Joan Nathan got it right in her foreword of Classic Italian Jewish Cooking when she declared Edda Servi Machlin a historian. In fact, Machlin's exhaustive account of her food-focused upbringing in Pitigliano, Tuscany-interspersed with gratifying anecdotes about her family's kosher oven and the matzo-making socials at the local bakery-borders academia. Unfortunately, however, Machlin's strengths reside more soundly in her cultural rather than stovetop culinary cognizance.
While appealing on the page, Machlin's chapter-divided recipes for classic Jewish fare lack precision in their instructions and flavor in their results. A recipe for cotolette di pollo e carciofi (chicken and artichoke cutlets) appeared especially promisingquintessentially both Italian and Jewish with several detailed paragraphs of artichoketrimming instructions-but generated a disappointing mishmash of unevenly pan-fried and downright bland poultry tenders and choke leaves. Not even the squeeze of lemon juice helped.
Also occupying the dinner plate was a hearty square of tagliatelle all'ebraica (noodle kugel)-Machlin's version of the classic Jewish pasta pudding with fresh fettuccini ribbons, ricotta, dark raisins, pine nuts, and a dash here and there of cinnamon, lemon zest, and grated ginger. The mainstay of any Rosh Hashana meal. But what baked up attractively in the Pyrex pan-the top layer of noodles golden and crusty with a dense, creamy center-left taste buds disenchanted and hands reaching for the salt shaker... and a nest of thinner noodles. Fresh fettuccini functions better in strands rather than en masse.
Classic recipes should be, well, classic-in the "masterpiece" sense of the word. Flawless, perfected, and reminiscent of everything fine and wholesome about the way they were prepared 20, 200, or 2,000 years ago, when, as Machlin recalls, "our little dresses might have been very simple and, more often than not, hand-me-downs, but our meals were always first-rate culinary treats."
Chicken and Artichokess Cutlets
cotolette di pollo e carciofi
6 medium fresh artichokes
2 boneless chicken breasts (4 halves)
2 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup unbleached flour
3 eggs, slightly beaten with a pinch of salt
1 cup fine breadcrumbs
Olive or other vegetable oil for frying
1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges
Clean the artichokes and slice lengthwise into 4 slices each. Cut the chicken breasts into 24 small pieces and flatten down with the blade of a cleaver or a meat mallet. Line up on a working surface and season only the top side with parsley and small amounts of salt and pepper.
Cover the seasoned side of each cutlet with 1 artichoke slice and gently press down.
Coat with the flour, patting to remove the excess; dip in the beaten egg, and roll in the breadcrumbs. Fry in the hot oil, a few at a time, until golden on both sides. Serve with lemon wedges.
Tagiatelle Jewish Style (Noodle Kugel)
Homemade pasta made with 2 eggs and 1 1/2 cups flour or
3 1/4 pounds fresh fettucine
3 quarts water
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup milk
2 cups ricotta, moisture reduced
1/2 cup dark, seedless raisins
1/2 cup pinoli (pine nuts)
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup fine breadcrumbs
Roll the dough thin and cut into tagliatelle with the largest cutter. Bring the water to a boil. Add the tagliatelle and salt. As soon as boiling resumes, drain the pasta well and place in a large bowl. (If you use store-bought fresh egg noodles cook half the time recommended by the manufacturer.) Add all the other ingredients except the butter and mix well to combine.
Butter an overproof lasagna dish and coat it with breadcrumbs. Transfer the tagliatelle into it, flatten with a rubber spatula, and dot with butter. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for approximately 30 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. serves 6
© '2005 by Good Cooking, Inc.