Turning ones home into a welcoming bayit begins at the table

As we begin the Torah reading this week with Beresheet, I’m reminded that the first letter, bet, is also the first letter of bayit, the Hebrew word for “house.” The second letter is yud, which represents God and the final letter is taf, the first letter in the word Torah. Essentially then, God and Torah are always in one’s house. I realize that the symbol for bet is open on one side, which makes me focus on the importance of keeping an open heart and mind, as well as an open door to the house to welcome the poor and lonely.

As Americans ramp up for the annual “Season of Sharing and Giving,” I’m aware that as Jews we are taught that every season is for sharing and giving. Too wiped out to cook? Take a bag of canned food to the food bank or pantry. Or send a check. Or spend two hours stocking shelves at a pantry.

As busy and tired as I find myself, having the house filled with friends and family visiting and eating together, is somehow calming and uplifting. I’d rather have a friend over for a quick lunch than meet in a restaurant.

I’ve included recipes in this column tasty enough to share with loved ones: Squash Soup for a snack next Friday and a pasta dish that uses some kitchen staples, dressed up.

Roasted Winter Squash and Pear Soup | Serves 8

4 lbs. cubed and peeled winter squash (about 2 small butternut squash, 1 small pumpkin, 1 small kabocha squash or 2 large acorn squash)

2 tsp. fine sea salt

1 tsp. black pepper

3 Tbs. hazelnut oil (or vegetable oil)

1 onion, chopped

4 sage leaves

4 pears, peeled, seeded and chopped

4 cups unsalted vegetable stock

2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

2 oz. toasted hazelnuts, chopped

Place the squash in a lightly oiled baking dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover lightly with foil and roast in a preheated 350-degree oven until tender, about 45 minutes.

Heat the hazelnut oil in a large soup pot and sauté the onion and sage for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the pears, squash and stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Puree the soup.

Serve soup in warmed bowls, with a small amount of crumbled blue cheese in the center. Sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts on top.

Warm Pasta Salad with Herbs | Serves 6

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1/4 cup wine vinegar

4 Tbs. chopped herbs (tarragon, chives, parsley, basil, chervil)

1 egg yolk

2 Tbs. lemon juice

2 tsp. mustard

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

1 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb.fettuccine (or other pasta)

4 stalks celery, peeled and sliced

2 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped

1/2 lb. cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1/4 cup sliced Kalamata olives

In a small deep bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce.

Cook the pasta, drain and toss with the sauce. Gently add the celery, bell peppers, tomatoes and olives. Serve warm.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a Bay Area cooking teacher and food professional. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to J. or to [email protected]