Every year, I spend a lot of time planning my menu for Rosh Hashana. Since it is the the "head" of the Jewish year, I want to follow the tradition that everything we do in relation to this occasion reflects the significance of the holiday in the synagogue and in the home. So I want to prepare an extraordinary meal, one that is outstanding in terms of the variety and taste of the foods served as well as one that is provocative, new to my family and friends. Rosh Hashana begins at sundown Sept. 24, and I started thinking about my menu even before Labor Day.
My task was easier than usual because my husband and I went to Italy recently. There we experienced foods and dishes wonderful enough to select for our Rosh Hashana menu.
In addition, we learned about the Jewish community in Italy, which for the most part, comprises neither Ashkenazim (Jews from Eastern Europe) nor Sephardim (Jews who left Spain in 1492). They are Italim, Jews who lived in Italy continuously since the fall of the second Temple in the year 70. We visited the imposing temple in Florence, where we felt part of the community even though we were thousands of miles from home.
My Italian Rosh Hashana menu takes into account contemporary health concerns without sacrificing tradition. In it, carbohydrates make up just under 60 percent of total calories, protein accounts for around 25 percent, and only about 15 percent of the entire menu comes from fat.
First and foremost, I'll start with the traditional crown-shaped challah. Instead of using whole eggs, I use nonfat egg substitute. I replace margarine or other oil with olive oil. Of course, I sweeten the dough with honey, in keeping with the Rosh Hashana tradition of eating honey, hoping for a sweet new year. Snippets of fresh rosemary make my challahs "Italian." I'll serve thin noodles in broth for my first course. The entree, turkey breast filled with porcini mushroom stuffing, is really a knockout. It's easier to make then it sounds.
Dessert in Italy usually consists of fresh seasonal fruit simply prepared. Desert for Rosh Hashana traditionally contains honey, again underlining hopes for a sweet new year. I put these two ideas together and decided to serve late summer peaches steeped in a honey and red wine sauce. If this isn't enough dessert for you, add an Italian favorite, biscotti, which is similar to mandelbrot.
Thin Noodles in Broth
Makes at least 4 quarts of stock
8 pounds beef, chicken or turkey bones
salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika
4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 large onions, peeled and quartered
half of a celery stalk, leaves included, coarsely chopped
1/2 bell pepper, seeded, cored, and chopped
1 16-ounce can ripe tomatoes, including liquid
2 medium zucchini, cut into chunks
a generous handful of (Italian) parsley, washed
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon whole white peppercorns
10 ounces uncooked angel-hair noodles
Heat your oven to 400 degrees.
Place bones in a large roasting pan. Season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Roast, uncovered, until well browned, about 1 1/2 hours.
Remove bones from the roasting pan and place in a stock pot large enough to hold all the ingredients. If you don't have a pot that big, divide the bones and other ingredients into two pots. Add remaining ingredients except noodles. Cover with cold water and slowly bring to a boil. Lower heat, skim off the foam that forms on the top, then simmer partially covered for 3 hours.
Strain the stock and refrigerate. Reserve some of the cooked vegetables for garnishing the soup.
About 30 minutes before serving time, bring a large pot filled with salted water to the boil. Add the noodles, and cook briefly, according to package directions. Blanche with cold water to stop the cooking process. While you are waiting for the water to boil, take the stock out of the refrigerator. Remove the fat that has hardened on the surface. Place the stock and reserved vegetables in a large pot and heat.
To serve, place some noodles in each bowl. Ladle in the hot broth. Garnish with the vegetables.
Per 1 1/2 cup serving with 1 ounce of noodles: 121 calories; 7 grams protein; 24 grams carbohydrate; 0.7 grams fat; trace cholesterol; 5 percent calories from fat.
Italian Challah Crown
Makes 2 large loaves
2 packets dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cup very warm water (about 110 degrees)
up to 7 cups unbleached white flour
3/4 cup nonfat egg substitute (equivalent to 3 eggs)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 cup golden seedless raisins, optional
1 egg white
In a large ceramic mixing bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, honey and salt with 1 1/2 cup of water. Stir well. Add 2 cups of flour and mix thoroughly. Cover with a clean, damp towel. Set aside in a draft free place until the batter starts to bubble, usually in about an hour.
Add egg substitute, oil, rosemary, raisins (if used) and enough of the remaining flour to make the dough workable. Rub more of the remaining flour into your pastry cloth. Place dough on the floured cloth. To aid kneading, cover the dough with a part of the pastry cloth. Knead through the cloth. This way, you will use less flour and your bread will be light and have a wonderful texture. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Wash out the bowl in which you mixed the dough. Dry it carefully and spray the inside with vegetable oil spray. Or, wipe inside with a paper towel moistened with olive oil. Place kneaded dough into greased bowl. Cover with a clean, damp towel and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until dough doubles in size, at least 1 1/2 hours.
Spray 2 8-inch cake pans with vegetable oil spray. Line them with waxed paper, cut to fit the pans, and spray again.
When dough has risen, punch it down and turn it onto pastry cloth. Knead it gently, to remove air pockets. Then divide into two equal parts. Put one half back into bowl and cover while you are working with the other half.
Shape one piece into a rope about 18 inches long. Spiral the rope into prepared pan, starting near the outside edge and working toward the center. (The dough will not fill the entire pan.) The dough should be higher in the center, so the finished bread looks like a crown. Cover shaped dough with the damp towel. Then shape the other half of dough. Let both breads rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
When the breads are ready to bake, beat the egg white with a little water. Brush this mixture on the dough, taking care not to let it drip between the dough and the edge of the pan or the bread will stick to the pan.
