When I received my copy of the Hazan Family Favoritescookbook I will admit I had to do some research. There is no doubt that this speaks to my lack of knowledge of Italian cuisine. It made me think about how it is possible to feel affection for a cuisine without really knowing it at all.
There is no question that I love homemade pasta and marinara sauces, or that I believe they are 100% worth the time and effort it takes to make them. I enjoy bean soups and simple meat cutlets, and the other elegant offerings that come from an Italian kitchen.
What I think I have often overlooked is the simplicity.
In case you have some more to learn about Italian cooking like I did, the book was written by Guiliano Hazan. He is the son of Marcella Hazan whose cookbooks are credited with introducing the United States to traditions and techniques of Italian cooking.
The book is a collection of recipes rescued from a fifty-six year-old notebook. As you flip through it and see the pictures you can feel the history and importance of its pages.
What you also see when you read the recipes is simplicity. Most of the recipes use only a handful of fresh ingredients to create a stunning end product. It’s impressive, educating, hunger-inducing, and it makes you think – okay, I’m ready to begin mastering the art of Italian cooking.
Amid the Fettuccine with Orange, Fried Parmesan Cheese-Battered Lamb Chops, and the Peach-and-Strawberry Semifreddo, the Borekitas caught my attention. What’s not to love about spinach, feta and ricotta stuffed into a bite-size pastry? Absolutely nothing. These are delicious.
From Hazan Family Recipes, reprinted with permission from Abram Books
Time from start to finish: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Makes about 20 borekitas
From the cookbook:
My parents and I went to my grandparents’ almost every Friday for Shabbat dinner. I can still
taste and smell the wonderful little pies my Nonna Giulia made, which she called borekitas.
She made them either with a dough shell or a phyllo shell. The fillings were spinach or cheese.
In attempting to replicate them, I used Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food as a guide.
Both the cheese and spinach fillings below are just like what I remember, and the dough shell,
my favorite of the two, is just as good as the one Nonna Giulia used to make.
FOR the dough
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
FOR the spinach filling (I made the spinach)
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces fresh spinach, washed
1 ounce feta cheese
2 tablespoons whole-milk ricotta cheese
Cut the butter into small pieces and allow to come to room temperature.
Put all the ingredients in a food processor with 1/4 cup water and run it until a smooth, homogeneous dough forms. If it crumbles when pinched, mix in a little more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough is soft and smooth when pinched.
Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for about 20 minutes before using.
In a pot large enough to cook the spinach, put about 2 inches of water, and place over high heat. When the water is boiling, add the salt and spinach. Cook until tender, 2 to 3 minutes, then drain.
Once the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze the excess water out and coarsely
chop. Place the spinach in a bowl. Crumble the feta and add it along with the ricotta. Mix thoroughly.
Assembling the borekitas
Preheat the oven to 350°F on the bake setting.
Take about a walnut-size ball of dough, place it on a counter, and press it with your fingers into a disk 2 inches in diameter. Put about 1 tablespoon of either cheese or spinach filling on the disk. Fold the disk over the filling to form a half-moon shape, making sure to pinch the open sides together to seal them, and place on a baking sheet, either oiled or lined with a nonstick baking mat.