Winter/holiday foods are beginning to show up in the markets and groceries around Perugia. Oranges and clementines are in season, as are some winter vegetables, like gobbi (cardoons, see more below), and Romano broccoli. The alimentari downstairs from our apartment has been stocking up on smoked fish and other items for holiday feasts. As Americans Jews, we got a head start on the holiday feasting last week. As most of you probably know (because the American press was all over it), the first day of Hanukkah coincided with Thanksgiving for the first time in 125 years; an event that won’t happen again for another 70,000 years. I was not, however, inspired by the idea of menorahs shaped like turkeys or latkes with cranberry sauce. Besides, the first night of Hanukkah was Wednesday, and why combine holidays when you can get two meals instead of one?
I was not up for making latkes this year. I don’t really have the equipment for grating and potatoes in Italy, while delicious, are the small yellow variety – not good for grating and frying. Instead, we decided to have the closest thing to Jewish food we can get in Perugia: cream cheese and lox on baguettes (kind of sounds like bagel, doesn’t it?).
The alimentari has smoked Norwegian salmon that they hand slice, kind of like an old-fashioned Jewish deli:
AND, they have Philadelphia Cream Cheese:
Of course, Hanukkah is all about the oil. This is the season for olio nuovo (newly pressed olive oil). We decided that bruschetta drizzled with local olive oil is probably closer to what the Israelites were eating in the 2nd century BCE than potatoes fried in vegetable oil.
For good measure we also had bomboloni (an Italian version of a fried and filled donut), which is close to what modern Israelis eat during Hanukkah:
We celebrated Thanksgiving with our American friends from Wisconsin, and with our friend Marzia and her two children (Italians/Americans who split their time between Perugia and New Jersey). I made the turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce, the Iveys brought an array of side dishes, and Marzia provided some delicious vino novello (new wine) and drinks for the kids. It was a feast.
Italians eat turkey all year, so it is readily available in the butcher shops. I considered making only a couple of breasts, but my butcher said he could order a ‘small’ turkey for me. So we went for it. The turkey arrived on Tuesday, but I left it at the butcher shop until Thursday morning because it would have only fit in our fridge if I had removed all the shelves. I arrived around 9:30 am to pick it up. It weighed 7.3 kg, which is about 16 pounds, a bit bigger than I was expecting. The butcher said there was no way it would be ready for lunch at 2:00 pm, but I was confident it would cook within 4 hours. I dashed home, rubbed it with lemon juice, stuffed the lemon, an onion, and an apple (basically what I had in the pantry) inside, made a quick glaze with honey and butter (also what I had in the pantry), and popped it in the oven. It barely fit. The tip of one leg was touching the side of the oven and the very top of the breast was only a centimeter or two away from the heating element. But it worked, it looked (and tasted) like a perfect Thanksgiving turkey, AND it was done in 3.5 hours, with 45 minutes to rest before we carved it:
Vanessa made so many sides, there was something to please everyone. The only ‘traditional’ foods missing were yams and pumpkin.
We ate most of the turkey on Thursday, but I made soup from what was left and we enjoyed that for another few days. Two varieties:
Now we are into the next week and I have to come up with some new dishes to make. Marzia had told me that gobbi (sometimes called cardi in Italian, cardoons in English) were in season right now, so when I saw them at the market today, I decided to grab a bunch. I also got Romano broccoli, about which Simon has already commented, and bags of fresh clementines and oranges.
Cardoons, the things that look like celery on steroids in the first photo, are a type of thistle. They are related to artichokes, but in this case you eat the stem, not the flower. I have never prepared cardoons before. It takes some effort to make them edible as you need to peel away the fibrous outer layers of the stalks or else they are very tough. In Italy the traditional preparation seems to be in the oven with a bechamel sauce. I added a breadcrumb topping mixed with parmesan and parsley.
I probably should have baked it longer as the cardoons were not as soft as I had expected (or used more bechamel). They do taste a bit like artichokes, but with the texture of celery. The breadcrumbs and parmesan were nice and crispy, off-setting the creaminess of bechamel. This is far from my favorite dish, although I did like to artichoke-y flavor. Maybe I need to try a version made by someone else so I know what it is supposed to taste like.
Finally, since I knew that Micah would balk at eating anything he didn’t recognize, I also made what has become our go-to quiche. The alimentari sells pre-cooked greens in 250 gram packages. I usually try to get spinach, but today they only had erbette, a combination of spinach, chicory, and Swiss chard (shh, don’t tell Micah, he thinks it was spinach). I combine this with some feta cheese, pour eggs and milk over it and bake for 40 minutes. The crust also comes pre-made from the alimentari; I don’t have a round quiche dish, so I re-shape the crust for an oval baking pan.
Micah loves this dish. He also loves to help in the kitchen: