Passover

MazzagnaItalian Jewish culinary culture is fascinating.  Not Ashkenazi, not sephardi it’s its own mashup of flavors and dishes.  So it isn’t surprising that Italian Jews actually figured out a way to enjoy pasta during Passover.  Like pretty much everything Italians do, their matzo is prettier than ours, often round and punched out to look like a lacy doily.  However our square shaped giant crackers are perfect for constructing a “lasagna” or as my staff started calling it “mazzagna” (matzo+lasagne).  I’ve heard these “pies” layered with matzo called Tortino, Mina or Scacchi. You might think that this idea is a poor substitute for the real thing, but actually it’s pretty great.  The matzos which are soaked prior to layering, absorb the tomato sauce and become light and fluffy.

You can use this idea to make any kind of “tortino” whether you construct it with a meat sauce (made with groung lamb perhaps) or vegetables as I do here.  At Angeli we decided that the best use of the Mazzagna/Tortino was as a vegetarian option/side dish for all.  If you’re keeping kosher or doing a traditional meat meal than leave out the parmesan.  If not, then go for it.  Either way your guests will be happy to have something on the table that’s light(ish).

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sedertable.jpgMy husband is Jewish, my stepchildren are Jewish, even my son is Jewish.  And yet, I, myself, am merely Jew-ish, which is to say that I go to temple with my family, participate in our Jewish life, but have yet to officially convert.  Why?  I don’t know exactly.  I believe that it’s either in your heart or it isn’t, and it is in mine, and no amount of mikvehs will make it more so.

My first seder was easily a decade ago.  I slaved (no pun intended), I sweated, I researched.   I even figured out how to get a lamb shank bone for my seder plate.  And for dinner, I made a fine lamb roast.  We invited my husband’s best friend since high school, and his family.  Turns out, they don’t eat lamb.  That was awkward.   But it had nothing to do with Passover.  (I had no idea that there were people who felt funny about lamb. Now I ask, every single time, and there’s only been one other occasion where someone categorically turned their back on it.) 

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last_supper.jpg

As a secular Jew married to a Catholic, I guess you could say that religion for me has always been a spectator sport. I do know that Easter is upon us,  so my catholic friends (yes, I mean those who embrace all things) celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ with a holiday, whose name is derived from the name of a goddess associated with spring, hence all the chocolate fertility symbols (a patriarchal holiday with something for everyone). And this Christian holiday normally coincides with Passover because the Last Supper was a Passover meal, and we all know how that went.

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bloomseder.jpg I tried to be religious at college and while I hit more frat parties then holidays at Hillel, I did my fair share to keep my faith. There were long services in make-shift synagogues on campus, and awkward dinners with friends of friends relatives in the greater Providence and Boston area where people actually came back to the table after the Seder meal (a foreign site to me as once my family hit the matzo, it was a fast feast all the way to the afikomen.)

There were valiant attempts at fasting for Yom Kippur and signing off bread for Passover observance; the yeast in Natty Lite beer didn’t count, right? But, nothing was quite like my senior year Seder spectacular.

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flourlesschocolatecakeMost everyone loves chocolate cake. It's just one of those classic desserts that no one can refuse. A good chocolate cake is moist and tender, sweet but not saccharine, and very chocolaty, of course. Melted chocolate—not cocoa powder—separates an excellent chocolate cake from a mediocre one. The best quality chocolate will always yield excellent results. But what about a chocolate cake made without flour? You would think it would be horrible. But it actually works, with just two ingredients: chocolate and eggs.

The best way to describe it would be to call it a baked mousse, because basically that's what it is. Melted chocolate is first combined with a mixture of beaten egg yolks and sugar, then egg whites are folded in. I choose to flavor this cake with instant espresso powder and vanilla, both of which help heighten the chocolate flavor. The final product is a dense yet moist and tender cake just right for chocolate lovers. It also makes a great dessert for Passover since there's no flour at all.

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