Talk and Tasting: Roman Jewish Cooking at the Boulder JCC

Cookbook Author, Leah Koenig, will be in Colorado for two special events at the end of November!

Tuesday, November 28 will bring an evening of storytelling and transcendent flavors with a 4-course seated dinner, featuring dishes from Leah Koenig’s latest cookbook, PORTICO: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen.” Partnering with Safta (Denver) this experience will be served family-style and will showcase the unique flavors of Jewish-Roman cooking with expertly paired cocktails and regional wines. This dinner is a fundraiser for World Central Kitchen, an organization dedicated to feeding families impacted by the conflict in Gaza and Israel. Tickets can be purchased here. 

On Wednesday, November 29 Leah will be at the Boulder JCC to continue the conversation about her newest cookbook “PORTICO: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen.” Leah will share the fascinating story behind Rome’s historic Jewish community (which dates back over 2,000 years and remains vibrant today) and its uniquely delicious cuisine filled with simple but elegant vegetable dishes, saucy braised meats, beguiling desserts, and an obsession with olive oil-fried foods. Enjoy a tasting of some of the recipes from “PORTICO” prepared at the Boulder JCC. 

All Boulder JCC programs are open to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation.  You do not need to be Jewish to participate. There is no membership requirement to participate in Boulder JCC programs.  Advance registration is always encouraged for programs at the Boulder JCC. For registration support call Reception at (303)998-1900 or contact Acy Jackson at acy.jackson@boulderjcc.org

We reached out to Leah to ask her a few questions about her experience with the Jewish Community in Rome. (Some of her answers have been edited for length.)

There are many diaspora Jewish communities throughout the world, what made you decide to focus on the Roman Jewish Community for research and creating a cookbook?
I’ve been writing about global Jewish cuisine for more than 15 years–from Lithuania to Ethiopia and India to Morocco. But Rome’s Jewish community, which is over 2,000 years old (the oldest in Europe), captivated my heart and inspired my palate more than any other community.

My husband and I had a Shabbat dinner there at a kosher caterer’s home that changed the course of my life. The dinner was delicious (naturally), but absolutely nothing he served was familiar to me. Instead of brisket, chicken soup, and gefilte fish, he served Stracotto di Manzo–a rich beef stew made with red wine, and veal and chicken meatballs in a tomato and celery sauce. But while I had never eaten any of those dishes before, in the context of a Shabbat table they immediately felt familiar. At that dinner, I realized that Jewish cuisine was even deeper and more diverse than I’d ever realized, and I wanted to spend my life learning more about it. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I became a Jewish food writer at that dinner table.

What is an ingredient that you found being used a lot in Roman Jewish Cooking that you did not have a lot of experience with?
I grew up eating artichokes steamed with melted butter for dipping, and I love artichokes that way to this day. But Roman Jews have a unique obsession with artichokes that has expanded my appreciation of the Mediterranean thistle. They slice artichokes thinly and marinate them with citrus juice and olive oil for artichoke carpaccio. They saute them and add them to frittatas and pasta dishes. And, most notably, they fry them into crisp, golden blossoms.

Was there a cooking technique you learned from cooking with the community?
Roman Jewish cooking is quite simple from a technique standpoint. Like much of Italian cooking, it focuses on using a few, quality ingredients–perfect tomatoes, fragrant olive oil, beautiful vegetables, and simple cuts of meat–and treating those ingredients with care to make something absolutely stunning.

Thanksgiving is coming up, what are you cooking for the holiday?
We are going to my in-laws for Thanksgiving, but I am going to bring dessert. There’s a chocolate almond cake in Portico that I LOVE. It is naturally gluten free, tastes like a brownie, and has a wonderful nubby texture from the ground almonds. I might also make the roasted cippolini onions from Portico. In the oven, the onions turn golden and sweet, and take on the perfume of the rosemary they are roasted with. It’s yet another example of how Roman Jewish cuisine takes something simple and transforms it into magic.

 

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