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Recipe courtesy of Marcia A. Friedman from Meatballs and Matzah Balls: Recipes and Reflections from a Jewish and Italian Life. Win a copy of her cookbook here!
Photos copyright Marcia A. Friedman
One of my favorite foods from my “adopted” Jewish heritage has to be potato latkes, particularly my husband’s. It’s a family recipe lovingly passed down and painstakingly recreated (down to the fingers bloodied from hand-grating the potatoes) for generations. The recipe is special not only because it produces exquisite little crispy pancakes but also because it connects us to family history. Although I enjoy experimenting with recipes—especially those that unite Jewish culinary traditions with those of my Italian background—I haven’t been able to bring myself to experiment with the beloved potato latkes.
But when I discovered that the very first latkes were cheese pancakes, well, that provided motivation for some new recipes. Those early latkes came to be when Italy’s Jews adopted ricotta pancakes as a Hanukkah dish. Those creamy cakes, sitting squarely at an intersection of Jewish and Italian cuisine, could be something to experiment with and make my own.
Finding these connections enhances how I enjoy this simple winter holiday, which I first got to know after converting to Judaism. In contrast to Christmas, Hanukkah takes a quieter approach, an aspect I’ve come to greatly appreciate. Each night offers a little moment of peace as we light an additional candle to commemorate the historic rededication of the Jewish temple—when a small vial of precious olive oil provided light for eight nights.
Each night also offers an opportunity for fantastic food, given that the traditions evolved to incorporate foods fried in oil. But as if eight nights of fried foods wasn’t enough, there’s also a tradition of dairy dishes. This comes by way of an associated holiday story in which Judith infiltrated the enemy camp, used salty cheese to make the enemy leader so thirsty he got drunk on wine, and then killed him when he passed out. So some say the miracle was done (or greatly helped) through milk.
These food themes merge delightfully with Italian ricotta pancakes, fried ever so lightly on the griddle. And besides pulling from Italian and Jewish traditions, the recipe adopts the style of modern American pancakes or hotcakes. But it tastes so much better thanks to ricotta and lemon zest and the airiness of whipped egg whites.
My lemon-ricotta pancakes blend the frying and the dairy themes, but more important to me, they represent a marriage of evolving Italian, Jewish, and American food traditions that works in its own unique way to connect us to Hanukkahs past and present. By its nature, the dish welcomes all to the table, and, in so doing, I’d like to think makes all our holidays a little brighter. And it leaves plenty of room for those potato latkes.
These luscious pancakes made with ricotta, a cheese of Italian origin, should be made ahead—really. Reheating in the oven mellows the cheese and lemon flavor and perfects the texture so that a slightly crispy exterior gives way to a creamy interior. I love serving these as a “sandwich” with cream spiked with limoncello, a lemon-flavored liqueur originating from the Amalfi Coast and Sicily. The short stack makes a beautiful and appetizing presentation—especially for dairy-focused celebrations such as Hanukkah or Shavuot.
Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes with Limoncello Cream
The hot pancakes work beautifully as a short stack with a dollop of limoncello (an Italian lemon liqueur) whipped cream in the middle. A few blueberries scattered about add flavor and that blue color so festive for the holiday. If you are cooking with children, omit the limoncello from the whipped cream, and let kids help make the pancake “sandwiches” and decorate with the berries. These beautiful stacks can be breakfast but I prefer them as dessert. No matter what, just be sure to serve them right away.
Makes 20 to 22 small pancakes, or 10 or 11 pancake sandwiches (1 to 2 sandwiches per serving)
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. salt
3 large eggs, separated
1½ cups buttermilk
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Cooking spray or extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the griddle or pan
2 cups heavy whipping cream
½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. limoncello
1½ Tbsp. sugar
Fresh blueberries or other berries (optional)
This recipe, I discovered by happy accident, also improves when made in advance. Make the pancakes up to a couple of weeks ahead, freeze them, and then reheat them in the oven and make the whipped cream just before serving. The flavors meld and the exteriors become slightly crispy while their interiors stay creamy and rich. In the true spirit of the holiday, the cook can actually sit down and enjoy this recipe together with everyone.
