My family got together for dinner on Palm Sunday. It’s a special holiday for some Italians, each family with their own traditional menu. Some of the things we serve on Palm Sunday we might only have once a year.
Dinner starts with a non-typical antipasto – Baccala Salad and Pizza Rustica.
Christmas Eve dinner is sometimes known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. If you’re aiming for seven this will get you almost half way there. It doesn’t have to actually be fish. It could be anything that lives in the sea. Every year, either my daughter Kristina or my sister Nicki’s son Stephen make it. It’s served with the antipasto along with lots of other things. When I was growing up I never heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. My mother and aunt just cooked and didn’t count. I’m sure their total was always more than seven.
This is the family recipe as recorded by Nicki –
Calamari – Cut the cleaned calamari (not lengthwise) into 1/2” circles. If you did not buy cleaned calamari you must clean the calamari under cold running water. Pull the head out of the body, making sure to get the clear “bone” out. Squeeze the body from the tail to the opening to get out any residue. Then peel the thin skin off the body. Snip off the eyes and make sure you get the small beak out. (Go for the extra buck and buy cleaned calamari). Boil the calamari in rapidly boiling salted water for 2 to 3 minutes. They should be tender not rubbery. Drain and set aside.
Scungilli – Fresh scungilli can be purchased at an Italian fish market. If you choose to use the fresh you should buy more than a pound because there is a lot of waste when you clean it. Rinse the fresh scungilli thoroughly under cold running water. Boil the whole scungilli in rapidly boiling salted water for about 7 – 10 minutes. Drain and rinse. Slice each piece thinly, discarding the “tail” section and any hard pieces along the edges. There is really quite a bit of waste cleaning scungilli. Canned scungilli saves time, makes your life easier and is very good. I have found that La Monica is the best-canned brand and I have been using the canned for the past few years.
Octopus – Rinse under cold running water before submerging the whole octopus into salted boiling water. Boil for 30 minutes or more until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Cut off the octopus’ head and cut to separate each tentacle. With a kitchen scissor nip the dark purple skin and run your fingers along the “suckers” to release any loose particles. Cut each tentacle into small rounds.
Put the calamari, scungilli and octopus in a large bowl with the celery and garlic. Add the parsley, oil and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix thoroughly. This salad can be made the day before and refrigerated.
If you’ve been following my blog you know that I’m Italian-American and most often post Italian recipes. But not this time. I grew up in New York and specifically on the Lower East Side so that means I grew up with Jewish food. Latkes have always been one of my favorites and my grandmother used to make them. If you think about it, a Jewish latke isn’t very different than an Italian potato and egg frittata.
My father’s mother, Amalia came to America from Italy in the early 1880s as a young teenager. Her family settled on Prince Street in what was to become Little Italy but was then a mix of Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants. Her first job was in a nearby Jewish garment factory and being surrounded by girls and women speaking nothing but Yiddish, that was the first language she learned in America. English came later.
My Aunt Sis told me that once when she was shopping with her mother, she saw a coat she liked. Grandma said it cost too much and started to leave the store.
One of the shopkeepers told the other in Yiddish, “These Italian mothers always give in to their kids. She’ll be back for the coat.”
My grandmother turned to him and said in impeccable Yiddish, “It’s too expensive but I might buy it if we could negotiate a better price.” The surprised shopkeeper did just that.
I remember family dinners at her apartment on Prince Street and there were often some of her garment worker friends invited. Grandma spoke perfect English and Italian and it was always fun for us grandchildren to hear her conversing with her old friends in Yiddish.
I think I’ve figured out the Latke recipe she used although it’s possible she fried them in olive oil. But whatever kind you use, the oil is a reminder during Chanukah of what was burned to keep the eternal flame alive the temple.
Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and pepper in a large bowl. Add the beaten eggs and stir until the flour is absorbed. Use the coarse side of a grater to grate the potatoes and onion. Do this right over a dish towel and then squeeze out and discard as much of the liquid as you can. Add potatoes and onions to the flour and egg mix and blend thoroughly.
Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan. Put a tablespoon of the potato mix in the pan (I use an ice cream scoop) and flatten it with a spatula. Don’t worry about rough edges – they’ll get crisp and that’s what you want.
Cook them for about 4-5 minutes and turn them. Then the same on the 2nd side. When they’re done, drain them on a paper tower (or a brown paper bag like Grandma did) and sprinkle with salt. Serve them hot with apple sauce and sour cream. Happy Chanukah!
Kipful is a Christmas family recipe from Bridget’s family (German side). I’ll leave it to her –
Open all the packages of butter & cream cheese & let them get to room temperature. Put 1 cup of flour & the salt in the mix master, start dropping in the butter bars one at a time & finish with the cream cheese, then the second cup of flour (I don’t really think the order matters, but that’s the ritual ) I generally triple the recipe – making it one batch at a time & putting each batch when it’s finished into a big bowl. Put in refrigerator until firm – usually over night.
Prep: Preheat a 450 degree oven.
Clear 3 counter spaces – one for flour & rolling out the dough, one for the tray you are loading (do not put on top of stove as this is too hot and the dough melts), and one for powdered sugar when they come out. Leave a space to put the hot tray down & then make a bed of powdered sugar which you will drop the Kipfuls onto when they are still hot. You want one spatula for the dough and a separate one for the powdered sugar.
Get your containers ready by lining them with foil or wax paper or whatever you like and sift a layer of powdered sugar into the bottom of each of them. I generally do all this prep the night before.
Carve out a double handful of dough and put the rest back in the refrigerator. Dust your hands with flour & sprinkle a copious amount on the counter. It’s hard as a rock, so just bear down – try to keep it as close to a rectangle as you can get – then use a table knife to slice 3” squares. Use two teaspoons & put a blob of raspberry preserves in the middle of each square. Use the spatula to slide one square free & then pull the diagonal corners up to the middle & squeeze the sides together.
Into oven & start on next batch of dough. Be sure to check to see if they are turning brown before finishing the 2nd
When they are slightly browned, take tray to powdered sugar station & carefully spatula them right side up on to the bed of sugar. Sift more sugar on top. You can now go back & finish the 2nd When it is in the oven, the finished Kipful should be ready to move to your containers. Put a layer of wax paper between each layer to keep them separated.
This recipes should make about 50 kipfuls. Serve cold.