03 April 2009

2006 Galil Mountain Barbera

To a lot of people, kosher wines are associated with heavily sweetened Concord grapes, much in the way that many folks think all pink wines are sweet. But in reality, there are a wide range of flavor profiles and sugar levels on both fronts, from syrupy-sweet to bone-dry. Personally I prefer my wines on the drier side, and in the past few years I've seen more and more kosher wines that appeal to those palates. One example is the 2006 Galil Mountain Barbera from the Galilee region of Israel, distributed by Yarden. $18, 15% abv, 100% Barbera. Certified Kosher for Passover. Lots of black cherry on the nose, with full plum flavors but a very mild and soft mouthfeel. Tannins are barely present, making this an incredibly smooth wine, probably great for Thanksgiving. I think the perfect pairing would be a properly roasted duck with a little pink in the middle of the breast. It's a great wine, and smells more Italian than you'd think--there's just a whiff of that Chianti tartness.

I'm not Jewish myself, but in the interest of keeping with the theme and in honor of the upcoming holiday, I decided to cook an old Italian Passover recipe. My kitchen is admittedly treif, much less properly prepared for Pesach, but ingredient-wise I stuck to the traditional ingredients. Jewish-Italian cooking is something of a historical and culinary curiosity, as Judaism has had a rough history in the country and Jews currently comprise only .075% of the present population. Scacchi (pronounced SKA-kee, means chess in English) looked like a pretty good bet, though when I was trying to convince friends to come over for dinner I had to describe it as "lasagna, but without pasta, tomatoes, or cheese". Matzo are used in place of noodles, and alternating layers have either a meat or vegetable filling. I followed the linked recipe with a spiced beef/raisin mixture and a spinach/mushroom mixture, though I replaced a lot of the onion with smaller doses of shallot.

It's an odd sort of dish, but it worked out great. Needs a bit of salt, but I had some kosher flakes on hand. Improvements? I think it might be better to mix two of the eggs in with the meat mixture, as most of the egg wash runs off into the dish. Also, given the size of commercial matzo, you end up with basically two separate 6"x6" stacks. You'll need more than a cup of chicken broth to soften all the matzo. Don't skip the pine nuts, they really make the dish.

An Italian grape grown in Israel and kosher recipes in Italy? It's not as strange as it sounds. One of the problems with the way geography is taught (and thus how it gets perceived) is in compartmentalization. Specifically regarding the subjects of this post: Italy is taught as part of Europe, Israel as the Middle East, and Morocco/Tunisia/etc. as part of Africa. In reality, they're all part of a Mediterranean region that's shared a lot of culture and food over the course of human history. You can start with olive oil and citrus fruits and find dozens of other common threads throughout these cuisines.

Ranting aside, I wish everyone a Happy Passover! !חג שמח


The Wine Commonsewer said...

shared a lot of culture and food

I was surprised to learn how similar some Armenian dishes are to Greek. And, I was informed! In no uncertain terms that Baklava originated in Armenia and subsequently migrated to Greece.

One item that was left out of my world history classes was how the Italians got pasta. [shrugs] You'd think they would have covered that. :-)

Benito said...

One item that was left out of my world history classes was how the Italians got pasta.

A lot of people think that the Italians got pasta after Marco Polo visited China, but pasta was around long before that. And frankly, it's one of those simple food items that every grain-growing culture discovers eventually, kind of like the wheel or lever in engineering.

Let's move forward a bit in food history: ravioli, a.k.a. meat stuffed inside a flexible starch. You can find versions of this all over the globe in completely unrelated culinary traditions. Why? Aliens didn't spread the recipes across oceans. They all taste good and are a pretty basic outgrowth of available ingredients. Some are boiled, some are baked, some are steamed, some are fried, but generally they're fun and delicious. Pot stickers, samosas, pierogies, tamales... the list goes on.

And, I was informed! In no uncertain terms that Baklava originated in Armenia and subsequently migrated to Greece.

At my local Iranian-Turkish deli I tend to order using the Greek names for dishes, and the owners always politely correct me with the proper Arabic or Farsi names, and then there's a bit of an argument between the two proprietors (who are married to each other). Dolmas, dolmadas, let's call the whole thing off.

fredric koeppel said...

Though Jews, as you mention, are a very small minority in Italy, the tradition of Jewish-Italian cuisine goes back to the Middle Ages. The last time I was in Rome (Oct. 2003), a friend well-versed in the obscure ways of Roman food took me to a hidden restaurant that drew on the ancient heritage of Jewish cookery in that great city. Simplicity itself yet deeply flavored and unusual, the meal was one of the best in my life. Sorry, I couldn't tell you the name of the restaurant, but it had won several awards from the Slow Food organization.

Benito said...

Great story, Fredric! This is definitely a topic that deserves some further study.

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Do Bianchi said...

hag sameach, Benito. I sure wish the Israelis would plant grapes that show well in Southern Italy, like Aglianico and Piedirosso instead of grapes that they think will help bring their wines to market. But then again, Angelo Gaja sells Israeli Cabernet and Merlot to Italian Jews... so go figure... who knew?

I like this post: thanks for bringing it to my attention!

hag sameach...

Benito said...


Glad you enjoyed it, and let me know if you try out the recipe.

Aglianico in Israel... There's some rich volcanic soil in Galilee, I think you might be onto something there.