1. Lightly whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt in a bowl or on a sheet of wax paper. In a large mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks, buttermilk, ricotta cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until they hold stiff peaks, about 1 minute.
3. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the ricotta mixture and stir until just incorporated (will still be a bit lumpy). Fold in the egg whites until just a few stray streaks of white remain. The batter will be fluffy and lumpy.
4. Heat a griddle to medium-high and brush with olive oil or spray with cooking spray. Drop ¼ cupfuls of batter onto griddle; spread gently with the back of a spoon to make an approximate 3½-inch circle. Cook until golden brown on both sides and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining batter.
5. Either serve immediately following the steps below, or when pancakes are completely cool, wrap and freeze.
6. To serve, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare two baking sheets, placing an ovenproof wire rack on each one. Place frozen pancakes in a single layer on the wire racks and bake until warmed and slightly crispy, rotating pans and turning pancakes halfway through, 16 to 22 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, combine the heavy cream, vanilla and limoncello. Beat on high speed. As the cream gains a little volume, sprinkle sugar over, and continue beating until the cream holds soft peaks.
8. When pancakes are done, place a generous dollop of whipped cream between two pancakes and top with another spoonful of cream. Scatter fresh berries over top and sides. The cream will start to melt, which is lovely. Serve right away.
Learn about Marcia’s other Italian-Jewish cooking ideas with her cookbook, Meatballs and Matzah Balls: Enter to win a free copy!
Let’s face it, the star of any Hanukkah meal is always the latkes. Those crispy, fried, salted potato pancakes could be turned out all night and the plate would always be polished off within minutes.
Whether you dollop apple sauce or slather sour cream on top, latkes don’t quite make a full meal. (For the perfect latke recipe, click here.) This hearty salad is a perfect way to round it out. It can easily be prepped while the latkes are frying or earlier in the day. If your crew is especially hungry, start off with a bowl of matzah ball soup.
Almost every culture has a way of using up stale bread, from Italian panzanellas to Lebanese fatoush salads, from crisped bits of bread at the bottom of a French onion soup to croutons on a garden salad. Inspired by mandel/Shkedei marak, which are mini crackers that Israelis (and Jewish Americans) like to pour in their soup, this fall salad has sweet potato mandel. Mandel are used like New England’s oyster crackers, but they are much smaller in size.
Hanukkah Salad with Delicata Squash & Baby Spinach
This salad serves four people as a main dish to be served with latkes. It can serve 6-8 as a side salad.
1. Preheat a toaster oven or oven to 425° F. Put a medium sized pot of water on the stove to boil. Salt the water well (3-5 tsp. of sea salt or Kosher salt). Fill a medium-sized bowl with ice water leaving room for the Brussels sprouts when they come out of the blanching pot.
2. While the water is boiling, prep your Brussels sprouts. Remove a few of the outer leaves of the Brussels Sprouts until you get to the clean, fresh leaf. Cut large ones in half and smaller ones can be left whole. Do not remove the stem or core yet.
3. Put the clean Brussels sprouts into the boiling, salted water for 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the Brussels sprouts and plunge them into the ice water. Keep the blanching water for later. Cut larger Brussels sprouts in half. Remove the bottom stem from the tiny ones and you can core the larger sprouts by cutting a small ‘v’ in the bottom just above the stem.
4. Wash and slice the delicata squash, skin and all, and carefully remove the seeds and pulp. Keep the seeds in a bowl to be roasted.
5. On a foil-lined tray, drizzle 1/2 Tbsp. of olive oil. Place the slices of squash and the Brussels sprouts on the tray. Drizzle the other 1/2 Tbsp. of olive oil on top and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of Kosher salt, three sprigs of thyme and 1/2 tsp. of pepper. Roast for 25 minutes.
