Rebecchine di Gerusalemme
(Polenta and Anchovy Fritters)

Cucina Ebraica : Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen
by Joyce Esersky Goldstein, Ellen Silverman (Photographer)
Hardcover - 208 pages
Chronicle Books; ISBN: 0811819698

Versions of these anchovy-filled polenta sandwiches appear in almost every book on the cuisine of Italian Jews, but nowhere can I find a reliable story about the origin of the name.  I doubt that these fritters were ever served in Jerusalem.  Instead, the name Gerusalemme seems to be the Italian way to let you know that the dish originated in the Jewish community, just as the name Rebecca, or in this case the diminutive Rebecchine, indicates a Jewish origin.

While most traditional polenta recipes call for pouring the cornmeal in a fine stream into boiling water and advise you to stir the grain like crazy to prevent lumps.  I find that combining the polenta with cold water in the pot and then gradually bringing it to a boil while whisking occasionally is foolproof in the prevention of dreaded lumps.

Serves 6 to 8.

Combine the polenta, cold water, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat.  Bring to a gentle boil, whisking occasionally.  Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring often, until very thick and no longer grain on the tongue, about 30 minutes.  If the polenta becomes quite thick but is still grainy, stir in some hot water and continue to simmer until cooked through and soft.  Pour out onto an oiled baking sheet, forming a layer 1/2 inch thick.  Let cool, then chill until fully set.

Fillet and rinse the salted anchovies, then chop them coarsely.  Place them in a saute pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil over low heat.  Cook, stirring often with a fork, until the anchovies soften and melt, about 5 minutes.  It is imperative that they do not burn.  Remove from the heat.

Using a cookie cutter or biscuit cutter 2-1/2 to 3 inches in diameter, cut the chilled polenta into rounds.  Spreads half of them with the anchovy puree.  Top them with the remaining rounds.

Pour vegetable or olive oil into a wide, deep saute pan to a depth of 2 inches. Place over medium-high heat and heat to 375 degrees F.  Meanwhile, break 1 egg into a shallow bowl and beat until blended.  Spread some flour on a plate.

Working with a few polenta sandwiches at a time, dip them into the beaten egg and then into the flour.  (Some cooks reverse the order, dipping them first in flour, then in egg.)  Slip them into the hot oil, a few at a time, and fry, turning once, until golden, about 4 minutes total.  Remove with a slotted skimmer to paper towels to drain.  Serve warm.

Note: If you don't like anchovies, you can cut the cooked polenta into fingers, dredge them lightly in flour, and fry them in the same manner.  Or you can sandwich the polenta rounds with slices of Fontina or mozzarella cheese, dip them in egg and then flour, and then deep-fry.