. If using a plastic bag for the dough, snip 1/4 inch off one of the bottom corners, cutting on the diagonal, to create a piping tip. Roll the top of the pastry bag closed to move the batter toward the opening.
3. Pipe a bit of the batter into the hot oil. The oil should bubble around the batter immediately. If it doesn’t, continue heating. Pipe the dough into the hot oil, creating 3- to 4-inch coils or squiggles. Be careful not to crowd the pan. Fry the dough, turning once at the halfway point, until bubbled, golden and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes total.
4. Use a slotted spoon to fish the fritters out of the oil, drain them briefly on a towel-lined plate, and then drop them into the syrup for a moment or two, turning them to coat evenly. Lift them out of the syrup and transfer them to a tray in a single layer to cool. Repeat with remaining batter, skimming any loose bits of dough from the hot oil between batches to prevent burning.
5. The cooled pastries can be piled on a platter. Pour any remaining syrup over the top. The fritters taste best served the same day they are made, although they will hold their crispness overnight. Store loosely covered at room temperature.
Adapted with permission from “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition” © 2015 by Amelia Saltsman, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Main photo: Zengoula are infinitely more wonderful when infused with a tangy lemon syrup. Credit: Copyright 2015 Staci Valentine; reprinted with permission from “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen”
With the considerable help of family and friends, we finished in record time the olive harvest on our Tuscan farmlet high up in the hills behind Cortona, Italy.
It was not the best harvest we’ve ever had, though the yield, at 12.8 percent, was high. Translated into real terms, that means that for every 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of our plump, shiny, black Leccino olives that went into the press at the Landi mill on the road to Arezzo, we got back almost 13 kilos (28.6 pounds) of oil. And that meant we were blessed with a little more than 70 liters of fine, fresh, blissfully spicy and fragrant oil with a hint of lush fruitiness that will emerge more fully in the coming months.
Celebrating the harvest
Back home with our treasure, we broke open the champagne, Franciacorta and prosecco for a bubbly salute, and of course we toasted thick slices of bread in the fireplace, rubbing them with cut cloves of garlic and lavishing the new oil on top for the original bruschetta (called fettunta around Florence). We also made bean-and-farro soup, traditional for the harvest, and garnished it with a healthy glug of new oil and tossed pasta in new oil with chopped garlic and broken chilis in the family favorite ajo-ojo-peperoncino (garlic-oil-hot red peppers), and we had a wonderful olive salad (see recipe below) made by our friend chef Salvatore Denaro with green olives he had cured earlier in the season.
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Denaro is Sicilian, though he has lived in Umbria for most of his adult life. He remains Sicilian through and through, and it was he who introduced me to the old Sicilian idea that you must harvest olives to cure before the Feast of San Francesco on Oct. 3. “Later on,” he explained, “they’re too full of oil.”
So, in keeping with tradition, his were quick-cured green olives, olive schiacciate, or smashed olives, cured in a salt brine with bunches of wild fennel, then tossed in this salad, which makes a terrific antipasto as well as a great accompaniment for any kind of roast or grilled meat, or even in one of those Sicilian fish platters where a whole fish has been roasted in a combination of tomatoes, olives, capers and other tasty things.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: None, although the olives benefit from resting about 30 minutes before serving
Total time: 15 minutes, plus resting time
Yield: Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups olive cunzate
Even in Sicily, cured olives are often dressed up (“cunzate”) to present as an antipasto salad. Try this with the plain green olives you buy from a supermarket bin, but taste them first (despite the sign that says “No snacking”) to make sure they have good flavor. And do not even contemplate using the kind of green olives in a jar that come stuffed with pimientos or the like.
This treatment will bring ordinary supermarket olives to life in a whole new way. You can do it ahead of time, too, and let the olives marinate in the mixture for a day or two, even up to a week, before serving. Keep the salad on hand for healthy holiday snacking along with bowls of almonds you’ve blanched and toasted in olive oil in a 350 F oven.
About 8 ounces brine-packed green olives, with their pits
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Sicilian
1 small fresh green or red chili pepper, thinly sliced
1 medium stalk celery, coarsely chopped
2 or 3 whole garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon wine vinegar (optional)
Sea salt to taste (optional)
1 tablespoon finely minced flat-leaf parsley
Pinch of dried Sicilian or Greek oregano
1. Rinse the olives in a colander, tossing gently under running water. If you wish, remove the pits, but the olives themselves should remain as whole as possible. Some brine-cured olives have vinegar added to the brine to give a tart flavor. Taste an olive to see how salty and/or tart they are, then decide whether to add vinegar and/or salt to your marinade.
2. Transfer the olives to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss gently. Reserve the remaining tablespoon of oil to use at the end if necessary.
3. Add the chili pepper, celery, garlic and parsley and toss again. If the original brine for the olives was not perceptibly tart, add a teaspoon of good wine vinegar, along with a sprinkling of sea salt if necessary.
