When we think of Hanukkah food, we usually think of mouth watering, belly expanding latkes, or round, jelly doughnuts. Both are fried in oil — a staple of Hanukkah cooking. Another ingredient linked to the Festival of Lights is cheese, but dairy dishes are often forgotten, buried beneath pounds of potatoes and vats of oil.
For the gift of cheese, we can thank the Jewish heroine Judith, whose story is associated with Hanukkah and who, according to tradition, saved her village from attackers by beheading the evil general Holofernes after seducing him with wine and cheese.
In recent years, Jewish cooks and cookbook authors have been expanding their repertoire of Hanukkah fare. Instead of typical cheese blintzes this year, here are two creative recipes for a nontraditional celebration, complete with variations of the classic Hanukkah foods.
Honey-drizzled Chocolate Cheese Fritters
Recipe reprinted from “Chocolate Holidays, Unforgettable Desserts for Every Season,” by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books, 2001)
15 ounces ricotta cheese
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 ½ teaspoons grated orange zest
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 ½ ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Vegetable oil, for frying
¾ cup honey, warm
Mix the ricotta and eggs with a fork. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated.
Add the butter, orange zest, salt and chocolate and stir just until thoroughly combined. Batter may be prepared to this point, covered, and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.
In a wide skillet, heat ½ inch of oil over medium heat until a few drops of batter sizzle vigorously when added to the pan.
Carefully add rounded tablespoons of batter to the hot oil. Do not crowd the fritters; they need space to fry properly and to turn.
Fry until brown on one side, then turn and fry the other side until brown.
Transfer the fritters to a warm platter with a fork or tongs.
Repeat until all the batter is fried.
Serve drizzled with warm honey, or pass the honey separately.
Note: Fry fritters up to two hours in advance of serving and serve them at room temperature, or fry and serve them hot or warm. Do not keep fritters in a warm oven for long or they will dry and toughen. Just before serving time, or up to two hours before, place a small ovenproof platter lined with several layers of paper towel or a cloth napkin in a 200ºF oven, to keep the platter warm.
Deep-Fried Ricotta Balls
Mario Batali, FoodNetwork.com
1 1/3 cups goat-milk ricotta (or substitute cow-milk ricotta), drained
½ cup freshly grated caciocavallo or Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ bunch parsley, finely chopped to yield 2 tablespoons
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 egg separated, plus 1 egg
Salt and pepper
2 to 3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup freshly grated bread crumbs
In a large bowl, combine ricotta, cheese, parsley, garlic, nutmeg and 1 egg yolk, (reserving white) and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
Form ricotta mixture into balls about the size of small walnuts and set on a rack to dry slightly for 15 minutes.
When ready to cook, place oil in a tall-sided pan and heat to 360 degrees F. Oil should be at least 2-inches deep.
In a shallow bowl, mix the egg white with remaining whole egg, beating with a fork.
Place bread crumbs in another shallow bowl. Dip each ricotta ball into egg to coat lightly, then roll quickly in bread crumbs. Make sure ricotta balls are completely covered in egg wash and bread crumbs, and the coating is pressed on firmly.
Drop balls, a few at a time, into hot oil and fry until golden brown.
Remove with slotted spoon and drain briefly, then serve hot.