Bake 30 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and makes a hollow sound when you tap with your finger. Cool for 10 minutes. Then take breads out of pans and remove the waxed paper. Continue cooling on wire racks.
Per slice (without raisins): 86 calories; 2 grams protein; 16 grams carbohydrate; 1.2 grams fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol. 13-per cent of total calories come from fat.
Per slice (with raisins): 91 calories; 2 grams protein; 17 grams carbohydrate; 1.3 grams fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 13 percent of total calories come from fat.
Turkey Breast With Porcini Mushroom Stuffing
Makes 10 servings
1 turkey breast half, boned and obvious fat removed
salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika to taste
Porcini Mushroom Stuffing
up to 4 cups nonfat chicken stock
up to 2 cups dry white wine
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare the turkey breast. Make a pocket in the meat. Then open it up and lay it flat, cut side up. Cover with waxed paper and pound to as even a thickness as possible. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cover and refrigerate until ready to fill with stuffing.
Prepare the stuffing.
Remove turkey from refrigerator. Place it on a new piece of waxed paper. Spread on the stuffing. (Refrigerate any extra and use to stuff cherry tomatoes on another occasion.) Roll turkey, using the waxed paper to help you shape it. Season the outside with additional salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Sprinkle with paprika for color. Wrap roast in cheesecloth. Secure ends with twist ties, leaving a handle at both ends.
Place in a small (7-by-11-inch), shallow baking dish. Add chicken stock and white wine to a 1-inch depth. Bake 20 minutes and turn, using the handles to help you. Repeat this process two more times, cooking 1 1/3 hours total. Add more chicken stock and white wine as necessary. Remove from the oven. Let cooked turkey rest at least 1/2 hour before slicing. May be refrigerated before slicing.
To serve, slice the roast into pieces 1/2 -inch thick. Arrange on green rice. Serve at once.
Per serving (including stuffing): 193 calories; 32 grams protein; 3 grams carbohydrate; 5.6 grams fat; 69 milligrams cholesterol; 26 percent of total calories come from fat.
Porcini Mushroom Stuffing
Makes around 2 1/2 cups
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup warm water
1 pound fresh white mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup nonfat chicken stock
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh (Italian) parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs.
Place dried porcini mushrooms in a medium bowl. Cover with warm water. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Place fresh mushrooms in a large colander and wash by running water over them. Drain thoroughly. Place in food processor and chop. Set aside. Heat oil and chicken stock in a medium saucepan. Add garlic and parsley. Cook briefly. Add chopped fresh mushrooms.
Lift the porcini mushrooms out of the soaking water with slotted spoon. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth or a coffee filter to remove sand. Set aside. Chop porcinis in food processor and add to rest of ingredients in the pan. Raise the heat. Cook, uncovered, about 5 minutes.
Add 1/2 cup of reserved soaking liquid, salt, and pepper to the pan. Cook another 5 minutes. Add bread crumbs, and more liquid only if the stuffing seems too dry. Continue cooking only if stuffing is too moist. When stuffing is a good consistency for spreading on the turkey, remove from heat and use as directed.
Italian Green Rice
Makes 10 generous 1/2 -cup servings
1 pound fresh spinach
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup nonfat chicken stock
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 cups nonfat chicken stock or water
1 1/2 cups rice
Wash sand from spinach by immersing it in lukewarm water. Drain immediately; rinse sand from bottom of bowl, and repeat the process. Then place spinach in cold water to recrisp. Discard stems and place leaves in food processor. Chop in batches and set aside. Save any liquid that forms.
Heat oil and chicken stock in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, celery, salt and pepper. Cook briefly, stirring. Raise heat and add spinach. Cook until spinach begins to release its own liquid. Stir as necessary.
With heat still on high, add the stock or water. When ingredients in the pan come to a boil, add rice. Reduce heat and cover. Continue cooking 20 minutes. Check to see if rice is done or if it needs a little more liquid. Cook 5 more minutes, if necessary.
To serve, place on an attractive serving platter. Arrange slices of turkey on top.
Per serving: 138 calories; 4 gram protein; 24 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol; 20 percent of total calories come from fat.
2 bunches (about 20) small carrots, peeled
2 whole garlic cloves
fresh (Italian) parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Place whole carrots, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until carrots are crisp, yet tender, about 5 minutes, depending on how small carrots are. Drain and discard garlic.
Arrange on an attractive platter. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve at once.
Per serving: 40 calories; 1 gram protein; 9 grams carbohydrate; 0.2 grams fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 4 percent of total calories come from fat.
Peaches in Honey-Red Wine Sauce
2 cups dry Italian red wine
2/3 cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 large, firm peaches
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted, optional
Place wine, honey and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and continue cooking until the liquid thickens. Remove from the heat. Take out cinnamon stick and stir in vanilla. Cool completely.
Place the peaches in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over them. After 3 to 5 minutes (less time if the peaches are very ripe), pour off the hot water. Plunge the peaches into ice water to stop them from cooking. Peel, pit, and halve. Place in a shallow glass dish. Pour the cooled sauce over the prepared peach halves. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
To serve, place peach halves in glass bowls. Spoon some of the sauce over each half. Sprinkle with toasted almonds, if desired.
Per serving (without almonds): 122 calories; 0.5 grams protein; 24 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol. 0 percent of total calories come from fat.
Per serving (with almonds): 139 calories; 1 gram protein; 24 grams carbohydrate; 1.5 grams fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 9 percent of total calories come from fat.