4. Let the olives sit, covered, at room temperature for 30 minutes or so, then taste. Adjust the mixture at this point, adding more or less of the ingredients mentioned. If the mixture seems too dry, add the remaining olive oil. At this point, you may cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two or three days.
5. When ready to serve, bring the olives in their marinade back up to room temperature. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with the minced parsley and oregano, crumbling the oregano with your fingers to bring out the flavor. Taste an olive and adjust the seasoning once more, adding a little more vinegar and/or salt as needed.
Note: Denaro is a purist, but some Sicilians toss into the mix a few thin curls of lemon or orange zest or even a few pieces of fresh orange or lemon segments, the outer membrane carefully cut away.
Main image: Olive Cunzate. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Cooking for dinner parties should be fun. If the occasion is a holiday, a birthday or a personal landmark, celebrating at home with a meal cements relationships with friends and family. But when preparing the meal is too much work, the fun goes away.
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With relative ease, chef Nicole Heaney shows how to create a flavorful dish featuring a filet of fish that is perfect for entertaining. The key for a dinner party, as she demonstrates, is a little planning.
In the kitchen at Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar in Monterey, California, chef de cuisine Heaney shows how to prepare sablefish with crispy skin in a brown butter sauce. Adding flavor, Heaney pairs the rich, fatty fish with al dente Brussels sprouts, creamy farro cooked risotto-style and savory apple puree to add acid and sweetness.
Key to making the festive plate is the combination of four elements, each of which takes very little effort to create. And of the four, three can be made ahead. The Brussels sprouts, farro and apple puree can be made hours ahead of the dinner or even the day before. Then, just before serving, reheat the three components and cook the sablefish as your guests are sitting down ready for a celebration.
For a delicious vegan and vegetarian meal, leave out the fish and serve the Brussels sprouts, farro and apple puree.
A kitchen with a view
Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar is the main restaurant at the Monterey Plaza Hotel on Cannery Row. Working with executive chef James Waller, Heaney cooks in a kitchen with a view of Monterey Bay. Growing up in Wyoming and working in Colorado and New Mexico, Heaney was an adult before she saw the Pacific Ocean.
She confesses that, even after a year at the restaurant, when baby humpback whales swim close to the restaurant, she joins the other kitchen staff members to rush outside for a closer look from the dining patio. There they watch as the whales breach for a long moment before disappearing in the cold blue water.
Her cooking is influenced by the time she spent in Sedona at Mii amo Café. Preparing meals for health-conscious guests of the resort and spa, Heaney learned the importance of clean, fresh flavors. Fats were kept to a minimum. The kitchen did not use butter or cream. Asian ingredients and techniques were frequently used.
The regime is not as strict at Schooners, but Heaney still creates dishes with distinctive flavors and innovative ingredients like the kelp noodles she uses to make her version of pad thai.
An avid reader of Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” she knows that the more you understand the chemistry of cooking, the better you can control the results. In her video demonstration, she points out the importance of using acid to round out flavors, as in the savory apple puree and farro risotto.
The apples Heaney uses are grown locally on the Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, California. She recommends using Gala apples in the recipe. Heaney leaves on the peels to add flavor and color. Because the apples will be pureed, there is no need to cut them precisely.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Final assembly time: 5 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 3 cups sauce
4 large Gala apples, washed, pat dried, peels on
1 yellow onion, washed, peeled and trimmed, roughly chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup bourbon (optional)
Unsweetened apple juice to cover
Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
Kosher salt to taste
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1. Heat a large saucepan on a medium flame.
2. Cut open the apples. Remove and discard the core and seeds. Do not peel the apples. Cut the apples into large pieces.
3. Drizzle olive oil into saucepan, add onion and apples and sauté together until translucent.
4. Add bourbon (optional). Cook off the alcohol, which may catch fire. Be careful not to singe your eyebrows as chef Heaney once did.
5. Cover with unsweetened apple juice. Simmer on medium heat until reduced by half and the apples soften and begin to break down.
6. Puree in a large blender. Start blending on a low speed and progress to a higher speed until the puree is smooth.
7. Taste and season with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and kosher salt.
8. If preparing ahead, store refrigerated in a sealed container.
9. Just before serving, reheat. Taste and adjust the seasoning and, if the puree is too thin, continue reducing on a medium flame to thicken.
Farro Risotto Fit for a Dinner Party
Cooking farro risotto-style means heating and hydrating the grain as if it were Arborio rice. Substituting farro for rice adds a nutty flavor. Heaney prefers her farro al dente but that choice is entirely personal. Many people prefer their risotto softer rather than al dente.
Better quality ingredients yield a better result. With risotto, that means using quality rice or, in this case, farro. The stock is as important. Canned stocks are available, but they are high in sodium content and can have an off-putting aroma. Homemade stocks are preferable. Any good quality stock can be used — beef, pork, chicken or seafood. For vegetarians and vegans, the farro can be prepared with vegetable broth and without the butter or Asiago cheese.
The cooking time may vary depending on the farro.
