By Tina Wasserman
The shelves in the supermarket have been moved around. The shamrocks from St. Patrick’s Day are gone, and bunnies abound. But this time the bunnies are not taking center stage. Passover coincides with Easter weekend, and Passover is big business for the supermarkets that are located in predominantly Jewish areas.
Before you can buy all those Passover items, room needs to be made in your kitchen and some ingredients need to be consumed before matzo meal, potato starch and Passover muffin mixes can fill the shelves. You can do this with some pre-Passover-themed recipes to reduce the bread and pasta in your home.
This idea first came to me when I studied Jewish cooking in Florence, Italy. Italian Jews in that city prepare a storytelling pasta dish the Shabbat before Pesach begins. Sauced pasta noodles are twirled into mounds to represent the waves of the Red Sea, and raisins and pine nuts are dotted throughout the dish to look like Pharaoh’s soldiers and horses drowning in the swirling waters.
Pot roast gravy makes this dish very easy to make, but I have included a recipe for a meat sauce to use when pot roast is not available.
Ruota Del Faraone
½ cup raisins
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
6 ounces turkey sausage, cut into ½-inch rounds, or ground turkey or beef
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons rendered chicken fat (or more oil)
2 large leaves of fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried sage
4-inch sprig of fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
¼ cup white wine or 1 cup pot roast gravy
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 ounces tagliatelle noodles
1 quart water
1 quart chicken broth or 1 quart additional water and 2 Telma chicken bouillon cubes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon olive oil
1. If raisins are hard, soak them in warm water while you prepare the pasta.
2. If using leftover pot roast and pot roast gravy, skip to step #6.
3. To make meat gravy: Turn the burner on the stove to high and heat a 10-inch skillet for 15 seconds.
4. Add the olive oil and chicken fat to the hot pan, and heat for another 10 seconds. Reduce the heat to medium.
5. Add the herbs and stir once or twice to coat with oil. Add the meat and sauté in pan until meat is no longer pink.
6. Add the wine and cook 1-2 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed.
7. Meanwhile, in a 4-quart pot, bring chicken broth, water, 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Cook the noodles according to package directions. When done, reserve ½ cup cooking liquid, then drain noodles in a strainer.
8. Add noodles and reserved cooking liquid to sauce, and gently mix in well. Add drained raisins and pine nuts; gently stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
9. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 2-quart oval casserole with a little olive oil.
10. Scoop up some noodles into a ladle. Using a fork, twist the noodles into a mound and place it in a casserole dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles until you have lots of mounds that look like waves in the sea.
11. Combine the breadcrumbs with 1 teaspoon of olive oil; sprinkle over the top.
12. Place casserole in the hot oven and bake until breadcrumbs are lightly golden.
• When frying with chicken fat or butter or margarine, always add oil for part of the fat, to allow frying at a high temperature with minimal splattering.
• Lately raisins have appeared to be very dry, possibly due to a bad raisin crop last year and use of older raisins to meet consumer demand. Soaking in some water or wine will make them more appetizing in dishes.
• Oil is added to pasta water for two reasons: to prevent the pasta from sticking together and absorbing too much of the sauce, and to create surface tension on the water so that the pot won’t boil over (if you haven’t added too much water to the pot)!
Orzo is closely associated with Greece and the Ottoman Empire, but it is actually a form of pasta that, in Italy, means “barley” because of its shape. This recipe can be made with any small pasta, barley or any other grain you want to use up before Pesach. With all the vibrant flavors in this dish, it is amazing how subtle the flavors are in the finished product. Makes a great side for chicken or fish.
Orzo with Dried Cherries
1 cup orzo
¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
Salt to taste
½ tablespoon hazelnut oil
¼ cup dried cherries or raisins
2 tablespoons lightly toasted, coarsely chopped hazelnuts or slivered almonds
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1. Bring 2 quarts salted water to a boil. Add the saffron and orzo, and cook for 7-10 minutes or until orzo is al dente. Rinse under cold water and drain well. Place orzo in a serving bowl.
2. In a small bowl combine orange zest, juice and salt to taste. Whisk the olive oil into the juice mixture until it is incorporated.
3. Toss the dressing with the orzo; add the cherries, almonds and scallion. Serve at room temperature.
• ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard can be added to the zest and juice before adding the oil to create an emulsion or thick, smooth dressing to coat the pasta.
• Pasta will break down and become soft and mushy if exposed to a high-acid ingredient for a prolonged period, so don’t add the dressing more than a few hours before serving.
Traditionally two challot are served on Friday night, but even one large challah often leaves leftovers. I developed this recipe as a way to use the leftovers, while creating a delicious dessert reminiscent of traditional babka with its crumb topping. Any leftover bread/breads can be used to make this dessert, so it is perfect before Passover cleaning begins (or anytime for that matter!)
Challah Babka Bread Pudding
1 one-pound raisin challah, preferably a few days old
8 ounces Israeli chocolate spread (Crème Chocolate or Nutella)
1 stick unsalted butter or margarine, plus additional for greasing pan
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 ½ cups milk (skim, 2 percent or whole, OK)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, or slightly softened in the microwave
½ cup flour
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
1. Butter a 2-quart oval or rectangular baking dish. Set aside.
2. Slice the challah into 1/2-inch slices.
3. Spread the chocolate filling over each slice of bread, and arrange in the casserole to fit evenly.
4. Melt the butter in a 2-quart bowl in the microwave. Add sugar to the melted butter, and stir to dissolve.
5. Add the eggs and remaining ingredients to the bowl; whisk to combine well.
6. Carefully pour egg/milk mixture over the bread slices. Gently press down on the bread slices to submerge them under the custard. Place a plate or bowl on top of the casserole to weight the challah down. Let sit for 30 minutes while you make the topping.
7. To make the topping, place the butter, flour and sugar in a 1-quart mixing bowl. Squeeze the mixture together with your hands, then fingertips, to evenly combine all ingredients and make a crumble. Spread on top of casserole and then bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Warm Buttered Wine Sauce (Optional)
1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons Shabbat Concord wine
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1. Melt butter in a 1-quart saucepan, over moderate heat.
2. Whisk the egg and the sugar together in a 1-quart bowl to a light lemon color.
3. Rapidly whisk some of the hot butter into the egg/sugar mixture, then whisk constantly while pouring the egg mixture into the saucepan.
4. Continue to whisk over moderate heat until the mixture thickens and the butter is completely absorbed into the sauce. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
5. Whisk in the wine and the cinnamon. Pour over warm bread pudding.
NOTE: Sauce may be refrigerated for later use. Slightly rewarm sauce before using.
• This dish can easily be made pareve with the use of coconut milk or oat milk and pareve margarine or coconut oil.
• If using coconut oil, try using the unprocessed variety, which has a subtle coconut taste and adds to the flavors of the dessert.
• If making the sauce, liquor can be substituted for the Concord wine (I just thought it would be fun to have that slight grape taste) and you can eliminate the topping if you wish.