Schmaltzy vegetables: The Werdiger family’s recipe

 

Who are we?

Itta Werdiger

Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1982. Itta is a professional kosher “Farm to Table” chef. A member of an Orthodox-Hassidic family, Itta spent a lot of her childhood in the kitchen. “Every day after school we would come home starving and stand around the kitchen counter, eating sliced vine ripened tomatoes and Australian cheddar cheese on kosher Israeli crackers, and just hung out. It was our own version of a bar” she says. In 2006 she moved to the US, opened a restaurant and a supper club. “As a new single mother to 4 girls – ages 5 to 13 – I enjoy reconnecting with my family,” she says. 

Where was the photo taken?

“When we first moved here, we renovated the kitchen and made it kosher; we added an additional sink so that there is now a sink for dairy and a sink for meat”, says Itta. “Yes, Kosher kitchens are two kitchens in one. You need double of almost everything and that makes space tight but I love my kitchen, it’s full of warmth and it’s been a constant part of my life. During very difficult times in my marriage the relationship I have with my kitchen kept me going. My kitchen is like an old friend (or mother) that is always there for me in some capacity”.

When the weather is nice and the mosquitoes are not bothersome, Itta and the girls prefer to eat on one of the two porches in their 110-year-old house situated in the Victorian Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn. 

 

Our family kitchen

“Even today, after adapting Judaism to my lifestyle, kosher is my truth and what makes me feel part of the Jewish people,” says Itta. As someone who used to attend Kapores, the traditional village ceremony on the eve of Yom Kippur every year, Itta saw how factory farmed chickens were kept and handled and has since been very particular to use eggs that come from pasture-raised hens. “I even became one of these moms who sneaks vegetables in Mac and Cheese – but please don’t tell my kids!”

The house recipe: Schmaltzy vegetables

6 servings

Itta honors both her mother and her paternal grandmother’s cooking in her own cooking style. “It’s the food I grew up with and many of us have a special connection to the food of our childhood – especially if it’s damn good like mine was”, says Itta. “My grandmother is skilled at traditional Ashkenazi Jewish food, she grew up using a lot of schmaltz (chicken fat),” says Itta. “In contrast, my mother cooks with a lot of fresh vegetables and herbs. And me? I combine all of the above, as in this dish. For me, vegetables are the stars of this dish, but, as is the case in every family who gathers every evening to eat together, each member enjoys food a little differently: you can eat the sausage, and I will eat the schmaltzy vegetables underneath”.

Ingredients:

1 rutabaga, peeled (if waxy) and cut into very small cubes
1 celeriac (celery root), peeled and cut into very small cubes
2 red skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into very small cubes
1 leek, cleaned, very dark greens leaves removed and chopped into 2.5-cm/1-in rounds

500 grams/1 lb bok choy, roughly chopped
1⁄3 bunch dill, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground coarse black pepper
500 grams/1 lb raw Polish or German sausage

 

To serve:

whole sourdough rye bread

sauerkraut

grain mustard

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400 F fan/convection and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. Combine all the ingredients, except for the sausage, in a bowl and toss well. Spread out in a single layer on the tray. The vegetables should be touching but not overlapping.
  3. Bake the vegetables until just soft, about 20 minutes.
  4. Place the sausage on top of the veggies and prick with a fork a few times to prevent the casing from exploding.
  5. Roast in the oven for about 12 minutes, until the veggies are crispy and the sausage is cooked the way you like.
  6. Serve with whole sourdough rye bread, sauerkraut and grain mustard if you want the works.

Edited by Ofer Vardi, Photography by Matthew Septimus