High Holidays

Vincenzo Campi (16th cent.), Pinacoteca di Brera


Rosh HaShanà and Yom Kippur
Food is an essential component in the rituals of the Jewish Holiday. It is selected and prepared for its symbolic meaning, specific to each celebration. In Italy, recipes and traditions vary depending on the city, although common elements appear throughout the peninsula.


The table of Rosh HaShanà, the beginning of the Jewish year, is rich in vegetables and fruit of the season. Sugar, honey and dried fruit are used in many traditional dishes. A selection of five fruits of the earth and the trees, which change depending on the tradition, are designated by the same set of Hebrew names and used in the so-called “Seder of Rosh HaShanà” or Yehi Ratzon of Rosh HaShanà”.


In the Shulchàn Arùkh, Yoséf Caro describes them as follows: karà for pumpkin; rovià for fennel or string beans; keratè for leeks, silkà for beets or chard; tamré for dates. Symbolic foods on the table also include honey, figs or apples, pomegranate, fish and the head of a lamb. Caro indicates that the name of each fruit represents a wish and an action: multiply, remove, keep afar, grow, bring to an end. The lamb is said to signify that “we can look ahead and not back” and the fish is considered a symbol of prosperity and mobility.


The seder of Rosh HaShanà is a tradition of Mediterranean and Italian Jews. Northern and Eastern European Jews usually limit the ceremony to apples and honey. The Jews of Rome add to the table small bowls of wheat, corn and lentils sprouts. Although this tradition does not appear to have been preserved in other communities, the 11th century scholar Rashì refers to a similar custom dating back to Babylon, in which small bowls of sprouts were prepared a few weeks before Rosh HaShanà (one per each child in the family).


In a ritual prior to Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and fast that follows Rosh Hashana, bowls were swung over the heads of the children, then disposed of.  This was done reciting a formula similar to the prayer of the more modern ceremony of the caparot: “this is instead of that, and this is instead of me”.



Both dairy and meat dishes are selected,  which according to the laws of kashruth, will not be served at the same table. Depending on the choice of menu, meat can be replaced by fish or lentils and cheese by breadcrumbs freshly made from toasted peasant bread, lightly brushed with garlic and olive oil. Fresh salad leaves, radicchio, celery, fennel, or carrots can garnish all dishes.




Figs: choose fresh figs, peel them and fill them with a walnut.


Pumpkin: sauté chopped garlic and shallots. Add the pumpkin cut in small cubes. Add a cup of water with Port wine and raisins. Cover and let it simmer for 30-40 minutes. Add salt, saffron, pepper and sprinkle with amaretti crumbs.


Pumpkin tershi: 1/2 pound of pumpkin, two garlic cloves, 1/2 spoon of hot red pepper, 4 spoons of olive oil, 1/2 spoon of ground cumin, 2 spoons of vinegar. Bake the pumpkin until soft and make a pure with a fork. Place it in a frying pan with oil, red pepper and garlic and let it sauté for 10 minutes. Add salt and vinegar and cook for 15 minutes. Add the cumin and let it cool off. Serve with toasted bread.


Fennel: Cut each of 6 fennels in 6 parts and dip them in salted boiling water for few minutes. Place the fennel pieces in an oven pan lightly brushed with olive oil. Pour 1 cup of milk and 1/2 pound of grated gruyere over the fennel. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Put in the oven for 30 minutes. Serve with a sauce made of finely chopped basil, garlic and olive oil.


String beans: Sauté a large white onion with olive oil. Add four spoons of tomato paste and a cup of water. Place the string beans in the pot. Add salt and cumin. Cook until tender.


Beets: Roast in the oven until tender. Peel and cut in cubes. Dress with olive oil, cilantro, lemon and sliced almonds.


Chard: Chop the chard in small pieces and sauté it in olive oil with thinly slices leeks and garlic. Let it cool off and pour it in a bowl with beaten eggs. Add grated cheese, a pinch of salt and pepper and bake it in a ceramic or glass pan for 30-40 minutes.


Fish: Marinate 1/4 pound of oil or salt-packed anchovies in white wine and rosemary for a few hours. Put them in a mortar or a chopper with parsley, garlic, pinoli nuts, almonds, fresh red peperoncino, and a cup of white wine and lemon in equal parts. Decorate with fennel leaves. (See also fish recipes of Apulia)


Tre Marmellate per Rosh HaShana
Each marmellata is used for one of the blessings of the seder.
Pumpkin, Gala apples, quince, sugar:
Peel each fruit and cut it in cubes. For each pound of fruit add 1/2 pound of sugar. Let the fruit marinate with sugar for a few hours. Add 1/2 cup of water and simmer on low heat for 1 hour (pumpkin and apples) and 1 1/2 hour (quince). Add a clove and a sprinkle of cinnamon.


Black eye bean salad
Cook the beans in salted water. Drain and rinse them. Add finely sliced leeks and shallots, dried cherries (or cranberries), chopped cilantro, pomegranate seeds, olive oil, apple vinegar, salt and pepper. Optional: tuna fish.




Polpettine di pesce
Sauté in a pan 1 finely chopped leak, 3 cloves of garlic and 1 carrot cut in small cubes. Lightly bake 1 pound of white fish (one individual fish or a mix of carp, sea bass, cod) in tin foil with olive oil and herbs (thyme, fresh green pepper and a sprinkle of saffron). Let it cool off and remove all the meat from the bones. Shred it in a bowl with one steamed potato, 2 eggs, finely chopped parsley, basil, shallots, nuts and a handful of dried apricots. Add one tea spoon of hot paprika, salt and 1/2 spoon of curry. Mix everything including the sauté carrot cubes and make small balls. Dip them in bread crumb or coarse manioc flour. Cook them in a pan with olive oil and garlic. When golden add white wine and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with harissa  and a sauce made of fresh basil chopped with garlic, lemon. Alternative sauce (dairy): In a saucepan mix 2 cups of milk and 2,5 spoons of flour. Boil until it condenses. Add the juice of 2,5 lemons. Continue to cook until creamy and add pepper and salt.  Alternative 2 (parve): Squeeze the juice of 1 large lemon. Peel the upper surface of the lemon skin (without the white part) and cut it in very fine slices. Boil them in water for 2-3 minutes and drain them. Add salt and pepper to the lemon and mix it with 5 soup spoons of olive oil. Beat with a fork until it becomes a smooth sauce. Add lemon peels and chopped mint leaves.


3 steaks of fresh tuna fish or sea bass, 1 large onion, 1/2 cup of olive oil, 2 soup spoons of tomato paste, 1 teaspoon of hot red paprika, 2 mashed cloves of garlic,  salt, pepper and 1 spoon of cumin.
Use a tall frying pan or a large ceramic pot. Sauté the finely chopped onion until gold with a generous amount of olive oil. Add red pepper, tomato, garlic, 1 1/2 cup of water and salt. When hot, add the fish and let it cook on a low flame until it forms a dense sauce. Add cumin and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Serve with rice pilaf  with almonds, toasted bread and a sauce of drained yogurt and fresh mint.


1 pound of small okra, 1 large white onion, 3 cloves of garlic, olive oil, 3 spoons of tomato paste, 1 cup of water, 1/2 spoon of salt, pepper. Wash the okra and dry it well. Chop onion and garlic and sauté it in a generous amount of olive oil until gold. Add tomato paste, water, okra, salt. Stir well and cover. Cook for 20 minutes until the stew takes a golden color. Sprinkle with pepper.


Zucchine ripiene
3 onions, 3 zucchini, 1 carrot, 1 potato, 3 spoons of olive oil, 3 spoons of tomato paste. Stuffing: 1 cup of chopped parsley and 2 onions, 1 pound of ground meat, tuna or cooked lentils, 1 spoon of paprika (hot and mild), green pepper, cinnamon, salt, 2 eggs, 2 spoons of bread crumbs. You need a large pot with top. Wash the zucchini, cut it in 2-inch pieces and empty them of the pulp. Peel the onions and delicately remove the 2 outside layers without breaking them. Chop the pulp of the zucchini and the onions with the carrots and sauté it in the pot with olive oil, tomato paste and a little water if necessary. Mix all the ingredients of the stuffing and fill the zucchini and the onions. If there is any leftovers make a few small balls. Delicately place zucchini and onions in the pot with the vegetables. Cover them with thin potato slices, a sprinkle of cinnamon and water just to cover the vegetables. Cover the pot and simmer for one hour on low heat. Serve with almond rice pilaf.




Torta di pane alle melagrane
Soak 5 cups of day-old bread in a bowl of water with 2 drops of orange flower essence or the grated peel of 1/2 lemon. After 1 hour drain the bread well and shred it with care. Add a pinch of salt, 2 beaten eggs, 3 ounces of raisin, 2 spoons of candied orange/lemon peel, chopped dried apricots, 1 chopped small apple and 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts. Pour the mix in an oven pan and bake for 45-50 minutes at 180. Mix 4 spoons of chestnut honey, 5 spoons of sugar , 1/2 cinnamon stick, one cardamon bean and 1 1/2 cup of water. Bring to boil and simmer  until it condenses into a syrup. When the bread mix is cool, slowly pour the syrup on it and let it absorb (it should not spill out). Decorate with dates and pomegranate seeds.


Torta di Mele
12 ounces of flour, 5 eggs, 3.5 ounces of sugar, 5 ounces of brown sugar, 1,5 ounces of honey, 1/2 cup of orange juice, 3.5 ounces of butter, 1 spoon of baking powder, 3 apples, 1 cup of raisin, 1 cup of chopped toasted almonds. Cut the apple in tiny cubes and soak the raisins in water. Dry them and dip them in flour. Beat the eggs and the sugar to the consistency of a light cream. Add flour, butter, honey, orange juice and baking powder. Add apple, raisins and 1/2 cup of almonds. Pour the mix into a large baking pan. Sprinkle the remaining almonds on top and bake for 45 minutes.