Like other whole spices, pepper has volatile oils. To preserve the freshness of its flavor, Heaney prefers to grind the peppercorns just before using.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 30 to 45 minutes
Final assembly time: 5 minutes
Total time: 40 to 55 minutes
Yield: serves 4
64 ounces hot stock, preferably homemade, can be vegetable, beef, pork, chicken or seafood
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice
2 large celery stalks, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice
3 garlic cloves, washed, peeled, rimmed, minced (optional)
16 ounces farro
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
1 bunch Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves chopped fine
1 tablespoon chives, washed, chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, washed, chopped fine
1 cup shredded Asiago cheese (optional)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt to taste
Black peppercorns, freshly ground, to taste
1. In a saucepan, heat stock on a low flame.
2. Heat a separate medium saucepan over a medium flame. When hot, add olive oil and sauté onions, carrots and celery until the vegetables are translucent.
3. Add farro. Stir well and sauté until lightly toasted.
4. Add garlic (optional) and sauté until translucent but do not brown.
5. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Cook until alcohol is fully cooked out.
6. Add hot stock in 6- to 8-ounce portion. Stir well.
7. As stock is absorbed, add more stock and stir well. Do not scald the farro.
8. Each time the stock is absorbed, add more stock until the liquid becomes cloudy and the farro softens.
9. If the farro is being made ahead, when the farro is soft but not yet soft enough to eat, or 75 percent cooked, remove from the burner, allow to cool and refrigerate in a sealed container.
10. If continuing to cook or if reheating, taste and continue cooking the farro until it is al dente or to your liking. Set aside until the fish is cooked.
11. Just before serving, to finish, add sweet butter (optional) and stir into the heated farro until melted.
12. Add Asiago cheese (optional) and stir well to melt.
13. Taste and season with fresh lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
14. Just before plating, sprinkle in chopped fine parsley, chives and thyme and stir well.
15. Serve hot and plate as described below.
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts
Heaney prefers her Brussels sprouts al dente. Some people like them softer, in which case, after the Brussels sprouts are washed, trimmed and halved, blanch them in salted boiling water for two minutes, drain and then sauté as directed below.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Final assembly time: 5 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Yield: serves 4
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pound medium-sized Brussels sprouts, washed, discolored leaves removed, ends trimmed, halved
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black peppercorns to taste
1. Heat a large sauté pan.
2. Add extra virgin olive oil and halved Brussels sprouts.
3. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper.
4. Stir well to prevent burning. Sauté until Brussels sprouts are caramelized on both sides.
5. If the sprouts are to be served later or the next day, when they are cooked 75 percent, remove from the burner, allow to cool and refrigerate in an airtight container.
6. When the fish is cooking, heat the sauté pan with a small amount of olive oil. Add the cooked Brussels sprouts to reheat and plate with the fish, farro risotto and apple puree.
Crispy-Skin Sablefish in a Brown Butter Sauce
Also called black cod, sablefish is not actually cod. Heaney uses sablefish caught in nearby Morro Bay. She likes cooking the fish because it is almost “bulletproof.” The flesh is difficult to overcook and is almost always moist, flavorful and delicate.
In order to achieve a crispy skin, Heaney has developed a simple technique described in the directions. She recommends buying a wooden-handled fish spatula with a beveled edge, which helps remove the fish from the pan. The spatula is preferable to tongs, which tend to break apart the filets.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 5 to 10 minutes
Final assembly time: 5 minutes
Total time: 15-20 minutes
Yield: serves 4
4 6-ounce skin-on filets of sablefish or black cod, washed, pat dried
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves only, finely chopped
1. Season each filet with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides.
2. Heat a large sauté pan on a medium-high flame. When the pan is hot, reduce the flame to medium-low.
3. Add the olive oil. Allow the oil to heat.
4. Place the filets into the pan, skin side down. Do not overcrowd the pan, allowing space between each filet. If the filets are crowded together, the skin will not crisp.
Sear but do not burn the skin.
Jiggle the pan. That will help prevent the filets from sticking to the pan. If they do stick, use the fish spatula to gently release them from the bottom of the pan.
5. Add sweet butter to the pan and swirl around the filets.
6. Let the filets cook without fussing too much. The fish is cooked when the flesh is opaque.
7. Using the fish spatula, gently flip each filet over. Swirl the filets into the melted butter, being careful to brown but not burn the butter.
After 30 seconds, use a spoon to baste the filets with the melted butter.
8. At this point, the fish is cooked. Add parsley for color and season with lemon juice.
Put the saucepan to the side.
Assembling the dish:
Plate the fish when everyone is seated at the table.
All of the elements — fish, apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto — should be hot and ready to serve.
Select a large plate. Using the back of a soup spoon, spread a tablespoon of the apple puree across the plate. Add a good portion of the farro risotto in the middle of the plate, then the caramelized Brussels sprouts.
Gently add the sablefish filet, crispy skin side up. Spoon a little bit of the brown butter on top of the filet, farro and Brussels sprouts. And as chef Heaney says, “That is it.”
Serve the dish hot with a crisp white wine and let the festivities begin.
Main photo: Chef Nicole Heaney shows her sablefish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt