Friday, April 18, 2008

Pesach Menu Planning

Passover is only a couple of weeks out and I still haven’t decided on a menu for this year. Actually, I haven’t even narrowed down a theme! Last night I was going through the haggadah and doing yet another round of editing for my use and a future edition. As I was going through it, I was trying to think in terms of what meal would serve this haggadah really well.

Last year, I did an “18 minutes” theme, which was actually suggested by my lovely and talented husband. He suggested it based on our conversations about matzah making and how the time constraints are symbolic since 18 = “chai” and is the word for life. I had a rather major epiphany a couple of years ago while trying to make matzah. The 18 minutes theme worked really well. Most every dish took less than 20 minutes to prepare and it was a delicious and entirely vegetarian experience.

I thought I might do a colonial seder this year and base all the dishes on what 18th Century Jews in America would have served, but I’ve had little luck in discovering much information on this subject. But that’s just to have a theme.

What I’m trying to do now is, without driving myself crazy, focus on the metaphysical and symbolic properties of the foods. With some dishes like charoset or a bitter herb salad it’s easy. But what about the Strawberry-Mint Soup with Panna Cotta I found in Herb Quarterly?. I thought it would make a lovely change from Chicken Soup for the soup course — or dessert.

I suppose if I wanted to invoke a “sense of wonder” then my Strawberry-Mint Soup with Panna Cotta would certainly do the trick. Now that I think about it, this dish is a great way to make a table full of adults relive a sense of child-like excitement. That’s definitely what elements like the first person “maggid” section of my haggadah are about.

I think I’ve discovered my theme, the Oasis Elim! Go with me on this for a second. We repeat several times in the haggadah, “I am here to remember. I am here to be free.” Looking at the order of things, the meal is just like the respite at the Oasis Elim.

And they came to Elim, where were twelve springs of water, and three score and ten palm-trees; and they encamped there by the waters. (Ex 15:27)

Based on the position of the meal, at least in a my Haggadah, it really does seem to be the moment of 15:27 at the Oasis Elim:

* Escaping Egypt = Maggid
* Song at the Sea = Dayenu
* Bitter Waters at Marah = Reciting of the Plagues
* Waters at Marah turning sweet = Eating of Matzah, Maror, Charoset
* Oasis at Elim = Dinner!

The menu for the meal will all be intended to invoke the sense of joy and giddiness that the Israelites must have felt when they realized they were safely across the Nile and then finally made it to the lush oasis to rest. Now a meal can hardly inspire the same level of enthusiasm that an escape from 400 hundred years of oppression can, but it can bring surprise, delight, and joy. It can remind of that moment of happiness before we think about all the work that still needs to be done. It can play the role of the gorgeous Oasis that revives and refreshes us before we continue our long journey.Below you’ll find my final menu with links to either the recipe, if I found it online, or the book it can be found in. I’ve opted once again for a vegetarian menu for Passover, but I think a lamb dish would go beautifully if someone really wanted to include a meat dish. The dishes I’ve made before are the Sephardic-style Charoset, Bitter Herb Salad, Tofu Marsala, and Tiramatzah.

And just for fun here’s my Passover adaptation of a MS Word menu card template (doc). Feel free to use it for your dinner.

5768 Passover Menu

~ Charoset Sampler ~
Date & Fig Sephardic-style
Fig & Port Wine



~ Bitter Herb Salad* ~
with lapsang souchong eggs and
oil & vinegar dressing


~ Tofu Marsala ~

~ Cauliflower Leek Kugel ~
with Almond Crust


~ Tiramatzah ~

~ Matzah Baklavah ~


Coffee, Tea, Wines, Sparkling Water


I’m not great at the wine pairing thing, so if you have any suggestions — it would be much appreciated.

* There’s no recipe for the bitter herb salad, just a lovely salad made from bitter herbs.
cauliflower-leek kugel with almond-herb crust

Coarsely mashed vegetables are the main ingredients in this utterly surprising — and irresistible — kugel.

Servings: Makes 8 servings.
subscribe to Bon Appétit
8 cups cauliflower florets (from 2 medium heads of cauliflower)

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cups coarsely chopped leeks (white and pale green parts; from 3 large)
6 tablespoons unsalted matzo meal
3 large eggs
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/3 cup almonds, toasted, chopped
Cook cauliflower in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain; transfer to large bowl and mash coarsely with potato masher.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks and sauté until tender and just beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Add leek mixture to cauliflower. Mix in matzo meal. Beat eggs, 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 tablespoon dill, salt, and pepper in small bowl to blend; stir into cauliflower mixture.

Brush 11x7-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil. Spread cauliflower mixture evenly in prepared dish. Mix almonds, remaining 7 tablespoons parsley, 7 tablespoons dill, and 2 tablespoons oil in medium bowl to blend. Sprinkle evenly over kugel. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake kugel uncovered until set in center and beginning to brown on top, about 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes.

apricot-pistachio charoset

This recipe produces a slightly dry, chunky charoset. If you prefer a more moist version, add extra wine, a tablespoon at a time, until you achieve the desired consistency.

Servings: Makes about 2 cups.
subscribe to Bon Appétit
1 cup minced dried apricots, preferably Californian
1 cup unsalted shelled pistachio nuts (not dyed red), chopped and lightly toasted
1/3 cup sweet white wine, such as Bartenura Moscato d'Asti or Herzog Late Harvest Riesling
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon shredded fresh mint
10 threads saffron, crumbled
In large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Wait approximately 20 minutes before serving to allow apricots to absorb liquid.

Note: Bartenura Moscato d'Asti and Herzog Late Harvest Riesling are available at

fig and port wine charoset

In addition to its traditional role on the Seder plate, this charoset is delicious as a condiment for duck or roast beef.

Servings: Makes about 2 cups.
subscribe to Gourmet
1 cup ruby port
1 cup black Mission figs, finely chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups finely chopped Vidalia or other sweet onions
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted (optional)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In small saucepan, combine port and figs. Set over high heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until figs are softened and port is slightly reduced, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in large heavy-bottomed skillet over moderately high heat, heat oil. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until lightly caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

In large bowl, combine fig/port mixture, onions, pine nuts, and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Making Tiramatzah
Tiramatzah is a tasty and seasonal variation on a classic dessert: tiramisu made with many layers of matzah bread. Because it's made with many thin layers of matzah instead of just a couple of layers of ladyfingers, it develops a very interesting flaky and layered texture, much like the alternating custard and pastry layers of a Napoleon. Even so, it retains the distinctive flavor of tiramisu and is a darned sight easier to make than traditional pastries.

The first time that I made tiramatzah, it started out as a joke. A friend invited me to a rather informal seder (not something that I normally go to) and like a good guest, I asked what I should bring. They said "Dessert." I asked "What kind?" They said "Tiramisu." I should have left it there-- as a sign that I apparently make adequate tiramisu, but I was unable to resist the pun and added "Do you mean tiramatzah?" We all laughed, and they were indeed pretty damned surprised when I actually showed up at the seder with a tray full of tiramatzah! None the less, it turned out to be a fortuitous (if silly) thing to make because it was-- without doubt-- the best tiramisu that I had ever made. So now, we just keep doing it.

The starting point for tiramatzah is a standard recipe for tiramisu. Most tiramisu recipes are fairly similar and you can start with whichever you happen to like. We happen to use a modified version of that in the cookbook Beppe Cooks!, and we have three other cookbooks that have recipes with only minor differences. Cooking for Engineers has step-by-step instructions on how to make two variations, a simplified modern version as well as a more traditional version.

In tiramatzah, all of the ingredients are the same as for tiramisu except that we replace the coffee-soaked savoiardi cookies (ladyfingers) with coffee-soaked matzah. There are many types of matzah available, and you'll need to be a little bit careful which you pick. Your best bet are so-called "egg matzohs" that are marked kosher for passover, but most types of plain matzah will work just fine. (Savory Garlic flavor is right out.)

Fold it good.

The first step is to make the zabaglione, or interstitial custard, according to your recipe. Generally speaking, this involves whipping egg whites, and folding them into a mixture of sugar, mascarpone cheese, and egg yolks.
tiramatzah - 3

We used a 9" square baking dish because the matzah pieces fit almost exactly into it.
tiramatzah - 5 tiramatzah - 6
The matzah on its own, much like the traditional savoiardi, is a hard, dry, and fairly unintersting biscuit. In tiramisu, that is fixed by soaking it in a traditional mixture of espresso and marsala wine.

The two basic methods of wetting the biscuits are to dip them in the mixture or to paint the mixture on with a pastry brush. Dipping tends to get excellent uniform coverage, but you will a need second large and flat baking dish in order to dip a whole piece of matzah. The other thing to worry about is that it can be hard to handle either matzah or savoiardi when they become soaked through. For this particular batch we used the pastry brush method-- mostly because it photographs more easily. To do this, just paint a generous layer of the mixture over the entire visible surface of each layer of matzah that you use.

