Hearty red wine turns a ho-hum pot roast into a Hanukkah-worthy feast. The photo is from “La Cucina Italiana: The Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking.”
It’s common these days to give Hanukkah an “exotic” twist, such as Southwestern flavors or Asian ingredients. An Italian-ish Hanukkah is not much of a stretch. The classic dish from the Piedmont, Brasato al Barolo, is nothing but pot roast — but what a pot roast! The rich flavors turn it from ho-hum to Hanukkah-worthy.
The recipe here, from the spectacular “La Cucina Italiana: The Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking” (Rizzoli, 2012), can be adapted for a kosher meal — in which meat and dairy cannot mix — by simply substituting olive oil for butter. Barolo wine, the pride of the Piedmont, is too expensive for many of us to drink, let alone cook with; substitute another wine made with Nebbiolo grapes. Purists will holler, but inexpensive chianti works, too.
Jewish food writer Joan Nathan has speculated that the large population of Jews in the Piedmont region of Italy may have introduced almond biscotti to Eastern Europe, where the cookies became “mandelbrot” (almond bread). Thus, Italian baker Nick Malgieri’s recipe for a biscotti made without butter or milk — known as cantuccini — makes a perfect Hanukkah dessert.
Round out the meal with escarole, green beans or other vegetables and, of course, polenta (made with water and cornmeal; no dairy). I couldn’t find an Italian equivalent for latkes, the traditional pancakes for the Festival of Lights. Some things just don’t translate.
Brasato al Barolo
Yield: 6 servings
8 whole cloves
2 medium yellow onions, peeled
1 stalk celery
2 carrots, halved
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Bouquet of parsley sprig, 1 fresh sage leaf, 1 bay leaf and rosemary sprig (see note)
6 whole black peppercorns
Pinch fine sea salt
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 boneless beef chuck roast, about 2 pounds
1 (750 ml) bottle Barolo or other red wine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or olive oil)
1 cup brandy
Stick 4 cloves into each of the onions and place in a large, nonreactive bowl with celery, carrots, garlic, bouquet, peppercorns, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Place the meat in the bowl and pour the wine over. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
Remove meat from the marinade. Reserve the marinade; pat the meat dry. Heat butter (or oil) over medium-high in a Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Pour brandy over the meat, then quickly (and carefully) touch a lit match to the surface of the meat.
When the alcohol burns off, strain the marinade and add the strained liquid, onions, celery, carrots, garlic and bouquet to the pot. Cover and cook over very low heat until the meat is tender, about 4 hours. Remove meat from the pot and set aside. Remove cloves from the onions and discard. Discard the bouquet. Working carefully (it will spurt), puree cooking liquid and vegetables in a food processor or blender. Return the puree and the meat to the pot. Heat gently 10 minutes. Carve and serve, with the sauce.
Note: To make the bouquet, tie together the herbs with cotton twine, or wrap in cheesecloth and tie.
Recipe from “La Cucina Italiana: The Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking,” by the editors of La Cucina Italiana magazine (Rizzoli, 2012)
Yield: 6 to 8 dozen
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups whole almonds
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Stir in almonds. Whisk together eggs and vanilla in a small bowl, then stir them into the flour mixture. The dough may seem dry, but it will come together as it is kneaded.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it holds together, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide dough in half and shape each half into a log that is 12 inches long, 2 inches wide and 1 inch high. Transfer both logs to the lined pan. Bake 30 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Slide the logs, parchment and all, onto a wire rack. Cool completely. At this point, you can keep the logs for several days, wrapped in plastic.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment. Working with a sharp serrated knife, cut the cooled logs diagonally into ¼- to 3/8-inch slices. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Cool and store in an airtight container up to 1 month.
Recipe from Nick Malgieri, printed in “Baking With Julia,” by Julia Child (William Morrow, 1996)
Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.
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