The rabbi teaching Italians kosher secrets

Padua's Adolfo Locci guides class of student chefs through six-week course on Jewish food and kashrut


The small Jewish community in Padua, an old university town in northern Italy, has been using kosher food to teach local people about Judaism.

A class of student chefs took a six-week course on Jewish food and kashrut, taught by Padua’s chief rabbi, Adolfo Locci, which enabled them to create a series of famous Italian-Jewish dishes.

“We tried some of the best-known Jewish dishes from the Roman tradition,” said Pierangelo Cazzin, chef and cooking lecturer. “Then we went on to make dishes from Padua’s Jewish cuisine, promoting local ingredients.”

The project culminated in a kosher dinner at the Museum of Jewish Padua where 70 guests were served traditional Jewish dishes, including fried artichokes Jewish-style; koftas with pumpkin Baruch; buricche (bourekas) with ricotta and spinach; and three types of doughnuts.

None of the students had known much about Judaism nor Jewish food. “The complexity of the rules felt a bit overwhelming at the beginning,” said Riccardo dal Santo, one of the group. “It was demanding but enlightening, especially the rabbi’s lectures.”

Padua’s Jewish community was fairly large in the 19th century but now numbers only a few hundred. That isn’t enough to sustain kosher shops or restaurants, unlike nearby Venice, so sourcing ingredients proved challenging.

“The rabbi and the shomers suggested kosher producers from the region and followed us during the preparation of the dishes to make sure everything was done correctly. We wanted to do everything by the book,” explained Cazzin.

Rabbi Locci had even provided his gourmet opinion on some dishes. “Originally, we had crema di ceci (cream of chickpea) as a starter but the rabbi thought it was ‘a bit banal’ so we ended up having cream of chestnut instead.”

The course used as a starting point an important Italian Jewish cookery book, La cucina nella tradizione ebraica (Cooking in the Jewish Tradition) by Giuliana Ascoli Vitali-Norsa.

But the book was often vague about quantities and lacked pictures. “Basically, we had to fine-tune the recipes and create the look ourselves,” said Cazzin.

The fish and dairy menu also reflected seasonality and sustainability: artichokes alla giudia (Jewish-style,) the popular Roman deep-fried dish, was chosen as the spiky vegetables were in season; and the main course fish changed from salmon to more sustainable cod.

Working on the project proved an eye-opener for Cazzin. “It made me realise the reach of Jewish culinary culture. It had never occurred to me that baccalà alla vicentina [an iconic regional dish featuring stockfish cooked in milk] could be of Jewish origin but now I’m pretty sure it is.”

The project was a partnership between the Foundation for the Museum of Jewish Padua and the college of hospitality — Istituto Superiore per il Made in Italy (ISMI) — with financial backing from the Veneto region.

With no kitchen in the museum, the 12 chefs squeezed into a tiny kitchen at a nearby Jewish institution. Apart from a few glitches (the bread’s arrival from Venice was hampered by train cancellations and icy weather) the dinner was a huge success.

“All the dishes went down well but the fried artichokes were particularly popular,” said Cazzin. “Even as dessert was been served, people were still asking ‘Are there any artichokes left?’”

For Alberto Botton, an ISMI lecturer and blogger on life in Padua, who is not Jewish, the food was a revelation. “Everything was so good, so tasty. I thought the kids did very well,” he said.

Gina Cavalieri, the Foundation’s president and prime mover behind the project, said: “The atmosphere was extremely convivial and happy.

“I’m sure that the participants, when they hear about Judaism now, will think of hospitality, sharing, love of good food and wine.”

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