6. While the squash is roasting, peel the sweet potato and cut it into pea-sized cubes. Place the cubes into a bowl of water. Bring the blanching water back to a boil and prepare another bowl of ice water. Blanch the sweet potato cubes for 2 minutes and then submerge in ice water. With a slotted spoon remove the sweet potato cubes from the ice water and let them dry on a dish towel.
7. Prepare your salad dressing. Mince 1 shallot and place in a jar. Add 1 Tbsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/4 tsp. of Kosher salt, 1/2 cup of light cream and the leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme. Shake the jar and place it in the fridge until the rest of the salad is assembled.
8. Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven and let them come to room temperature. Leave the oven on. Then, add canola oil to a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once a drop of water dances on top of the oil, it is ready. Carefully pour in the dried sweet potato cubes and let them brown on all sides, 10-15 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove the sweet potato mandel and sprinkle them with salt.
9. Wash and dry the delicata squash seeds. In the hot sweet potato oil, add the leaves from 3 more sprigs of thyme. (Be careful: They will splatter a little.) Toss in the dry squash seeds and stir. Roast the seeds on a tray in the oven for 5-8 minutes until golden. In a small bowl, mix the Sriracha and honey. Toss the seeds in the honey/Sriracha mix and then return to the tray to roast for 2-3 more minutes. Watch these as they can burn quickly.
10. In a bowl, add your spinach and top with the sweet potato mandel, roasted squash and Brussels sprouts. If you would like to add nuts, you can toast them in a dry pan and then sprinkle them over the salad once cooled. With the carrot on a cutting board with a lot of pressure on the peeler, peel strips of carrot and sprinkle them over the salad. Top with the roasted squash seeds and serve with the creamy lemon thyme dressing.
If you have just been asked to make the latkes for your child’s classroom during Hanukkah or the family thinks that you should be in charge of making the potato latkes for the first time, do not despair! I promise you this year you will make the best latkes you, or anyone else has ever had (and that was a quote from the head rabbi of the URJ after he thanked me for my “Tina’s Tidbits”!).
Although there are many stories associated with the triumph of the Maccabees and the redemption of the Holy Temple from the hands of the Syrian armies of Antiochus, the story of the one sealed bottle of oil for the Ner Tamid (everlasting light) in the Temple that lasted for eight days instead of one has been the foundation for traditional holiday cooking. Foods fried in oil have become synonymous with Hanukkah celebrations, especially in Europe.
However, most people do not know that potato latkes (pancakes) were created in the late 1700s and really didn’t take on the symbolism until the early 1800s when potatoes were readily available and raised geese were harvested for their meat and oil at the same time that the holiday was celebrated.
The following recipe, if followed step by step, will be easy to make (no peeling potatoes!), will NOT turn black, and will be crisp and fluffy, not thin and greasy.
One last tip: NEVER refrigerate latkes! Either leave them at room temperature until ready to serve in the evening, or freeze them. Either way, reheat the latkes for 7-10 minutes in a 425°F oven just until they are bubbly and crisp. Your family will praise you and your in-laws will be proud of you (and a little jealous!!!).
Watch a video fo Tina making these latkes with applesauce
1. Grate the raw potatoes using the large grating disk on a processor or the largest holes on a grater if doing it by hand. Place grated potato in a colander, rinse with cold water and drain while you grate the onion.
2. Combine eggs, salt, pepper and matzo meal in a 3-quart bowl. Mix thoroughly.
3. Change to the cutting blade on your processor. Add onions to the work bowl. Pulse on and off 5 times. Add ¼ of the grated potatoes to the onion and pulse on and off to make a coarse paste. Add to the egg mixture and stir to combine.
4. Add the drained potatoes to the bowl and mix thoroughly using a large spoon or your hands.
5. Heat a large frying pan or large skillet for 20 seconds. Add enough oil to cover the pan to a depth of 1/4 inch and heat for an additional 20 seconds. Drop mounds of potato mixture into the pan. Fry on both sides until golden. Drain fried latkes on a platter covered with crumpled paper towels. Serve with applesauce and sour cream.
