"The yellow-orange squash of the Veneto is commonly called zucca barucca. For Jews, barucca is related to baruch, the Hebrew word for 'blessed.'" -- Cucina Ebraica
I've read these words at least a dozen times today, before I ventured forth for groceries and again since coming home. I'm oscillating between feeling excited about what I'm planning to cook, and second-guessing my menu decisions again. Why is it so difficult to plan a simple Rosh Hashanah meal?
It's been eleven years since I first marshalled my resources to cook for Rosh Hashanah. My maternal grandmother (of blessed memory) had died the previous spring, and I wanted to make a Rosh Hashanah feast to honor her memory. We always used to gather at her house, when I was a little girl, on Rosh Hashanah afternoon after shul. There would be Cornish hens with wild rice stuffing and giblet gravy, and carrots cooked with honey, and challah and apples and bowls of honey to dip them in...
So that first time that I cooked for Rosh Hashanah on my own, I tried to recreate what I remembered. I called family members for recipes and cooking ideas. (I barely knew how to cook, eleven years ago, so Cornish hens were ambitious to say the least.) And because the only way I could imagine Rosh Hashanah was around a table filled with loved ones, I invited my housemates and friends to join me for Rosh Hashanah lunch. I must not have gone to services at all that year; I spent all morning in the kitchen.
I didn't own a white tablecloth, so we used a bedsheet instead. I scrounged a pair of candles that more-or-less matched. In the end we sat down to a meal that probably wasn't very skillfully prepared, but which did what I so desperately needed it to do -- it allowed me to feel connected with Lali, who I already missed greatly, and to feel like it was possible to create a Jewish life for myself a thousand miles away from most of my extended clan.
For some years thereafter I continued the holiday tradition of making the Ashkenazic recipes I'd grown up on, tsimmes and brisket and Cornish hen. And then a few years ago I realized that nobody gets excited about that food, not in my current world, anyway. So we branched out. For a few years we made hunter chicken (chicken cooked with wine and chickpeas and olives) over couscous. We experimented with this and that. And this year I've been thinking it would be fun to branch out even further, to make an Italian Jewish meal for our erev Rosh Hashanah feast.
The plan is simple. A butternut squash and sage risotto, made with chicken broth and white wine, accompanied by a Sefardic spinach dish featuring pine nuts and golden raisins. The Sefardic pumpkin challah that I blogged last Thanksgiving. Honeycake (made according to the recipe of my other grandmother, the first Rachel Barenblat, who I never knew) and sugar-free apple pie (courtesy of my mother-in-law).
The risotto is one I make often, though usually only for four people, or perhaps six; this time I'm feeding ten. And the spinach dish would be easy to prepare if it were possible to actually buy fresh spinach in stores, which it currently isn't. (I'm assuming I can use frozen.) On the whole, though, I think it's a good menu. And I love the zucca barucca connection -- to think that the central dish of this meal is already blessed, before we raise our voices and our hearts in sanctifying our wine and apples and bread!
Of course, there's a voice in my head that frets about satisfying everybody else's erev Rosh Hashanah needs. What if somebody's coming who expects the food of my childhood? (Practically speaking, that could only possibly be my sister, who I know is elated that we're not eating the same-old same-old.) What if people come with unconscious holiday-food desires, and leave unsatisfied because I didn't intuit them and fill them? (Not likely. Honestly. At all.) These are old recordings, these voices urging me to worry, and I just don't want to hear them anymore. So I am officially letting them go, right here on this blog. (Call it a kind of early tashlich.)
Really, like at my first homemade Rosh Hashanah feast (and every one I've hosted since), what's most important is the fact of the people gathered around the table, and the way our togetherness allows us to notice and celebrate the turn of the year.