November 22, 2007
Chanukah menu dishes up a travelogue of treats
We devote Chanukah to our children and grandchildren, and many of the dishes are easy to prepare and perfect for the whole family. In addition to the traditional potato latkes, I have included two special treats to begin our Chanukah celebration.
We discovered baked homemade potato chips at Restaurante dal Pescatore, a three-star Michelin restaurant in the Po Valley. Created by chef Nadia Santini, she calls them Tuiles of Potatoes and Rosemary. After dinner, when the guests had left and I complemented her on the paper-thin delicacies, she gave me a lesson on how to prepare them.
Along with the potato latkes and Nadia's Tuiles, another fried treat sure to become part of our Chanukah tradition is Gnoccho Fritto, small squares of pizza dough deep fried in olive oil.
We were first introduced to them at our favorite seafood restaurant located in Varigoti. We have been known to travel several hours just to eat at Muraglia Conca Di Oro on the coast just north of Genova. It has been their custom, when diners arrive, to serve them hot Gnoccho Fritto, along with a glass of sparkling wine.
This incredible restaurant is strictly a family affair. As dad Enzo is in the dining room grilling fish, one of his daughters greets guests and waits tables with his sister, while his wife, Emma, and his other daughter are cooking in the kitchen.
Our family loves chopped chicken liver, but my new presentation will be a surprise. We visited Modena during the annual festival celebrating balsamic vinegar, Balsamico Gusto.
That evening we were guests at a special dinner in Villa Cavazza, where every dish served included balsamic vinegar. The dinner was prepared by French chef Michel Troisgros and Italian chef Massimo Bottura, chef-owner of Ristorante Francescana in Modena.
Bottura, one of the cutting-edge chefs in Italy, served a dish that was fun, as well as delicious. It consisted of chopped liver coated with roasted hazelnuts, served on a stick in the shape of an ice cream bar and garnished with balsamic vinegar. I am sure my family is going to enjoy this dish, especially the grandchildren, because it is picked up by hand and eaten off the stick.
In Naples, we returned to another of our favorite restaurants, L'Europeo di Mattozzi. A traditional Neapolitan restaurant, the owner, Enzo Mattozzi, knows all his customers by name. His pizza is the best in Italy, but the dish that won us over was Baked Eggplant in a rich Onion-Tomato Sauce.
Most of the dishes are served family-style, so when we finished the first large platter of eggplant, we couldn't help but order another. We had to try it again just to see if it was as delicious as we thought -- and it was. When preparing a dairy menu, add fresh mozzarella cheese for an added taste adventure.
Dessert features a traditional pastry made in the Puglia region, called Cartellate (Italian Wine Cookies). Since fried foods are eaten during Chanukah, commemorating the miracle of the one day's supply of oil that burned for eight days, these pastries are perfect. The dough is rolled out like pasta, cut into thin strips, then each strip is twisted into a lacy round, deep fried in olive oil and drizzled with a wine-honey syrup and nuts. It is crunchy and delicious.
Nadia's Tuiles of Potatoes and Rosemary
1 small Idaho potato
1 tablespoon nondairy margarine
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup cold water
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
Peel and dice potato, place in water to cover, bring to a boil and simmer until soft. Transfer to a shallow bowl and mash until smooth. Set aside.
In a skillet, heat margarine and saute onions and mix with a wooden spoon until soft. Add rosemary and continue cooking for two minutes. Add three tablespoons of mashed potato and mix well. Set aside.
In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, add the flour, water, salt, olive oil and mix to combine. Add the potato mixture and mix well. Mixture should have an elastic consistency.
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat pad or aluminum foil and brush with olive oil. Using a tablespoon, place a small amount of the potato mixture on the prepared baking sheet and spread into a paper-thin oval shape. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. They crisp up as they cool. Continue with remaining potato mixture.
Makes about three or four dozen.
Gnocco Fritto (Fried Dumplings)
2 packages active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
Olive oil for frying
Salt for dusting
Dissolve the yeast with the sugar in 1/2 cup of a cup of water. Set aside until foamy.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining three-quarters of a cup water, the olive oil and yeast mixture. Stir in the flour and salt and stir in one cup at a time, until the dough begins to come together into a rough ball.
Spoon onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, brush top of the dough with oil, cover and set in a warm place to rise for about one hour, until doubled in bulk (or can be used immediately).
In a deep pot, heat four inches of olive oil to 350 degrees. Divide dough into four parts, and with a rolling pin, roll out one part to a rectangle about one-eighth-inch thick. With a pizza wheel, cut the dough into one-inch squares. Repeat with remaining dough.