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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alanmedadAs a half-and-halfer who leaned too much to the gentile side, I might have secretly liked one Jewish holiday -- Passover. To be honest, it’s the only one I knew. Barely. “We’re going to Seder dinner at Celie’s,” my dad would announce each year. Celie was my dad’s younger sister who treated him like the baby of the family. My dad, known as Duke, and stricken with polio as a child, walked his whole life with a brace & cane. It was Celie, till she died, who hand made for him the flesh-colored, stretchy compression socks that improved his circulation. Chappy, my aunt Celie’s husband -- okay, my uncle -- would conduct a pretty serious, religious event. He was sanctimonious, no-nonsense, and an easy foil for my fun-loving dad. I always came starved, but ate very little.

This was a rowdy, boisterous group -- a ton of aunts, uncles and cousins that all knew each other well and lived in the VALLEY. They seemed to include my brother in their group. Me, not so much. So, I clung to my dad for comfort, laughing at and enjoying everything he said, hanging on like it was his last day on earth. That’s how it was with us all my life. He was an older dad. Magical. My hero. And out there in the Valley I was often petrified. I secretly longed for that other soon-to-be-celebrated holiday, Easter -- with the gentiles.  

For some reason, I identified much more with my mother’s side. If my father’s chaotic mishpucha was like Alvy Singer’s in “Annie Hall “(with dad as Uncle Joey Nickels) for my mother’s family, think Grammy Hall. Only stranger and more white trash. Yep, I was more comfortable in a room full of pathologically quiet people who just kind of stared blankly into space. Occasionally, someone like my uncle R.T. might whisper a word or even an incoherent monologue. Something inaudible.  

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cake gf passover choc1aPassover is essentially a gluten free holiday. With the absence of wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and oats for 8 nights, creates limited choices. Protein and veggies are easy. It’s the carbs, the desserts, actually the stuff that most of us crave, thus find satisfying become absent. What I have found in creating a gluten free household is that mealtime as well as snack time is every bit as tasty, if not tastier than how we previously ate.

For my kids, Passover elicits emotions of dread and doom. However, this past week, as I tested and retested recipes, the kids were quite emotional about what was coming out of our kitchen. Even a failed attempt at a gluten free passover doughnut this morning, were gobbled up. Eli coined it a “makee” – a cross between a muffin and a cake and one of the best gluten free treats to date!

So, in testing recipes for the first night of Seder, I started with this Amaranth, Quinoa and Dark Chocolate Cake from La Tartine Gourmande. The first go around, I made it exactly according to the recipe. Delicious! Perfect! And it disappeared within minutes. But with 14 adults and 9 kids, sitting down to dinner, this wasn’t going to go very far.

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strawberryPassoverDessert135xI know this looks like ice cream.  But IT’S NOT.  It’s Strawberry Mousse.  And it has all the creamy mouthfeel that ice cream exudes.  Best of all it’s quick and easy to put together.  What could be better than that?

Oy Vey, I am not Jewish, however, the Wild Boar is.  So when there is a Jewish Holiday (however it seems as though lots of non-Jews, goyim, are celebrating Passover these days), I like to take on my “perfect goy wife” role and put something together, a traditional treat during the holiday period.  I know, I know, I’m good.

The Wild Boar does not follow Jewish dietary laws (he eats everything) but like I said, it’s fun to make traditional things.  If there is a holiday, I’ll join in and do what I need to do for a celebration.  I love parties.

This mousse is considered perfect for Passover because it is non-dairy with no leavening, an important consideration for Jews following traditional dietary laws with a meal where meat is usually present.

But the truth is, I make this on a whim because it is so darn yummy and simple to throw together.  It’s light, fluffy and refreshing.  You’ll be saying Mazel Tov before you know it.  I know you will.

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matzohbrittleMatzo (or matzoh or matzah) is the perfect crunchy, flaky base for a thin coating of buttery caramel, melted chocolate and a sprinkling of chopped nuts salt. It’s an addictive treat that’s perfect for Passover.

Matzo is unleavened bread that first appeared on the “market” when the Israelites had to flee Egypt and did not have time to let their bread rise.

It has been eaten for centuries during the Jewish holiday of Passover as a reminder of that exodus by forgoing cakes, cookies, pasta and noodles — anything made to rise with yeast, baking soda, etc.

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