Ground Beef and Matzah “Lasagna” (See page 2) Photos by Dan Kacvinski. Food coordinated by Judy Zeidler
Families will gather at sundown on March 25 and begin the eight-day observance of Passover, commemorating the centuries-old flight of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt to their subsequent freedom.
It is also known as the Festival of Matzah, or unleavened bread, because in their exodus, the Jews had little time to allow their bread to rise. It is a very special time for our family to share in the Passover seder that symbolizes so well this fateful period in Jewish history.
Certain dietary restrictions are observed during Passover, and the use of matzah, emblematic of the unleavened dough carried by the fleeing Jews, has inspired me each year to create new recipes that have become our favorites.
Although the Passover pantry sounds very complicated, it really isn’t much of a hardship. There are no restrictions on fresh fruits or most vegetables, and all kosher fish, meats and poultry are permitted. Matzah meal, matzah cake meal and Passover potato starch are good substitutes for flour.
The holiday gives our family a chance to try foods from different cultures — as well as the traditional Passover favorites. In Italy, they make Passover lasagna using whole square sheets of matzah, which replace the usual pasta, combined with layers of ground beef and tomato sauce. This can be served as a main course for the seder or eaten during the remaining days of Passover.
A more familiar use for matzah meal is matzah balls, or knaidlach, that are served in a rich chicken soup. But even these can take on the feel of a special holiday treat when they are stuffed with chopped chicken livers and served in a hearty broth laden with onions, parsnips, leeks and carrots.
After the seder dinner, it is time for dessert, and everyone looks forward to the delicious assortment of cakes, cookies and candies that fill our table. I always include chocolate farfel-pecan clusters. The chocolate is melted and poured into a bowl, and tossed with toasted farfel and toasted pecans. They are easy to make, and knowing the pleasure they bring to everyone when I serve them makes me happy!
STUFFED MATZAH BALLS (KNAIDLACH)
∗ 3/4 cup Chopped Chicken Livers (recipe follows)
∗ 3 eggs, separated
∗ 1/2 cup water
∗ 1 cup matzah meal
∗ 1/2 teaspoon salt
∗ Chicken soup (use your favorite recipe)
Prepare Chopped Chicken Livers; refrigerate until ready to use.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Combine egg yolks with water. Gently fold egg yolk mixture into stiffly beaten egg whites alternately with matzah meal and salt. Cover and let stand 10 minutes. Shape matzah meal mixture into 12 balls around a tablespoon of Chopped Chicken Livers mixture. Drop matzah balls into boiling chicken soup, cover and simmer about 10 to 15 minutes or until firm.
Makes about 12 matzah balls.
CHOPPED CHICKEN LIVERS
∗ 2 onions, chopped
∗ 1/4 cup oil
∗ 1 pound chicken livers, lightly broiled
∗ 4 mushrooms, sliced
∗ 1 apple, peeled and sliced
∗ 2 tablespoons dry wine
∗ 2 hard-cooked eggs
∗ Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onions in oil until lightly browned. Add chicken livers, mushrooms and apple; sauté. Add wine and simmer 5 minutes. Coarsely grind liver mixture and eggs together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Makes 2 to 3 cups.
A MATZAH GLOSSARY
Matzah: Unleavened flat bread eaten during Passover. The dough, a mixture of flour and water, is worked very quickly (within 18 minutes) and baked in a very hot oven so it does not have a chance to rise.
Matzah cake meal: Almost powder-fine ground matzah used for cakes and cookies.
Matzah cereal: Resembles cream of wheat. Replaces other hot cereals for Passover; also used to thicken sauces and stuffings.
Matzah farfel: >Coarse pieces of broken-up matzah, resembling corn flakes, that replace pasta and noodles. Delicious when mixed with fresh or dried fruit and milk as a breakfast cereal.
Matzah meal: Coarsely ground matzah used in place of bread crumbs or flour.
Passover potato starch: Finer than matzah cake meal; another replacement for flour.
Shemurah matzah: A round variety eaten by many Jewish families because of the careful processing of the wheat used to make it. It is mixed, rolled and baked by hand from wheat that has been guarded from the time of harvest through the baking process to ensure that the flour does not come in contact with any moisture, which would allow fermentation — or any other type of leavening — to take place.
