Break the Fast with Italian Jewish Food

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By Linda Morel

I’m in a mixed marriage.


While my family emigrated from the Ashkenazi heartland of Germany and Lithuania, my husband David’s family came from Trieste, Italy. Like other Italian Jews, their cooking style was influenced by local cuisine. This is particularly true when they break the Yom Kippur fast.

Both families break the fast with a dairy meal. But that is where the similarities end. In spite of differences in expectations, I juggle everyone’s needs.

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Traditionally, my family has dashed to the dining table as soon as they returned from services to consume a huge bagels-and-lox spread as quickly as possible.

However, the Italian style of breaking the fast happens at a more leisurely pace. In the living room, they start with slices of challah and honey cake, served with either a cup of tea flavored with lemon or honey, sweet vermouth or a glass of wine. At our house, we follow a modified version of this, beginning with wine, crackers and cheese.


We serve jellied striped bass. This appetizer is comparable to gefilte fish, although it is made from fresh fish, as opposed to the popular option of buying fish patties floating in a jar.

Like Italian cuisine in general, Jewish cooking is laden with vegetables. Spinach is frequently incorporated into salads and hot dishes. Pumpkin and other golden squashes are traditional on Rosh Hashanah and break-fast menus. Pureed squash is whipped with onions as a side dish. Fortunately, these Italian recipes can be made ahead.

Not forsaking my roots, however, smoked fish remains on our menu. Both sides of the family enjoy Italian Jewish food alongside bagels and lox with a schmear of cream cheese.

Jellied Striped Bass | Pareve

Serves 6-8

2 two-pound striped bass
1 small onion, coarsely diced
1 carrot, coarsely diced
1-2 lemons, sliced
¼ teaspoon whole peppercorns
Kosher salt to taste
No-stick vegetable spray
3-4 stalks of celery, cut into several lengths
1 packet vegetable gelatin
Several sprigs of Italian parsley

Equipment: a fish poacher, large steamer or a wok; and a flat-bottomed, rimmed serving dish approximately 11 inches in diameter.

Order the fish: Ask the fishmonger to remove the head, tail and bones, but leave the skin on the striped bass. He should cut each fish into two fillets (four fillets in all). He should discard the gills but send you home with the spine, heads and tails.

In the bottom of a fish poacher, wok or large steamer, place the onion, carrot, one slice of lemon, peppercorns, salt, fish heads, tails and bones. Cover these ingredients with water.

Spray the poacher rack with nonstick spray and put it in place. If the fish heads are too bulky, making the rack wobbly, cut them in half.

Place the celery on the rack. Place the fish fillets over them. Cover the poacher with its lid and bring the water to a boil. Boil for 15-20 minutes. The fish is cooked through when its meat flakes when pierced with a knife point.

With two spatulas, carefully move the fillets to a flat platter with a rim. Using a sharp knife, cut each fillet into 1½- to 2-inch squares. From a lemon slice, squeeze a drop or two of lemon juice over each fish square. Lightly season with salt. Reserve.

Add the vegetable gelatin to the ingredients in the poacher. If most of the broth has boiled away, add more water. Boil the broth and ingredients uncovered for 10 minutes. Cool the broth to warm.

Place a sieve over a large mixing bowl. Pour the broth through the sieve. Then gently pour the broth over the fish fillets, making sure that this broth gets between all of them. They will be partially submerged in broth. Discard the fish parts and vegetables in the sieve.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. The broth should become jellied, similar to that in gefilte fish. When ready to serve, place slices of lemon and sprigs of parsley over the fish.

Spinach and Goat Cheese Salad | Dairy

Serves 6

1 pint cherry tomatoes
10-ounce package of triple washed baby spinach
1 (4-ounce) package of goat cheese crumbles (The Cheese Guy brand is certified kosher)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
Kosher salt to taste

Rinse the cherry tomatoes under cold water and pat them dry on paper towels. Cut each tomato in half. Place them in a large salad bowl. Add the spinach and goat cheese. This can be made to this point a day in advance, if covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated.

Drizzle on the olive oil and vinegar. Sprinkle on the garlic powder and salt. Using salad servers, gently toss the ingredients until well combined. Serve immediately.

Pureed Butternut Squash | Pareve

Serves 4-6

Equipment: food processor
Nonstick vegetable spray
1 large onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
1-pound package of butternut squash that is peeled
and diced

Coat a six-cup ovenproof casserole with nonstick spray. Reserve.

Peel the onion and cut it into thin slices. In a large skillet, heat the oil on a medium flame until warm. Place the onion slices in the skillet and sprinkle them with salt. As the onion slices sauté, use tongs to turn them over. They’ll break apart into rings. Turn the onions often so they don’t burn. Lower the flame if the onions are browning too quickly. When caramelized, remove the skillet from the flame and reserve.

If the squash is coarsely diced, cut it into bite-sized pieces. Place the squash in a large pot.

Add enough water to cover the squash by 3 inches. Cover the pot and move it to a high flame. Once the water comes to a boil, continue boiling for 35-40 minutes, or until the squash feels soft when pierced by a utensil fork. Add more water, if needed. Drain it in a colander.

Fit a food processor with a metal blade. With a spatula, scrape the onions and oil into the food processor. Add the squash and ⅛ teaspoon of salt. Process until well combined, and the squash is pureed. The squash may have a hint of texture. Add more salt, if needed.

Move the mixture to the prepared casserole dish. Serve the squash immediately or cool, cover it with aluminum foil and refrigerate.

Remove the squash from the refrigerator an hour before serving. Heat it covered at 350 degrees until the casserole bubbles, about 10-15 minutes.

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