Mediterranean dishes create variety for Jewish New Year An Italian Rosh Hashana

September 13, 1995|By Leslye Michlin Borden | Leslye Michlin Borden,Special to The Sun

Every year, I spend a lot of time planning my menu for Rosh Hashana. Since it is the the "head" of the Jewish year, I want to follow the tradition that everything we do in relation to this occasion reflects the significance of the holiday in the synagogue and in the home. So I want to prepare an extraordinary meal, one that is outstanding in terms of the variety and taste of the foods served as well as one that is provocative, new to my family and friends. Rosh Hashana begins at sundown Sept. 24, and I started thinking about my menu even before Labor Day.

My task was easier than usual because my husband and I went to Italy recently. There we experienced foods and dishes wonderful enough to select for our Rosh Hashana menu.

In addition, we learned about the Jewish community in Italy, which for the most part, comprises neither Ashkenazim (Jews from Eastern Europe) nor Sephardim (Jews who left Spain in 1492). They are Italim, Jews who lived in Italy continuously since the fall of the second Temple in the year 70. We visited the imposing temple in Florence, where we felt part of the community even though we were thousands of miles from home.

My Italian Rosh Hashana menu takes into account contemporary health concerns without sacrificing tradition. In it, carbohydrates make up just under 60 percent of total calories, protein accounts for around 25 percent, and only about 15 percent of the entire menu comes from fat.

First and foremost, I'll start with the traditional crown-shaped challah. Instead of using whole eggs, I use nonfat egg substitute. I replace margarine or other oil with olive oil. Of course, I sweeten the dough with honey, in keeping with the Rosh Hashana tradition of eating honey, hoping for a sweet new year. Snippets of fresh rosemary make my challahs "Italian." I'll serve thin noodles in broth for my first course. The entree, turkey breast filled with porcini mushroom stuffing, is really a knockout. It's easier to make then it sounds.

Dessert in Italy usually consists of fresh seasonal fruit simply prepared. Desert for Rosh Hashana traditionally contains honey, again underlining hopes for a sweet new year. I put these two ideas together and decided to serve late summer peaches steeped in a honey and red wine sauce. If this isn't enough dessert for you, add an Italian favorite, biscotti, which is similar to mandelbrot.

Thin Noodles in Broth

Makes at least 4 quarts of stock

8 pounds beef, chicken or turkey bones

salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika

4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

2 large onions, peeled and quartered

half of a celery stalk, leaves included, coarsely chopped

1/2 bell pepper, seeded, cored, and chopped

1 16-ounce can ripe tomatoes, including liquid

2 medium zucchini, cut into chunks

a generous handful of (Italian) parsley, washed

2 bay leaves

salt

1 tablespoon whole white peppercorns

water

10 ounces uncooked angel-hair noodles

Heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Place bones in a large roasting pan. Season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Roast, uncovered, until well browned, about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove bones from the roasting pan and place in a stock pot large enough to hold all the ingredients. If you don't have a pot that big, divide the bones and other ingredients into two pots. Add remaining ingredients except noodles. Cover with cold water and slowly bring to a boil. Lower heat, skim off the foam that forms on the top, then simmer partially covered for 3 hours.

Strain the stock and refrigerate. Reserve some of the cooked vegetables for garnishing the soup.

About 30 minutes before serving time, bring a large pot filled with salted water to the boil. Add the noodles, and cook briefly, according to package directions. Blanche with cold water to stop the cooking process. While you are waiting for the water to boil, take the stock out of the refrigerator. Remove the fat that has hardened on the surface. Place the stock and reserved vegetables in a large pot and heat.

To serve, place some noodles in each bowl. Ladle in the hot broth. Garnish with the vegetables.

Per 1 1/2 cup serving with 1 ounce of noodles: 121 calories; 7 grams protein; 24 grams carbohydrate; 0.7 grams fat; trace cholesterol; 5 percent calories from fat.

Italian Challah Crown

Makes 2 large loaves

2 packets dry yeast

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon salt

1 1/2 cup very warm water (about 110 degrees)

up to 7 cups unbleached white flour

3/4 cup nonfat egg substitute (equivalent to 3 eggs)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon (or more) fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1/2 cup golden seedless raisins, optional

1 egg white

In a large ceramic mixing bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, honey and salt with 1 1/2 cup of water. Stir well. Add 2 cups of flour and mix thoroughly. Cover with a clean, damp towel. Set aside in a draft free place until the batter starts to bubble, usually in about an hour.

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