Passover

sheetofmotzoh.jpg I hate matzoh. There, I've said it. I may be Jewish but matzoh sure feels like penance to me. It was bad enough my ancestors had to wander through the desert for forty years, but adding insult to injury, they had to eat crumbly crackers with all the flavor of cardboard. I know there are some people who claim to love eating matzoh, but frankly, I don't buy it.

Sure, slathered with butter and liberally sprinkled with kosher salt or cinnamon sugar improves the taste of matzoh, but that treatment would work on just about any kind of tasteless cracker or bread. Don't try to sell me on flavored matzoh. Flavored matzoh tastes artificial. Whole wheat matzoh has to be the worst. I've never heard anyone even claim to like it. It's what I imagine must be served in jails or orphanages.

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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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noodle_kugel.jpgIt has to be the unsexiest of all Jewish foods, the Noodle Kugel.  If you say kugel with a nasally tone, it’s even more unsexy than previously mentioned.  The word kugel itself reminds me of kegel, another less than sexy term.  Maybe that’s the problem.

However, if you were to challenge me, indicating gefeltifish in a jar is the unsexiest of all Jewish food, I might secretly agree with you.  But for the moment, I’m going with kugel.

Now, with all of that said, I would like to go on the record proclaiming this particular Noodle Kugel, in all of its high piled noodle glory, as having the sexiest TASTE ever.  If you take a peek at the list of ingredients, you’ll see there is no way it could taste bad, it’s like dessert.  There is something about the crispy-sugared edges of the baked noodles on top that send you to kugel nirvana.  It’s sublime.  And please don’t try to tell me there is no place called “kugel nirvana” because I’ve been there.

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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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pate bowlIf you ask my Jewish husband, he’ll tell you that, until I married him, I “didn’t know from Jewish food.” And he’s right. As a girl who was raised a Southern Baptist in Texas, my experience with Jewish cuisine was limited to toasting a bagel.

But when we had children and decided to raise them respecting the traditions of both of our religions, I really got into it. Hannukah and Christmas, Passover and Easter, we celebrated all of the holidays that honored God and Food.

Until the year he told me he craved chopped chicken liver and I was at a loss.

Thankfully, my mother-in-law gave me an amazing cookbook, The Gefilte Variations, and I realized chopped chicken liver was just a version of French pate, something that even this shiksa could understand.

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