Every time I bite into a slice of noodle kugel, I am reminded of another baked pasta dish: frisinsal, an unusual, savory and just slightly sweet recipe that we make back home in Venice around Tu B’shvat (the New year of Trees).
For the Jews of Northern Italy, no recipe recalls the past as much as the frisinsal. The baked pasta dish consists of layers of fresh noodles tossed in goose fat (or juice from a roast), with the addition of pine nuts, raisins, and goose or beef sausage or goose “prosciutto.” It is an amalgam of flavors and culinary traditions, much like the Jewish community of the area which blends Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Italki (Italian Jewry) customs.
Some traditional dishes, such as the local hamin (once the warm course for the Shabbat lunch), have virtually disappeared from our modern tables but for some reason, frisinal still brings the community together.
It’s also known by the name Ruota del Faraone, or “Pharaoh’s Wheel,” a reference to this week’s Torah part which tells the story of Israelites crossing the Red Sea. Italian Jews will tell you that the pasta bake is shaped in a circle to resemble the wheels of Pharaoh’s chariots, that the noodles are the waves of the seas, the pine nuts the heads of the Egyptian horses, and the raisins or pieces of sausage the Egyptian warriors, being submerged by the unexpected waves.
“Frisinsal de Tagiadele”
serves 4 to 6
8-10 tablespoons goose fat, (OR oil and pan juices left over from roasting some chicken or beef in abundant olive oil and 2 whole garlic cloves, with ½ cup dry white wine)
½ cup raisins or sultanas
½ cup pine nuts
soft goose sausage, (OR goose “prosciutto”, OR beef sausage or salami)
2 quarts chicken or beef stock (best if home-made) for cooking the pasta
1 pound tagliatelle or tagliolini (dried pasta is okay, but fresh home-made pasta always tastes better, and its rougher texture will help the sauce stick)
salt and pepper to taste
(optional) a pinch of grated cloves
1) Soak the raisins for 30 minutes in a cup of hot water. Toast the pine nuts over low heat in a sauté pan (they should be golden, not brown or black).
2) Cook the pasta until “al dente” in the boiling broth. Drain the pasta, and reserve the cooking broth.
3) Heat the goose fat or the juice and oil from the roast meat (you can serve the roast meat or chicken as a separate course) and combine it with about a ladleful of the reserved cooking broth. Use this mix to toss the pasta. Adjust the salt.
4) If using soft sausages, use your hands to form small, bite-sized balls, which can be sautéed for just a minute in a pan. If using a harder salami or sausage or goose “prosciutto,” cut it into small chunks.
5) Brush a round baking dish, about 11 inces in diameter, with a little fat or oil, and alternate layers of pasta, with layers of pine nuts, raisins and sausage balls or salami chunks. Continue until you run out of ingredients, topping with raisins, sausage and pine nuts.
6) Bake at 400 F for 30-40 minutes or until golden. If you don’t have an oven you can also cook it on the stovetop, in a heavy (cast iron) pan, frittata-style. Serve warm.