Coffee treat to break the fast


Prepare 1/2 inch think slices of bread and a cream of beaten egg and sweet Marsala wine. Dip each slice in the cream and fry. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and cinnamon.


Roschette (sweet and savory)
1 cup of water, 1/2 cup of sesame and olive oil, flour, 2 spoon of semolina, 1/2 cube of natural yeast, 1/2 spoon of salt, sesame or anise seeds. Dissolve the yeast in the water and add the oil. Add all other ingredients and flour to form a soft dough that should not stick to the hands. Turn on the oven to 180 degrees. Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rest for 1-2 hours. Take small pieces of dough (the size of a nut), roll thin strings and close the two ends as a ring. Place the roschette on an oven tray. Prepare two egg yolks in a small bowl and brush half of the roschette. Add cinnamon and sugar to the remaining yolk and brush the other half of the roschette. Bake until light gold.


1/2 pound of flour, 2,5 ounces of fresh yeast, 5 ounces of sugar, 1/2 spoon of salt, 2 cups of water, 1 egg, 2,5 ounces of light oil, raisins and chocolate. Dissolve the yeast in water. Add flour and sugar, oil, salt, egg. Mix everything to obtain smooth dough. Let it rest until it doubles in volume. Divide the dough in oval rolls 2 inches long and place them on an oven tray. Brush them with egg yolk and sugar and bake them for 10 minutes at 180 degrees and 10 minutes at 160 degrees.





Sauté 1 leek and 3 cloves of garlic with 2 medium carrots cut into small cubes. Place in a bowl 1 pounds of ground chicken meat, 1 egg,  1/2 spoon of cumin, salt to taste, 1 spoon of grated lemon peel, green pepper, 1 finely chopped leek and 3 cloves of garlic previously lightly sautéed in olive oil, 1 cup of chopped parsley and basil, 1/2 cup of chopped toasted almonds, a sprinkle of ground nutmeg. Mix all the ingredients, including the carrots, in a bowl. Add breadcrumbs to make it firm. Give it the shape of a loaf. Place two hard-boiled eggs inside the loaf.

Place the loaf in a large pot filled with water with sliced vegetables: pearl onions, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, 1/4 of a lemon, finely chopped parsley, scallions, green pepper and olive oil. Cook over a low flame for 3 1/2 hours adding water as necessary and removing the foam from the surface. When ready, place the loaf in a frying pan and gold the surface in olive oil. Drizzle with white wine and let it cool off. Serve it in slices garnished with capers and herbs, accompanied by a sauce of your choice. Before serving, heat up the broth and add 2 spoons of chopped fresh mint.


Zucchini cream
Bake 2 peeled medium size cucumbers lightly brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper. When the surface is soft and crunchy, remove the seeds and cut into small pieces. Sauté in a generous amount of olive oil, 2 leeks and 3 cloves of garlic. When they begin to turn gold, add two sweet white potatoes cut in small cubes and 1 cup of water. Cook for 10-15 minutes. Add 2 medium sized zucchini cut in small cubes and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Add water, salt and pepper. When the soup begins to condense, blend into a cream. Before serving, heat it up and add the cucumber and 3 spoons of finely chopped fresh mint.


Boil salted water in a large pot. Prepare an oven pan with olive oil and pine nuts. Dip 2 pounds of angel hair pasta in the boiling water. Drain after a few minutes and pour into the oven pan. Mix with oil, pine nuts and a generous amount of sugar. Bake in preheated oven at 180 degrees until golden.


For the nukides: 3 eggs, 1 spoon of olive oil, 1/2 pound of flour, 2 spoon of semolina, 1 pinch of salt. For the sauce: 1 pound of meat or chicken breast, 1 cup of olive oil, 1 chopped onion, 1 cup of chopped celery, 1 chopped carrot 2 cups of tomato sauce. Nukides: mix all ingredients and form a dough similar to that used for lasagna. Sprinkle flour on the table and roll the doe to obtain pencil-like pieces. Cut them in 1/4 inch sections and pinch each lightly between your fingers. Place the nukides on a tray covered with a veil of flour.  Take a large ceramic pot with top. Sauté onions in olive oil adding the tomato sauce at the end. Add the finely chopped vegetables and water to cover half of the pot. Place nukides and meat in the pot and simmer for two hours on low flame adding water when they become too dry. Nukides can be heated up after the end of Kippur.



We thank Jasmine Guetta for her kindness and her wonderful website Labna Amore in Cucina. When thinking about food visit Slow Food International. For the best Italian Jewish recipes in English see: Edda Servi Machlin’s Classic Italian Jewish Cooking. Find more kosher Italian recipes at Dinner in Venice. Discover the Italian kosher Wines of Sentieri Ebraici.