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A Roman Repast

Italy is home to the oldest continuously inhabited Jewish community in Europe. The first Jews arrived from Judea after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E., and thousands more joined them after the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E.

It was the next large wave of Jewish immigration to Italy—following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492—that would set the culinary stage for most of what we know of traditional Italian Jewish cooking. Influenced by 700 years of Arab rule, Sephardic Jews made eggplant, artichokes, spinach (often with raisins), and rice cornerstones of their cuisine. And because of their trade connections in the New World, they introduced tomatoes, pumpkins, corn, and green beans to Italy. They also taught the Italians their custom of using oil instead of pork fat for frying.

As in all Jewish communities, the holidays influenced local culinary traditions. To elevate a simple food like rice for the proper celebration of Shabbat, for example, the Jews would mix in sweet raisins or hearty spinach, or flavor the rice with the Spanish herb saffron, which imbued a golden color and a hearty aroma. And since cooking with fire was prohibited on the Sabbath, the Jews invented some dishes that could be cooked overnight, such as Hamin Toscano, a cholent-type stew that required slow cooking, and popularized cold salads made in advance of the sacred day, such as the now internationally renowned eggplant caponata.

The Italian recipes on this website link us to Roman Jewry. Enjoy—and eat in good health!