Exploring Cultures Through Jewish Foods of Italy

A cookbook review on Cooking alla Giudia.

Extract of Cooking at the Giudia by Benedetta Jasmine Guetta (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Photographs by Ray Kachatorian.

The setting where I first heard about Benedetta Jasmine Guetta’s brand new cookbook, Cooking alla Giudia: A Celebration of Jewish Cuisine from Italy, couldn’t have been more perfect. I sat at a nicely set table inside Carmel by Lolita: a traditional kosher Italian restaurant in the Jewish quarter of Milan, Italy. I had just ordered Spaghetti Milanesi, Milanese spaghetti with saffron, when my Milanese-Jewish friend pulled the cookbook out of a bag and handed it to me, as a gift. “Food signifies the tradition of our heritage,” she wrote on the inside page of the book. “But also exploring cultures.”

There’s no better way to explore cultures than by browsing the pages of Guetta’s one-of-a-kind cookbook-turned-history-turned-travel guide. It’s the story of the food, and the story of where each food comes from, that makes this cookbook stand out. Not only does Guetta introduce us to Italian Jewish history, but she teaches us to differentiate between the ingredients used in each city. Each recipe begins as a story: we learn who made the dish in history, what Jewish occasion the dish was served for, and what the dish represents in Italian Jewish customs.

From Milan and Lombardy to Venice and Veneto, via Rome, Florence and Bologna, this cookbook guides readers on a Jewish gastronomic journey through the diverse regions of Italy. Italian Jewish cuisine has been around for thousands of years, yet the culinary heritage of Italian Jews is still largely unknown. Guetta is on a mission to keep Italian Jewish cuisine from all eras alive and to remind it not only to the elderly, but also to future generations. It achieves this goal by demonstrating how integral Italy has been to the development of Jewish food and Jewish food in Italy.

For example, Guetta explains that if you ask someone in Italy where orecchiette pasta comes from, most people will claim it comes from southern Italy. The hidden secret? He came to Italy with Jews from France who settled in the southern region of Italy in the 12e century. Likewise, looking into Guetta’s book, I discovered Yellow Rice for Shabbat: a dish that revealed the Jewish origins of the dish I had eaten in Milan. Considered the predecessor of risotto alla milanese (similar to spaghetti milanese), it uses saffron threads for the yellow color instead of cheese and butter, creating the perfect creamy side dish for any dish. meat.

Extract of Cooking at the Giudia by Benedetta Jasmine Guetta (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Photographs by Ray Kachatorian.

Incredibly detailed photographs accompany each carefully crafted recipe. Readers will see the crispy, fried edges of an artichoke and, in real life, experience just how perfectly crispy the recipe is. Readers will be salivating over a photo of the garlic and herb zucchini marinade, and the true taste of that bitter white wine vinegar drenched in the dish. Readers will notice the bright yellows and oranges that color the carefully researched cookbook and clearly make the cuisine unique from the more commonly spoken Eastern European Jewish cuisine.

Extract of Cooking at the Giudia by Benedetta Jasmine Guetta (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Photographs by Ray Kachatorian.

While the recipe instructions are simple and easy to follow, the resulting dishes look intricate and beautifully presented. But whether you like to cook or not, this cookbook deserves a place at the top of your shelf. It plays a dual role as a cookbook and a reading book, accessible to many different audiences.

Extract of Cooking at the Giudia by Benedetta Jasmine Guetta (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Photographs by Ray Kachatorian.

As an Italian food writer who has spent years publicizing Italian Jewish cuisine, Guetta knows what she’s talking about. But at the end of the day, there’s one thing that screams success more than anything else: the stamp of approval from a member of the Italian Jewish community, like my friend, gifting the cookbook to someone. another on the inside an Italian Jewish restaurant. His action was a gesture towards a future where Italian Jewish food would become a staple not only outside the home, but also in domestic kitchens.

About Juana Jackson

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