Jews and Italians-- We Share More than just Guilt

I love Italy.  I love the people, the food, the culture.  When I was in Florence 3 years ago, I felt as if  I was home.  I must have Italian blood in me (I even shared my famous marinara sauce with you which is at the end of this post).  Is it possible that this Jewish girl has some genetic thread to the Italians?  The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became.  Italians and Jews are pretty similar; except, of course, for the whole Jesus thing. Let’s face it, not only are our cultures alike; we even look similar—even Hollywood thinks so.  Italian actors playing Jewish parts and Jewish actors playing Italian roles; I have to stop and think –Jew, not a Jew?  But the similarities do not stop there. Both our cultures talk with our hands, we both love food, especially fattening food.  In fact, if we listen very carefully while eating we can actually hear our arteries clog.  Italians and Jews love food so much that  our family gatherings not only feed our guests but the surrounding communities.  The last similarity I want to mention is that both of our cultures are the best at giving and receiving guilt whether we deserve it or not.  Hmm, maybe that explains why I know so many Jewish and Italian people in therapy.

I decided to do some research on this. There are some Jewish Italians living in Italy; however, the number is very small. Italy’s population in 2010 was around 60,000,000 and only about 28,000 are Jewish (Jewish Virtual Library).   Recently, genetic studies were conducted and showed that Jews around the world share a very strong genetic similarity.  This was not surprising to me.  What I found astonishing is that of all the European countries, the non-Jewish Italians living in Italy had the closest genetic tie to the Jews.  One likely reason this occurred was because of the Inquisition when many Jews were forced to leave Italy or convert to Christianity.

This may explain why I love to cook authentic Italian food.  In honor of those Italians with some shared DNA with me, I will share with you my favorite marinara sauce (the sauce I mentioned in my Butternut Squash Risotto post) which I use on spaghetti squash if I want a vegetarian meal or I braise my braciole in it if I want meat.

It is not difficult to make, but it does need to simmer for a bit.  Enjoy!

Marinara Sauce

Marinara Sauce

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion,  chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 TBS fresh basil, chopped

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (Use a good quality one)

1 cup of a good dry red wine

2 dried bay leaves

In a large pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Sauté the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent, about 7 to 10 minutes.  Add the celery, carrots, salt and pepper.  Sauté until all the vegetables are soft, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the red wine and cook for a minute.  Now add the tomatoes and bay leaves, stir, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 90 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper, to taste.

I like a smooth sauce so I puree it in my blender or you can use an immersion blender too.

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  • I love this! Have to share with my husband.
    I'm 100% Italian and he's a nice Jewish boy :)
    p.s. I only use San Marzano tomatoes. Makes a huge difference

  • In reply to Fern Ronay:

    Thank you! I too use San Marzano tomatoes. I get mine at Mariano's although maybe Whole Foods has them too.

  • Bella...from one Italians to another

  • In reply to Jack Spatafora:

    Thank you Jack!

  • Not to mention Enrico Fermi, Primo Levi, and George Costanza.

    Does Sarah Silverman look Italian? I guess.

    In any event, I once went to an Italian place (reportedly now closed), and, since the Frugal Pedophile Gourmet recommended it, asked for braciole. After a couple of times of the waitress saying "I don't understand," I pointed to the menu, to which she said "brashool," to which I said, "I'm not Italian."

    Finally, your genetic theory would hold up better if most Jews looked like Penelope Cruz, which they don't.

  • Abe Vigoda supports this post.

  • Nancy,
    You would be surprised to know that 40-50% of people in Calabria were Jewish and forced into Christian conversion. Go to youtube and type in secret jews of Calabria and you will hear the whole story. I agree that we sure are similar and a dna test may just prove it. Love your recipe.

  • In reply to ItalJew:

    Thank you so much! I definitely will look at the youtube, thanks for sharing that with me.

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    I am a nurse practitioner who not only treats patients, but has had chronic illnesses including cancer so I understand how frustrating medicine can be. But through all this, I have never lost my sense of humor and my ability to make people laugh. I love to cook, and since becoming gluten-free a year ago, I have recipes for everyone's tastes whether it be healthy, decadent, vegetarian, or gluten-free. My philosophy is all about health, food, laughter and life!

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