Passover’s casual meals

Bring back the recipes from the past.

Frittata (photo credit: Wikimedia commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia commons)
Since I was a child, I’ve loved Passover meals. Everything about them is different – the plates, the flatware and, of course, the food. I particularly enjoyed the relaxed meals my mother prepared for us on Hol Hamoed. Many of these meals included a variety of tasty dairy or parve dishes made with eggs. They remain the Passover specialties that I love the most.
There are so many dishes that I’d like to prepare this Passover. I will definitely bake my mother’s lemony cottage cheese and matza kugel studded with dried fruit and nuts. Its sweet flavor and rich texture remind me of cheesecake.(See recipe.)
This week I would also like to make my friend Shulamit Wilder’s sweet carrot souffle. She makes it with carrot puree, sugar, matza cake meal and margarine, flavors it with nutmeg and vanilla sugar and tops it with glazed pecans. At her Seder, she served it with the meal; it’s also great for brunch or dessert.
For breakfast I’ll bake my high-school friend Debbie’s matza-meal rolls made from a cream-puff-type dough. They taste so good with scrambled eggs.
I also plan to prepare my friend Norma Lane’s delicate spinach ricotta gnocchi (Italian dumplings) for a light supper. She makes them with a little potato starch to hold them together instead of the usual flour, and serves them topped with melted butter and grated cheese.
There are all sorts of Passover casseroles that are perfect for a dairy lunch or supper.
I’m eager to try several from The Kosher for Pesach Cookbook by the Aish Hatorah Women’s Organization in Jerusalem. One casserole, called “Pesach spinach square,” has cooked spinach mixed with pieces of matza alternating with layers of sliced yellow cheese and layers of cottage cheese mixed with whipped eggs and sour cream.
Their potato casserole, called simply “potato-cheese dish,” has diced cooked potatoes baked with a creamy topping of cottage cheese mixed with milk, minced onion, parsley, salt, pepper and a sprinkling of grated cheese.
Before Passover is over, I would like to make a frittata, like the one made from eggplant in The Sephardic Kitchen by Rabbi Robert Sternberg. The diced eggplant is sautéed in olive oil with onion and garlic and baked with a mixture of feta cheese, yogurt, eggs and matza meal. (See recipe.) I’m also tempted by the frittata in Meri Badi’s book, 250 Recettes de Cuisine Juive Espagnole. There is an entire chapter devoted to these specialties, which Badi refers to as “Passover gratins.” Her chard frittata is made of chopped, cooked chard leaves mixed with moistened, squeezed matza, white cheese, grated kashkaval cheese and eggs. She spoons the mixture into a gratin dish coated with sautéed matza meal and bakes it with a topping of bits of margarine and grated Parmesan cheese. Badi makes frittatas of spinach and leeks the same way.
When she prepares potato and pumpkin variations, she replaces the matzot with a small amount of matza meal.
Similar dishes, called “sfongo,” are cooked either on top of the stove or in the oven. Esther Benbassa, author of Cuisine Judeo-Espagnole, makes hers from a combination of cooked spinach, potato puree and moistened, crumbled matza flavored with grated cheese and enriched with eggs and oil. I’m putting it on my shortlist for this year.
But I also want to make Passover blintzes and knishes, and matza lasagne with layers of sautéed onions, spinach, tomato sauce and cheese.
Obviously, there aren’t enough days of Passover to make them all. Some dishes will just have to wait until next Passover.
For a dairy Passover menu, this baked pudding can be served as a main course or as a dessert. It’s made of layers of moistened matza and sweet cheese filling flavored with nuts and dried fruit. Use any fruits and nuts that you like. Serve the kugel with yogurt or sour cream.
Makes 6 servings
4 matzot 2 cups cottage cheese 3 large eggs 1 ⁄2 tsp salt, or to taste (optional) 1 ⁄3 cup sugar 1 Tbsp lemon juice Grated zest of 1⁄2 lemon 1 ⁄2 cup dried cranberries, golden or dark raisins, chopped dates, chopped dried apricots or a mixture 1 ⁄2 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts 5 to 6 Tbsp. melted butter
Preheat oven to 165ºC (325ºF). Soak the whole matzot in enough cold water to cover them, until they are slightly softened but not mushy, about 1 1⁄2 minutes. Drain thoroughly.
Mix together the cottage cheese, eggs, salt, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, dried fruit and nuts.
Pour about 3 Tbsp of the melted butter into a 20-cm. (8-inch) square baking dish or cake pan of about 8cup volume. Set 1 whole matza in the pan, filling in any spaces with pieces from another matza. Spread half the cheese mixture in the pan. Cover with another layer of matza. Spread the remaining cheese mixture in the pan.
Top with a layer of matzot. Sprinkle the remaining melted butter on top.
Bake for about 1 hour or until the kugel is set and the top is browned.
Serve hot or lukewarm.
This recipe is from The Sephardic Kitchen. Author Robert Sternberg notes that using matza meal in a Passover frittata thickens the finished dish into a kind of quiche; without the matza meal, it’s more like an omelet. For accompaniments, Sternberg suggests serving thick yogurt, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and marinated black olives. He recommends using an oven-proof skillet to prepare the frittata. If you don’t have one, you can sauté the eggplant, onion and garlic in a regular skillet and then bake the frittata in a gratin dish or other baking dish.Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 small eggplant (170 to 225 gr. or 6 to 8 ounces), unpeeled Coarse salt 6 Tbsp olive oil 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped 1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped (1⁄2 Tbsp) 3 ⁄4 cup feta cheese, crumbled 3 Tbsp matza meal 1 ⁄4 cup yogurt 6 extra-large eggs, beaten Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the eggplant into small dice. Place it in a colander in the sink. Sprinkle evenly with coarse salt. Cover the eggplant with plastic wrap and place several plates on top of it to weigh it down. Let rest for 11/2 hours. Remove the plates and plastic wrap. Rinse the eggplant, squeeze it to remove the juices and dry it on paper towels.
Preheat the oven to 175ºC (350ºF).
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion in the oil, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the eggplant and sauté, turning constantly, until nicely browned. Add the garlic and reduce the heat. Cook 1 minute longer, stirring, and remove from heat. Pour the contents of the skillet into a mixing bowl.
Add the feta cheese, matza meal, yogurt, eggs, salt and pepper and combine well.
Bake the mixture in the skillet, if it is oven-proof, or in an oiled 6-cup casserole, for 45 minutes or until the frittata is golden brown. Cut it into wedges and serve hot or at room temperature.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.