Pesach: No Longer Must It Be Eight Matzah-Laden Days

For home cooks, the eight days of Passover have always constituted a challenge. The basic rule has been that any product that is fermented or can cause fermentation may not be eaten. That includes five grains: wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt. However, Sephardic tradition has always allowed rice to be used.

Growing up in Scotland in the 1960s, as I did, few "Kosher for Passover" products were available. My mother's shopping list, sent to the nearest delicatessen 200 miles across the Atlantic, was simple — matzah, matzah meal and olive oil.

Today, the variety of Passover foods has become almost limitless. From pancake mixes to salad dressings and a vast amount of gluten-free and organic items, there's a kosher for Passover version of almost everything we eat during the rest of the year. According to Bill Springer, co-producer of Kosherfest, the largest kosher food show, Passover represents 40 percent of annual kosher food sales.

Passover does not mean eight matzah laden days. Think about it. Most of us do not eat bread at every meal or incorporate bread or flour into daily dishes. And with more folks eating fresh and local ingredients and an abundance of fresh spring produce, Passover meals can be deliciously healthy and easy.

Besides the recipes below, I've included some simple ideas below, also sans matzah.

· Start off the meal with a delicate celery fronded stalk inserted in a glass of tomato or vegetable juice. It's easy on the eye, the palate and the cook.

· Asparagus crisps: Toss thin asparagus spears in olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Arrange in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated 425° oven 4 to 5 minutes until browned. Turn and bake 4 to 5 minutes longer until browned and crisp. Watch carefully.

· Sweet potato wedges can come to the table, simply roasted in olive oil with a sprinkling of sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

· Even the lowly white potato may be diced, tossed in olive oil and fresh herbs and then sauteed in a little white wine or chicken broth till tender.

· If you buy the small new red potatoes, no need to peel, just cut in quarters and cook as above.

· Gussy up salads with a combination of greens: baby arugula, shredded butter lettuce, tender baby spinach and a handful of sliced almonds tossed in with your favorite dressing.

· Apple, pear and grape compote: fruit wedges poached in a sweet white wine, such as Gewurtztraminer. Prick grapes before adding so that wine flavors are absorbed.

Note: All recipe ingredients are available labeled Kosher for Passover.

Tomato Aspic with Avocado Wedges

2 (3 oz.) packages lemon flavored gelatin
2 cups boiling water
1 and 3/4 cups tomato juice
2 tsps. grated ginger root
1 large ripe avocado
1-2 Tbsps. fresh squeezed lemon juice

In a medium bowl, pour the boiling water over the gelatin. Mix until gelatin is completely dissolved, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato juice and ginger.

Pour into a 6 cup mold. Refrigerate until set, 6 hours or overnight.

To serve: Unmold onto a flat serving dish.

Peel the avocado. Cut into wedges and brush with lemon juice. Arrange the wedges around the molded Tomato Aspic to garnish.

Note: Mixture may also be poured into a bowl and refrigerated. Garnish with avocado. No need to unmold.

Serves 6 to 8.

Cumin Scented Root Vegetable Casserole

Strong flavored celeriac is a knobby, brown root vegetable which may be eaten raw or cooked. Vegetables such as carrots and squash may be purchased frozen. Cut vegetables into 1/2-inch cubes.

2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 cup peeled and cubed celeriac
2 cups sliced carrots
2 cups cubed squash
2 cups cubed rutabagas
2 cups cubed, unpeeled new potatoes
2 cups cubed sweet potatoes
2 and 1/3 cups vegetable broth or water
2 tsps. minced garlic
2 tsps. ground cumin
3 Tbsps. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsps. snipped fresh dill

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion. Saute 2 minutes.

Add all the remaining ingredients except the mustard and dill. Stir to mix. Bring to a boil. Reduce to low heat, cover and cook 30 minutes or until vegetables are beginning to soften. Stir occasionally adding a little more water or broth if needed.

Add the mustard and 1/4 cup dill. Stir and cook 5 to 10 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender. Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with remaining dill and serve.

Serves 8 to 10.

Roasted Red Beets With Greens

1 bunch beets with greens attached
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 tsps. minced garlic
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
kosher salt, freshly ground pepper and ground nutmeg to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Wash beets thoroughly. Cut off greens leaving about 1-inch attached to beets.

Remove any thick stems from greens and discard. Wash the leafy greens in cold water. Spin dry in a salad spinner or pat between paper towels. Shred coarsely. Set aside.

Place unpeeled beets in a roasting pan. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover with foil.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a knife slips easily through the largest beet. Remove skin which will slide off easily and cut beets into 1-inch chunks. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Heat the remaining oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion. Cook 1 minute. Add the shredded greens and stir until wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer to a serving dish. Spoon beets on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6 to 8.

Braised Fennel With Black Olives

Save some of the trimmed fennel fronds for garnish.

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
6 garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 cup oil-cured pitted black olives
pinch red pepper flakes
1 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup dry vermouth
3/4 cup water
fennel fronds for garnish

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the fennel quarters, cut side down, arranging in one layer.

Sear until well-browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

Turn over and cook 5 minutes longer or until nicely browned on rounded sides. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon. Set aside.

Reduce heat to low. Add the garlic, onion, olives, red pepper flakes, salt and 4 to 5 grinds of pepper to the oil. Cook, stirring often, until onions and garlic are softened, but not brown, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the orange juice, vermouth and water scraping any brown bits on bottom of skillet. Return the fennel to skillet, cut side up. Raise heat to medium. Cover and braise until completely tender, 15 to 25 minutes depending on the size of the fennel bulbs.

Remove to serving dish and garnish with fennel fronds.

Serves 6 to 8.

Pasta Salad with Greens, Cherry Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

A lively luncheon dish containing more vegetables than pasta.

8 oz. Passover pasta
3/4 cup pesto, homemade or store bought
10 thin asparagus spears, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 large handfuls baby arugula
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves, packed
2 cups cherry tomatoes
salt and freshly ground pepper
4-6 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Transfer to a colander.

Pour cold water through and drain very well. Place in a large bowl. Stir in the pesto. Add the asparagus, arugula, basil and tomatoes and toss gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Crumble the goat cheese on top and serve.

Serves 6 to 8.

Homemade Pesto

I often substitute walnuts or pecans for expensive pine nuts. Pesto can be made up to a week ahead and refrigerated.

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh parsley with cut up stems
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
3/4 tsp. bottled chopped garlic
3/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Place all the ingredients except the cheese in the food processor container. Pulse to blend until smooth.

Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the cheese. Mix well.

Makes about 11/2 cups.

Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Email her at: [email protected]



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