Sylvia Nacamulli’s new cookbook, Jewish Flavors of Italy, immerses readers in the fascinating history of Italian Jews and their food, as well as into Nacamulli’s own home table. Nacamulli talks about her history with her Italian family and the dishes that are meaningful to her. She also incorporates recipes representative of the broader Italian Jewish community, including influences from Jewish immigrants from other places such as Libya and the Levant. However, she stresses that there is a reason why all her stories and recipes are published in her own book.
“For me, cooking and sharing memories is one of the most important and effective ways to preserve culture,” says Nakamulli, whose purpose and passion shine through in the way she writes about her family’s meals. You can feel it.
Her book includes famous Italian favorites, including fresh and delicious pesto.
Genovese Pesto – Fresh Basil Pesto
But she goes beyond that and educates readers about how kosher laws and various other influences set Italian Jewish cuisine apart from the rest of Italy.
For example, carbonara is a well-known classic Italian dish that is usually made with pork, not to mention mixing cheese and meat. Long before meat and dairy alternatives existed, Italian Jews had to get creative and adapt more traditional Italian recipes to fit the laws of kashrut they followed. You can see that it didn’t happen. So the typical pork carbonara became the delightful carbonara di zucchini, also known as zucchini carbonara. A delicious vegetarian twist on a classic dish that uses zucchini instead of pork.
Zucchini Carbonara – Zucchini Carbonara
Nacamulli also shares recipes like luota di farone, also known as “Pharaoh’s Wheel.” This recipe, like others from the region, blends elements of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Italian cuisine. It was traditionally served during the Parsha of the Jewish Exodus, but as a wonderful meaty pasta dish, I’m happy to make this any time of the year. I also like the idea of a dish that blends some Jewish background, but is distinctly Jewish in what it represents.
Luota di Farone – Pharaoh’s Wheel Pasta Dinner
One of my favorite things about Nacamulli’s book is how much I learned, not just about cooking and food, but about Italian Jewish history and culture in general. She reminds us that Italian Jews are one of the oldest communities of the Jewish diaspora, and of all the influences that have contributed to their culture. This book is the perfect introduction to the subject for all history buffs, and especially for those who want to learn more about an unfamiliar Jewish community.
But Nakamulli doesn’t just teach general history, she also tells us her personal family history. From stories of how her family spent time in Italy during World War II to stories of what was served at her family’s Shabbat and holiday meals as a child, Nakamuri and her family learned how they were Italian Jews. It is clear that it is woven into the very core of .
One of the only downsides to this is that at times it’s almost overwhelming to jump back and forth between her personal family recipes and their stories and then move on to something less personal. But the love and care that goes into each recipe is still palpable and we feel honored to have been invited to her table.
After all, this is a cookbook that’s much more than just a recipe book. It serves as a testimony to the story of the Nakamulli family and as a history of Italian Jewry in general. There are lots of unique recipes to try, as well as familiar favorites you won’t be able to put down. And of course, we can all recognize the beautiful and important feeling when we take a bite of food that connects us to something bigger: family, community, history. That’s really the crux here.