Shavuot marks an important religious event — the receiving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.
In ancient times, Shavuot was also celebrated as a spring harvest holiday, featuring foods gathered from the fields. Today, the traditional dishes we serve combine dairy products, fruits, vegetables and grains. The produce available at local farmers’ markets inspires us to celebrate the holiday with a variety of recipes using the freshest ingredients.
For your Shavuot meals, consider dishes like Fried Cheese With Fresh Tomato Sauce, which looks impressive in Italian restaurants and is easy to make at home. My first taste of this dish was in a small town in Italy — an unusual experience and a delicious combination of flavors.
And while shopping at the farmers’ market, stock up on fresh fava beans. Just shell, boil and puree them with sautéed onions for a wonderful soup. Heat, ladle the soup into bowls, and top with grated Parmesan cheese and olive oil.
Stuffed vegetables are another Shavuot tradition, and now is the season to find fresh zucchini squash blossoms, perfect to be filled with a ricotta cheese mixture, baked and served as a main course.
And don’t forget dessert! Although I seldom make cheesecake during the year, my family can count on having this treat during the holiday. For my Two-tone Strawberry Cheesecake, I use a natural, kosher cream cheese made without vegetable gum or other additives often found in the store-bought varieties; it is lighter, smoother and blends more easily with sugar, eggs and other ingredients.
Enjoy mixing and matching these dishes for your Shavuot holiday meal.
TWO-TONE STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE
Almond Crust (recipe follows)
3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon strawberry extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons strawberry puree (4 to 5 fresh strawberries)
Sour Cream Topping (recipe follows)
Strawberries for garnish
Prepare Almond Crust; bake and set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar and eggs until blended thoroughly. Blend in the strawberry and almond extracts.
Pour 1 3/4 cups of cream cheese mixture into the baked Almond Crust. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes, until firm.
Blend the strawberry puree into the remaining cream cheese mixture and mix well. Carefully pour strawberry mixture over the partially baked cheesecake layer. Return to the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until firm in the center and brown around the edges.
Remove from the oven; spread sour cream topping over cheesecake, return to the oven and bake 5 minutes. Cool, loosen from sides of pan, cover with foil and chill. Garnish with strawberries before serving.
Makes 12 servings.
1 1/2 cups finely ground almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon almond extract
Place the almonds, sugar, butter and almond extract in a food processor or blender and process until mixture begins to come together. Press almond mixture evenly into the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake at 375 F for 5 to 10 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
Sour Cream Topping
2 cups sour cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon strawberry extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
In a bowl, combine the sour cream, sugar, and strawberry and almond extracts; mix well. Cover and chill.
FRIED CHEESE WITH FRESH TOMATO SAUCE
It is important to fry the mozzarella cheese cubes just before serving so they will be soft and melted on the inside. The sauce can be prepared in advance; simply spoon onto individual plates when serving.
1 pound mozzarella cheese, finely diced
1 1/4 cups dried bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons dry vermouth or brandy
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 parsley sprigs, stems removed
4 fresh basil leaves
1 cup flour
Vegetable oil for frying
Fresh Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
In a double boiler, soften the mozzarella over hot water. Transfer the softened cheese to the large bowl of an electric mixer and beat in two of the eggs at medium speed. Add 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, the oregano, half the garlic and the salt; mix well. Press the cheese mixture into a lightly oiled 5-by-7-inch glass dish. Cover and chill at least 1 hour, or until firm.
In a bowl, lightly beat the remaining four eggs. Blend in the vermouth. Set aside.
In a food processor or blender, blend the remaining 1 cup bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, basil and remaining garlic. Set aside.
Cut the cheese mixture into 1/2-inch cubes (about 15 pieces). Dip each into the flour, then the egg-vermouth mixture, and finally into the bread crumb mixture to coat evenly. Place on paper towels and chill 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
In a heavy skillet or deep fryer, heat 3 inches of oil until it registers 375 F on a deep-frying thermometer. Fry the cheese cubes, a few at a time, until evenly golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve at once with Fresh Tomato Sauce.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 onions, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
6 to 8 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced (1-inch dice) or 1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
In a heavy skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic, onions, red bell pepper, carrots and celery; sauté until the onions are transparent. Add the tomatoes with their liquid, red wine, oregano, basil, parsley and sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally until thick, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.
Makes 4 to 6 cups.
SIMPLE ZUCCHINI SAUCE
2 zucchini (16 ounces), cut in 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a medium-size saucepan, place zucchini with water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until soft. Reserve 3 to 4 tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Cool. Place zucchini in food processor with reserved liquid, olive oil, salt and pepper, and blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, heat the sauce and serve with the squash blossoms.
STUFFED SQUASH BLOSSOMS
20 to 24 squash blossoms with tiny zucchini attached
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 egg yolks or whole eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound gorgonzola cheese, cut in small cubes
1/2 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Simple Zucchini Sauce
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Carefully open blossoms wide; remove the pistils — the fuzzy yellow floret — from inside the zucchini blossom and discard. Set blossoms aside.
In a large bowl, beat the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs and salt until smooth. Taste for seasoning; the mixture should be highly seasoned. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
To fill the blossoms, spoon the filling into a large pastry bag (a small spoon will also work). Fill the clean blossoms about three-quarters full. Push a piece of gorgonzola into the center of the filling and gently squeeze the petals together over the top of the filling.
Brush two 8-by-10-inch baking dishes with olive oil and arrange the stuffed zucchini flowers in the dishes. Sprinkle the blossoms with additional salt, pepper and remaining olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the cheese is puffy and the juices that run from the blossoms begin to bubble.
To serve, ladle sauce into each serving plate and arrange two stuffed blossoms on top.
Makes 10 servings.
FAVA BEAN SOUP
5 cups cold water or vegetable stock
3 cups fava beans, shelled
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese
Place cold water and fava beans in a large pot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain fava beans, reserving liquid.
In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté onions until soft. In a blender or food processor, combine fava beans, onions and 1/2 of the reserved liquid. Puree until smooth. Add additional liquid as necessary to get desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle into serving bowls, and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and remaining olive oil.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.