Jewish Book Festival guest highlights Jewish impact on Italian food

November 9, 2022

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Monday, December 5, 7:30 pm

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Cooking alla Giudia: A Celebration of the Jewish Food of Italy

Benedetta Jasmine Guetta

Artisan Books

352 pages, 2022

Italian food. Just those two words bring to mind so many wonderful things. Delectable pastas, cheese in more shapes, sizes, and tastes than you ever imagined, fine wine, the freshest ingredients, and breads that will persuade you to never go on another keto diet again. What those two words don’t do is make you think of Jewish food. And yet, Jewish food and Italian food are so intertwined that to separate the two is almost impossible. Benedetta Jasmine Guetta explores the culinary history of Jewish food in Italy in her beautiful new cookbook Cooking all Guidia: A Celebration of the Jewish Food of Italy.

Guetta’s book, with more than 100 recipes, gives the reader not only the opportunity to make great dishes, but beautifully articulates the history, culture, and traditions of Jewish Italian food. Her book offers insight into the Jewish influence on traditional Italian dishes, as well as the ingredients themselves. Over the centuries, Jewish migrants from Spain, Eastern Europe, and more recently Libya, introduced new foods to the Italian mainland—foods that over time have become synonymous with Italian food…such as eggplant, pine nuts, and raisins.

Of course, the political landscape has also shaped the recipes of Jewish Italians over the years. The ghettos of Italy subjected its inhabitants to poverty, restriction of movement, and limited access to food supplies. The recipes that were born of necessity with meager ingredients have become some of the most celebrated foods in Italy. Anyone who has had the pleasure of eating at one of the famous restaurants in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome can attest to that!

A cookbook is only as good as its recipes and Guetta has included so many wonderful ones; all with complete directions and many with historical and cultural notes as an aside to put the recipes into a Jewish context. All recipes are kosher and designated as either halavi (milk), basari (meat) or pareve.

I chose a handful of recipes to try, looking for those with readily available ingredients and ease of preparation, and staying away from those I knew would never taste like what I’ve eaten in Italy (deep fried artichokes!). Everything came out delicious, but I was most pleased with the desserts, two of which will be on my Passover Seder table this year.

I’m sure you will enjoy this book as much as I did as you explore Italian cuisine through a Jewish perspective.

Guetta will speak as part of United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s and Simon Family JCC’s Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival. The event is free and will also include a cooking demonstration, streamed live from Guetta’s kitchen in Santa Monica, California. Registration is required in advance so audience members can receive the grocery list and recipe prior to the event.

Register at JewishVA.org/BookFest. For more information, contact Hunter Thomas, director of Arts + Ideas, at HThomas@UJFT.org. 

The Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival is held in coordination with the Jewish Book Council, the longest-running organization devoted exclusively to the support and celebration of Jewish literature.

-Patty Shelanski


Letter to the Editor