See part two of Tina’s video tutorial
Thanksgiving is a North American tradition that falls just at the end of the great harvest before the soil freezes and goes dormant for the winter. It is a meal that tells tales of the Native Americans who owned the soil and the Puritan immigrants who were looking for new soil from which to harvest meals and on which to live more freely. While each family has their own must haves on the table and Thanksgiving traditions (Football or Charlie Brown on TV), one thing that holds true for just about every family is that there will be leftovers.
If you look for some history on the knish, most routes point to Brooklyn, NY, but their heritage goes all the back to “the old country” in Poland. Traditionally a knish is filled with potatoes mashed with onions and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). There are also kasha knishes (buckwheat), and the sweet cheese knish. My knish takes your Thanksgiving leftovers and puts them in a wonderful little package that can be enjoyed right away or frozen to nosh (snack) on later when you’re craving a little taste of Thanksgiving.
Note: This recipe uses a dairy free stuffing in order to keep the recipe Kosher. The gravy is also dairy free and is thickened with the schmaltz from the turkey gravy: When you separate the fat from the gravy, chill it and use it to make your flour slurry to thicken the gravy.
Sage Warm Water Knish Dough Ingredients
1. Begin by making the fried sage leaves. You will need to make sure your leaves are completely dry before starting. Have a plate with a paper towel on it nearby and a slotted spoon. Heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil and the 1/4 cup of canola oil over medium heat in a small pan with a tight fitting lid. Once the oil is hot (if you splash a drop of water on it, it dances about and sizzles), with the lid in one hand, carefully toss in 1/4 of your sage leaves and immediately place the lid on top of the pot. The leaves will sizzle furiously. Once the sizzling stops, gently give the leaves one last stir and then carefully remove them and place them on the paper towel. Repeat with the rest of the leaves in 3 more batches.
2. Set the prettiest leaves aside as a garnish. The rest you will break into your dough.
3. Set the sage oil aside and let it cool.
4. In a food processor, with the steel knife, process the eggs, the 1/2 cup of cooled sage oil, and warm water for 5 seconds or until mixed.
5. Add to the egg mixture: salt, baking powder and flour. Process with 2-3 on/off pulses. Then crumble in the sage leaves. Process everything until just blended through.
6. Add a small handful of flour to a bowl just to coat. Put the sticky knish dough into the bowl and let it rest for 10 minutes while you prep your fillings.
7. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a baking sheet with canola oil or some sort of oil spray.
8. Add 1/2 cup of stock and 2 tsp of pepper to your stuffing and mash it all together with a fork so you have a very soft mashed stuffing. If your stuffing is very dry you can add a little more. If you have a very soft stuffing you may need a little less.
9. Cube your turkey. You can do a mix of dark and light meat.
10. Add the zest of one lemon to your cranberry sauce.
1. Now it is time to assemble. Divide your dough into four sections. Each section will be divided into six balls of dough for a total of 24. Working with one section at a time, make six balls of dough. On a floured counter or cutting board, roll out one dough ball at a time as thinly as possible. The dough will almost be see-through. Make sure you have no holes. If you have a hole, ball it up and start again.
2. Take your rectangle of dough and add in a tablespoon or so each of turkey and stuffing. Add in a few slices of vegetables and a 1 tablespoon of cranberry sauce. Adjust amount of filling to fit inside the dough. After the first one, you will have a good sense of how much is too much.
3. Carefully stretch the dough over the top of the stuffing pulling one side at a time over and layering them on top of one another. Then, flip the knish over so the seam is on the bottom and place it on the greased baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough. I like to bake 6 at a time, but you can do more if you like.
4. Blend your egg with 1 tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush the knishes with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little salt. Bake the knishes for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.
To serve, garnish with a fried sage leaf, warm up some gravy and serve with a side of cranberry sauce. Enjoy your gourmet leftovers!