Passover begins tonight. This eight-day holiday means many things to many people: the survival of the Jewish people in the book of Exodus, the overall history of Judaism, and even the last supper of Jesus.
For me, it’s a time to remember my Jewish relatives–particularly my grandparents, whom we always joined for Passover when I was a child.
As a food writer, I appreciate the way the whole holiday is structured around food. Each thing eaten at the Seder has its own meaning. In addition, the practice of eating no bread other than unleavened matzo during Passover commemorates the departure of the Jews from Egypt. Their bread didn’t have time to rise.
It is also a sort of penance. Eating matzo, pretty much the plainest of breads imaginable, reminds Jews of the trials of their forebears.
My grandmother served matzo without much adornment during Passover, occasionally sprucing it up with a little whipped cream cheese for breakfast or lunch.
Despite this tradition, I’m always tickled by the idea of getting a little fancier with matzo.
This year I have made two simple “matzo plus” dishes I’d like to share with you.
The first is Matzo Pizza. I got this idea from the website Kosher.com. Kosher.com’s resident chef, Jamie Geller, created a tasty standard pizza with her matzo—vegetables, cheese, tomato sauce.
I’m not such a fan of tomato-based pizza that I can’t wait eight days to have it. I do love asparagus, however. I’m a sucker for the asparagus pizza served in spring at the Green Emporium in Colrain, Massachusetts.
That pizza inspired this one. Matzo will never replace yeast crusts in my kitchen year round, but during Passover (or when one is in a hurry) it makes an acceptable, crispy platform for cheese and vegetables.
My second recipe today is a treat I’ve enjoyed for years when made by other people, Matzo Crunch. (Beware: many call it Matzo Crack because of its highly addictive properties!)
Marcy Goldman of BetterBaking.com invented this confection, which I have adapted a little. I have seen it covered with nuts (pressed into the chocolate when you sprinkle the optional salt). My friend Lark Fleury even makes it during other times of year with saltine crackers.
Marcy maintains that you can make the crunch with margarine if you keep kosher and want to eat it with meat. I think the butter adds so much flavor that I would advise you NOT to try the margarine. Just don’t eat the crunch with a meat meal!
Whenever and however you make it, I advise you to make sure that you have lots of people to whom you can give the crunch. It really is addictive—and very, very rich. I love to make it—and I love to get it out of the house FAST.
Springtime Matzo Pizza
10 thin asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces
a splash of extra-virgin olive oil
3 basil leaves, torn into pieces
a sprinkle of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup pitted ripe olives, cut into small rings
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1-1/2 matzos (the whole matzo should be halved for easier serving so that you have three halves)
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, and lightly oil the foil.
Sauté the asparagus in the olive oil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Stir in the basil, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest; then toss in the ripe olives and feta.
Place the three halves of matzo on the prepared cookie sheet, making sure that they fit together as well as possible. Sprinkle most of the mozzarella cheese on top of the matzo.
Spread the asparagus mixture over the cheese, and top with a little more mozzarella. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts nicely.
Serves 1 for dinner or 2 to 3 for lunch.
6 pieces matzo, broken into several strips each
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet, white, or some of each—even milk if you like, and I like)
coarse sea salt for sprinkling (optional but yummy)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with aluminum foil, and place parchment paper or silicone mats over the foil. Place the pieces of matzo on top.
In a medium saucepan combine the butter and brown sugar. Bring them to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 3 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Spoon the sugar mixture over the matzo, spreading it with a spatula to cover the matzo as well as you can. Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove the matzo from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. After 5 minutes, spread the chocolate with a knife. Sprinkle a little sea salt on top if you wish for additional crunch and flavor.
Allow the crunch to cool; then break it into more pieces. Makes about 40 small pieces. Don’t forget to give most of them away!
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