By Edda Machlin // Excerpted from our archives
Vesti da Turco a mangia da ebreo is a well-known and ancient Italian adage that advises one to “dress like a Turk and eat like a Jew.” We are thus exhorted by the Italians—who created a cuisine that is the delight of gourmets the world over—to become acquainted with the cuisine of the Italian Jews if we really would like to eat well.
My own experience as an Italian Jew, born and brought up in Italy, supports this. During my childhood in Pitigliano, Tuscany, the buying of the choicest and freshest foods, together with the care and fuss in preparing and cooking them, was a matter of great importance, not only for my family but also for the other fifteen or twenty Jewish families then living in my village. The precise memory I have of those days in the early 1930s is that our little dresses might have been very simple but our meals were always first-rate culinary treats.
Sukkot, in Pitigliano, meant a great deal not only to us, but also to our Christian neighbors. For the Jews it was the only festival that was closely related to the real life of our surroundings, since Pitigliano depended for its survial almost entirely on its meager agricultural resources; for the Christians it represented the manner by which God would show His divine benevolence or wrath. It was a belief among the gentile peasants that if it rained at least once during the eight days of Sukkot, it was a sign that God had forgiven the Jews their sins and would grant a plentiful harvest that year. Hundreds of years ago, on the eighth night of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, the Christian farmers of the surrounding countryside would gather in the temple, outside the sanctuary, to join in the prayer for rain that the Jews would recite. This is a traditional Sukkot menu:
Passato di Verdura (Vegetable Cream Soup)
Scallopine al Marsala (Veal Scallops with Marsala Wine)
Fritto Misto di Verdura (Fried Mixed Vegetables)
Cavoli Ripieni (Stuffed Cabbage)
Maritucci, Dictinobis, Ciambelle di Sukkot (Sukkot Bread, Doughnuts, Sukkot Bagels)
As a midnight snack: Masconod (Pasta Rolls with Parmesan and Cinnamon)
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