— Judy Zeidler
GROUND BEEF AND MATZAH “LASAGNA”
∗ 5 tablespoons olive oil
∗ 3 onions, chopped
∗ 1 pound ground beef
∗ 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
∗ Salt and freshly ground black pepper
∗ 1 egg
∗ 1/2 pound mushrooms, chopped
∗ 2 garlic cloves, minced
∗ 4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
∗ 5 matzah sheets
∗ 1 cup chicken stock
∗ Tomato-Mushroom Sauce (recipe follows)
∗ Sliced mushrooms, sauteed (for garnish)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat; brown two of the onions and the ground beef, stirring until the meat is crumbly. Add parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat; cool. Stir in egg and set aside.
In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté chopped mushrooms until tender. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté garlic and remaining 1 onion until soft. Add tomatoes and simmer 10 minutes; set aside.
Use remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to coat bottom and sides of an 8-inch baking dish. Dip the matzah sheets in the chicken stock to soften. Place 1 matzah in baking dish. Layer the meat mixture, mushroom mixture and tomato mixture alternately with the matzah, ending with a layer of matzah on top. Pour the remaining chicken stock over the matzah.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until brown, adding additional stock as necessary to keep the lasagna moist.
Spoon the Tomato-Mushroom Sauce onto heated plates and place a slice of lasagna on top. Garnish with sliced, sautéed mushrooms.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
∗ 1 tablespoon olive oil
∗ 1 onion, minced
∗ 2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
∗ 1 (15-ounce) can Passover tomato sauce
∗ 1 tablespoon dry red Passover wine
∗ 8 large mushrooms, quartered
In a saucepan, heat the oil. Add onion and garlic; sauté until soft. Add the tomato sauce and wine; bring to a boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the sauce, turn off the heat, cover and let them soften.
Makes about 3 cups.
CHOCOLATE FARFEL-PECAN CLUSTERS
∗ 16 ounces Passover semisweet chocolate
∗ 1 1/2 cups toasted matzah farfel
∗ 1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, melt the chocolate. Pour melted chocolate into large bowl. Add matzah farfel and pecans; mix thoroughly. Spoon chocolate mixture onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet or into ruffled paper candy cups. Refrigerate until set.
To serve: Peel the clusters off the waxed paper and place on a platter or serve in candy cups.
Makes about 30 servings.
ITALIAN PASSOVER SANDWICH COOKIES
∗ Chocolate Filling (recipe follows)
∗ 1 1/2 cups finely ground almonds
∗ 3/4 cup sugar
∗ 1 cup matzah cake meal
∗ 3/4 cup margarine, cut in pieces
Prepare Chocolate Filling; set aside until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 300 F.
Combine almonds, sugar and matzah cake meal in the bowl of a food processor. Blend well. Add margarine a little at a time, pulsing, until mixture comes away from sides of bowl. Transfer mixture to a board, knead slightly, then pat or shape into a 1/2-inch-thick, 11-inch square. Use palm of hands to smooth down top and sides of dough.
Slice into 1/2-inch-thick strips, then slice cross-wise into 1/2-inch-thick strips. Shape each 1/2-inch square with fingertips, and carefully roll with palm of hands into small balls.
Place balls on cookie sheet 1/4 inch apart. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool.
Spread small dollop of Chocolate Filling on the flat side of a cookie. Top with the flat side of another cookie, forming a sandwich. Place each filled cookie in a miniature paper cup.
Makes about 36 cookies.
∗ 1/3 cup sugar
∗ 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
∗ 1/3 cup margarine
Blend sugar and cocoa in a bowl. Heat margarine until bubbly; blend into sugar mixture, beating with wire whisk until smooth.
ITALIAN WINE CAKE
∗ 6 eggs, separated
∗ 1 1/2 cups sugar
∗ 1/2 cup potato starch
∗ 1/2 cup matzah cake meal
∗ 1/4 cup orange juice
∗ 1/4 cup sweet Passover wine
∗ Juice and grated peel of 1 lemon
∗ Pinch salt
∗ Zabaglione (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl, beat egg yolks, adding sugar slowly. Continue beating until light and fluffy.
Combine potato starch and matzah cake meal; set aside. Combine orange juice, wine, and lemon juice and peel. Add potato starch mixture to egg yolk mixture, alternately with orange juice mixture, blending thoroughly.
Beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Gently fold beaten egg whites into egg yolk mixture.
Pour batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in cake comes out dry.
Remove cake from oven; immediately invert pan and let it cool. Loosen sides and center of cake with a sharp knife and unmold onto a cake plate.