Just in time for the Jewish festival of Shavuot, giraffe's milk has been pronounced as kosher.* Milk from a non-kosher animal is widely held not to coagulate or curdle. Earlier this week, veterinarians treating a giraffe at the Ramat Gan safari park near Tel Aviv took a milk sample which formed curds, as required by religious law. Since giraffes also chew the cud and have cloven hooves, there was nothing to stop religious Jews from nibbling a bit of roast spotted haunch except doubts about the milk.
Now a rabbi has weighed in with a judgment: "The giraffe has all the signs of a ritually pure animal, and the milk that forms curds strengthened that."
Shavuot, or the festival of the first fruits, which begins today, is traditionally a time for consuming milk products, especially cheese. One explanation for the consumption of dairy foods is that the Israelites had not yet received the Torah, with its laws of shechita (ritual slaughtering of animals). As the food they had prepared beforehand was not in accordance with these laws, they opted to eat simple dairy meals to honour the holiday. Another theory holds that in spring calves and kids would be weaned from their mothers and milk would be plentiful. Still another points to verses in The Song of Songs that stand metaphorically for acceptance of the Torah: "Honey and milk on your tongue (4:11)." Yet another theory holds that because the Jewish people were at Sinai for so long, their milk turned into cheese.
In other words, no one has a clue.
Since food is an important aspect of every Jewish holiday (and every other day, for that matter) the cooks have been busy nevertheless. Among the most famous Shavuot dishes are blintzes, cheese knishes, butter cakes, cheese cakes, cheese kreplach, salads of bread and cheese, soups with bread and cheese, and lasagne.
Yes, according to the childhood memories of Rabbi Kahn-Troster,
Growing up, Shavuot for me meant lasagna - a delicious, cheesy creation that my mother would make for the one Jewish holiday on which we did not eat meat. (Actually, I was an adult before I realized that non-kosher lasagna was made with meat). I loved the lasagna, and Shavuot wasn’t bad either. Special food, staying up late the first night with my friends- Shavuot was a hit, and I didn’t think about it more than that.
The good rabbi then gives us the recipe.
At which point Italian blogger Antonio Lombatti explodes.
First of all, he thunders, lasagne is always written with an 'e', not an 'a' (since it's always plural: you can't eat one lasagna any more than you can one spaghetto). But the real issue is the recipe. "If your mother really cooked lasagne that way, well, that was blasphemous."
Worse , it's "heresy!"
To drive the point home, Antonio slapped a slab of proper lasagne over the Israeli flag (I'm not sure why, since the good rabbi is North American).
Ever devoted to la cucina, I investigated.
Marcella Hazan, in her Classic Italian Cookbook, is uncompromising: " It is extremely important to avoid overcooking lasagne." Using biblical language, she warns, "Mushy lasagne is an abomination." But Rabbi Kahn-Troster mama's lasagne doesn't look mushy. So that can't be the reason.
"Do not use commercial ready-made lasagne", Hazan insists. "Lasagne is never, but simply never, made with anything but home-made pasta dough." The rabbi's mother certainly slipped up here: her recipe called for a "12 oz package of lasagna noodles". A grave error undoubtedly, but one committed by so many busy mama's in Italy today that I can't imagine that it would raise a cry of 'heresy!' on that score.
Hazan's Second Italian Cookbook brings up another issue: "... the light, precious texture of the pasta is never buried by a haphazard pile-up of ingredients. The pasta, in lasagne, becomes a dainty mounting for the tasteful display of either a fully integrated filling or a single ingredient." Well, mama Kahn-Troster certainly fails in this regard. Her lasagne is over-full, even haphazard. An overly-mighty mouthful, for sure, but that's the American way. Still, with the exception of the canned/tinned tomato sauce topped up with Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces, most of her ingredients are found in Hazan's own recipe for Le lasagne coi funghi e prosciutto (but skip the ham!).
Having given far too much thought to the problem, I think I've got the answer.
Where's the béchamel sauce?
Hazan's recipe quite rightly includes a Salsa Balsamella (a fact of northern Italian life long before the French christened it 'béchamel') -- a smooth, luxuriantly creamy white sauce made of milk, butter, flour, and a pinch of salt. "It is essential to many of its pastas," she affirms, "and such an unquestionably native dish as lasagne could not exist without it."
Its omission is probably what raised Antonio's ire.
So, get your silky milk sauces ready for Shavuot. But not using giraffe milk, I think. Despite its new kosher credentials, it is hard to milk a giraffe. On the right, a nursing mother lopes along the veld.
Those legs are made for kicking.
(Next, I return to my reports on the Amsterdam All-Zenobia Day)
* Thanks to WIIIAI for tipping me off to this breaking news.
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