The first Jews arrived in Rome during the Republican age in the year 161 BCE. This historic community, whose descendants live in Rome to this day, has rites, traditions, history, and a dialect that are unique in the Jewish world. Today, visitors to Rome can tour the Jewish Museum or visit a typical restaurant in the Ghetto for an introduction to Roman Jewish traditions. But many elements of Roman Judiasm remain obscure to those outside the community.
I sat down with Umberto Pavoncello of Nonna Betta, a kosher restaurant in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto, to learn about some of these unique elements, specifically those related to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, which began Wednesday at dusk. Umberto recounted some family recipes, including several very ancient ones passed down by his grandmother.
He told me of a soup called boccette in brodo in which beef bones, nerves, and herbs are used to enhance the flavor of the broth. Lean beef meatballs are cooked directly in the boiling broth and the finished soup is served with toasted bread. Carcioncini are torellini in brodo. Like boccette in brodo, hgozzamoddi also incorporates bones for flavor. But in that recipe, ground meat is combined with pulverized bone fragments to create meatballs that reflect the necessity to use every last scrap.
Another dish, triglie con uvette e pinoli sees deboned red mullet cooked with pine nuts, raisins, olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Torzelli are quartered wedges of endive served baked or fried. A typical Rosh Hashanah dessert is lo storto. Few people make the half-moon shaped cake at home, preferring to buy it directly from the Forno del Ghetto (aka Boccione), the kosher bakery on Via Portico d’Ottavia 1. The cloying cake is made from almond paste, pine nuts, and raisins, and is clad in a glazed crust.
Below I have translated a couple of recipes from the book “Buon Appetito Beteavon: Incontro di culture e ricette della cucina ebraica-romana” published in 2010 by the Assessorato all’Agricoltura del Regione Lazio. Both are intended to make 6 servings.
Triglie con uvetta e pinoli
1kg of medium or large red mullet
100g pine nuts
extra virgin olive oil
apple cider vinegar
Clean and debone the mullet. Brush the bottom of a baking dish with extra virgin olive oil and drizzle a teaspoon of vinegar. Add the mullet to the baking dish and sprinkle with the pine nuts, raisins, and a pinch of salt. Bake at 180C for 45 minutes. Add a bit more oil and a teaspoon of vinegar and continue to bake until the mullet turn golden brown.
Two heads of curly endive
Extra virgin olive oil
Clean endive and prune outer leaves. Blanch in salted water and drain. Cut into 4 or 6 wedges, depending on the size of the head. Fry in extra virgin olive oil until the leaves become golden brown. Drain on paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Umberto’s variation sees the endive baked in the oven with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper.