Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe

The Secrets To Serving A Perfect Italian-Jewish Meal

What’s the secret to creating the perfect Italian-Jewish meal? It’s really quite simple: Gather the best, freshest ingredients — the building blocks of Italian cuisine — and combine them according to your taste and a few basic guiding principles of Italian cooking — for example, letting the ingredients shine with minimal manipulation — into whatever creations you like best.

There are two common schools of thought on the preparation of regional cuisine: The first, that of the purists, fetishizes authenticity above all, striving to recreate ethnic foods exactly as they were originally served. The second school of thought, and the one that I personally hew to, is that food was meant to be shared, adapted and loved, whether across the table or across the world’s borders. In my experience, dishes are enhanced, not violated, by the unique permutations they undergo in the hands of each unique culture or person that strives to reimagine them.

Southern Italian cuisine, that of my mother’s family, was heavily influenced by Arab and Spanish imports. It is for this reason that raisins, saffron, rice and eggplant often feature prominently in Southern Italian recipes, Chef Irene Yager told me before a recent Southern Italian Jewish cooking class at the Manhattan JCC.

One such example is Caponata, aka the absolute best thing you can do with an eggplant, a sweet and tangy medley of cooked vegetables and fruits that is delicious whether served cold or hot.

Serve alongside a Caprese salad, which is both beautiful and a pinch to make — even in the months when subpar tomatoes abound.

For a delicious and light main course, select a white fish of your choice, perhaps acqua pazza style: Chef Yager recommends the combination of olives, capers, fresh basil, parsley and oregano, garlic, tomatoes, white wine and olive oil — and I can confirm that this combination is delicious. But as acqua pazza literally means crazy water, feel free to go, well, crazy with your substitutions.

If you’re a purist, finish off your Southern Italian meal with some dried fruit and nuts, like my grandparents did — but I prefer the creamy, fluffy perfection of Tiramisu, which is almost as easy to make as it is to eat.

Though technically Tiramisu was a dish created by our Northern Italian cousins, I’m sure they won’t mind if you borrow it — and I’m positive that your guests’ palates won’t, either.

Laura E. Adkins is the Forward’s deputy opinion editor. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter, @Laura_E_Adkins.





    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.