Whichever method you choose, be aware that different types of matzah can soak up different amounts of liquid, and you may need to readjust your method accordingly if you switch between different types. Unfortunately, this is the single most difficult step in the recipe, because the final character of the tiramisu (or tiramatzah) is largely determined by the amount of the mixture that is soaked into the biscuits-- use too little or too much and the final product will be dry and papery or wet and slimy. You may need to try a couple of times to get it just so, but don't worry-- you can always find people to help you dispose of slightly imperfect desserts.

tiramatzah - 7 tiramatzah - 8
tiramatzah 2nd layer tiramatzah - 10
After each layer is soaked with the coffee mixture, add a layer of custard and spread it evenly. Then, add another piece of matzah on top and soak it with the coffee mixture as well. Repeat until you run out of ingredients (matzah, custard, or coffee mixture) or the until stack gets too tall.

tiramatzah - last layer finished sinful
The last layer is finished here, near the top of the baking dish. It looks pretty sinful at this stage. Of course, that's because it is. It's amazing how much saturated fat and cholesterol you can get in just a few eggs and a few ounces of mascarpone!

Sprinkle Sprinkle

Sprinkle an even layer of cocoa over the top layer of custard.
tiramatzah - 17 tiramatzah - 19
At this stage the tiramatzah needs some time in the fridge for the flavors to come together, and for the matzah to soften. At least three hours, preferably overnight. The only visible difference, as you see above, is that some of the cocoa should become wetted by the custard.

tiramatzah -sliced Now eat it, silly, or feed it to your guests.

You don't even have to tell anyone that there's matzah in it.

Tiramisu (Italian: Tiramisù / Veneto: Tiramesù, IPA: [tirame'su]) is one of the most popular Italian desserts. It is a made of Lady Fingers dipped in coffee and mascarpone cream. For many years, different sources (from Vin Veneto, dated 1981, to the Italian Academy of Giuseppe Maffioli and several cuisine websites) give evidence that tiramisu was born in Treviso at "Le Beccherie" restaurant in the hands of the confectioner Roberto Linguanotto, also known as Loli. Different stories report the creation of the cake to have been born in the city of Siena. Some confectioners were said to have created it in honour of Cosimo III on the occasion of his visit to the city. These days, the cake is characterised by a delicate and intense taste. In order to prepare it, according to the original recipe, the following ingredients are needed: Savoiardi biscuits, eggs, sugar, rum and cocoa. In the original recipe, there was no liquor as the cake was originally aimed at children and the elderly and the original shape was round. The name Tiramisu is from Italian and means "pick me up" (Tirami sú)

matzoh baklava

Editor's note: This recipe was created by chef Einat Admony for an Israeli Passover menu.

This is one of those desserts that magically improves as it sits — you could serve it after one day, but it's even better on the third day, as the matzoh soaks up the lemony syrup. To avoid a cloying rose flavor, be sure to use rose water (available at Middle Eastern markets and, not rose syrup.

Servings: Makes 8 to 10 servings.
subscribe to Bon Appétit
6 sheets matzoh

For syrup
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon rose water

For assembly
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup shelled raw unsalted natural pistachios, chopped
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted margarine or butter, melted
Briefly pass each sheet of matzoh under cold running water until wet on all sides. Layer sheets between damp paper towels and let stand until somewhat pliable but not soggy or falling apart, about 2 hours.

While matzoh is softening, make syrup
In small saucepan over moderately high heat, stir together 1 cup water and sugar. Bring to boil, then lower heat to moderate and cook, uncovered, until syrupy and thick, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, honey, and rose water and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool, then chill until ready to use.

Assemble dessert
Preheat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, stir together walnuts, pistachios, brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom. Separate out 1/6 of nut mixture and reserve for topping cooked baklava.

Transfer 1 sheet matzoh to counter. Press rolling pin once over sheet from one end to other to flatten. Rotate 90 degrees and repeat. Transfer to 8-inch-square pan and brush with melted margarine. Sprinkle with 1/5 of unreserved nut mixture.

Roll out second sheet of matzoh and transfer to pan. Brush with margarine and sprinkle with nut mixture. Repeat with remaining matzoh sheets and remaining nut mixture, ending with matzoh sheet brushed with margarine on top.

Bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer to rack and immediately pour chilled syrup over. Sprinkle with reserved nut mixture. Let cool, then cover and let stand at least 8 hours and up to 3 days. (Do not chill.) Cut into small squares or diamonds and serve.

No comments: