Aman’s ears: The Chronicle’s search for hamantaschen led to Italy
Italian hamantaschen, or Aman's ears as the Italian Jewish Cultural Center calls them, are filled with marmalade, apricot and honey.
A story about fresh hamantaschen in the Steel City may be a bit stale for those seeking colorful Purim pieces, but as the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle discovered, procuring unpackaged pocket-sized pastries is not a painless task, even for those with dough this time of year.
Over in Homestead, Costco’s kosher bakery does not plan on stocking the sweet treat.
Pomegranate Catering similarly said, “We’re not in Beth Shalom’s kitchen, where we were for the last six years. It’s a different operation. We don’t have the ability.”
Deena Ross of Creative Kosher Catering explained that she will be baking “thousands,” which will end up in either hospitals, synagogues or the hands of other order-placing customers, but that an individual cannot walk into her Electric Avenue location and purchase a single hamantasch.
From now through the holiday, which begins the evening of Feb. 28, Murray Avenue Kosher has a “wide variety” of options, said Beth Markovic, the store’s owner. “There’s apricot, blueberry, cherry, prune, poppy seed, chocolate and apple. There may be more.”
But for those hoping to get a hot holiday snack straight from the oven, the Squirrel Hill shop may not be the spot. “We do not bake on-site. We get them fresh from several locations, including Ungar’s Bakery in Cleveland,” she said.
Even so, all is not lost, as an amble across Murray Avenue reveals.
Giant Eagle in Squirrel Hill will have hamantaschen for sale, said one of its bakers, “We will have poppy seed, cherry, apricot and apple.” Note to readers, the latter is available upon request.
Those interested in exploring other possibilities for Purim pastries may consider Italian hamantaschen, or as Rabbi Barbara Aiello calls them, “Aman’s ears.” As the Pittsburgh-born spiritual leader who serves as founder and director of the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria explained, the global goodies contain marmalade, apricot and honey.
“The recipe is a classic Purim recipe of the Jews of Libyan descent, like my grandparents,” said Benedetta Jasmine Guetta, of Milan, Italy. “During World War II, Libya’s Jewish population was subjected to anti-Semitic laws by the fascist Italian regime and deportations by German troops.
“After World War II, anti-Jewish violence caused many Jews to leave Libya principally for Israel, though significant numbers moved to Italy, specifically to Rome, and many later immigrated to various communities in North America. Under Col. Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled the country from 1969 to 2011, the situation deteriorated further, eventually leading to the emigration of the remaining Jewish population. There are no Jews left today in Libya, but we maintain our old traditions and customs and a strong sense of identity, wherever we are.”
Guetta, who moderates the food blog Labna.it, learned how to make Manicotti di Purim from her mother, who in turn learned from her mother. “I consider sharing this (and very many other) recipes with my readers very important, because the story of the Jews of Libya remains mostly untold, unfortunately.”
While the origins of Italian hamantaschen may dip a bit deeper than the bel paese, there is some culinary credibility for those willing to make them. As Haaretz reported, the source of hamantaschen may stem from a 16th-century mentioning in Leone de’ Sommi’s “A Comedy of Betrothal.”
The Hebrew-language play, which served as an early example of a Purim shpiel, performs a particular pun by linguistically entwining “manna” and “Haman”; in so doing, Sommi, a Mantuan playwright, director and poet, substitutes the biblical eating with a more subversive devouring.
If so, whether fresh or packaged, hamantaschen are neither a piece of cake nor food for thought. What they are is actually a lot to chew on. PJC
Benedetta Jasmine Guetta’s recipe for Italian Hamantaschen:
For a dozen sleeves we need:
1 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon of cornstarch, to separate the sheets
Sunflower seed oil or any other vegetable oil, for frying
Sugar syrup (recipe below)
Directions: Place the flour in a fountain (like a well) and break the egg in half, then add a little oil and start working the dough with energy: it is necessary that all the indicated amount of flour, if not a little more, is absorbed.
When the dough is smooth and uniform and does not stick more to the hands, you can proceed to roll it out.
If you have the appropriate pasta machine, gradually remove some dough, roll it and put it in the smooth opening of the machine, which pulls and flattens the dough: after the first draft (level 1 of the wheel), fold the dough into two by adding a little flour inside and proceed with the next steps (the dough must pass once for each level of the machine, from 1 to 6).
If instead you do not have the pasta machine you will have to make do with a rolling pin, taking care to flour the worktop well and the rolling pin itself: the spread pastry must be very thin, very few millimeters.
When the dough is spread out in thin sheets, cut it into strips about two fingers wide; then arrange the strips on a damp dusted cloth with a little cornstarch, and get ready to fry.
Fill a saucepan with a high edge and a thick base with plenty of oil and heat the oil over medium heat. Test the oil with the help of a slice of apple, which among other things reduces the smell of the frying, and when it is hot begin to fry the dough.
Take the first strip of dough and roll one of the ends of it around a fork; lower the fork into the oil holding the other end of the dough strip in hand, and gradually roll the dough strip, while this fries, swells and takes color.
When the first strip is rolled around the fork and the dough is well browned, drain the sleeve obtained on two sheets of paper and proceed in the same way with the subsequent strips.
Cool the sleeves and in the meantime prepare the “honey.”
For the “honey”
2 cups sugar
1 scant cup water
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1/2 lemon without the peel
Directions: In a small saucepan put the sugar, water, lemon juice and peeled lemon and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes, until the liquid resembles honey.
Remove the “honey” from the heat and let it cool at room temperature. When the honey is ready, pour it over the sleeves, adding a sprinkling of sesame seeds or colored sugar tails. The sleeves are delicious eaten freshly made: Take advantage of it now!
Recipe is available at labna.it/manicotti.html
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com