Matzo Lasagna

Happy Easter! Happy Passover!

We returned from vacation just in time to enjoy the spring religious holiday celebrations. With my interfaith household, there is a little bit of everything. It is a delicious time of year. In spite of the absence of leavened bread, the Passover Seder meal is one of the most highly anticipated meals of the year in my husband’s family. Much of it centers around the famous beef brisket, which is paired with the hottest horseradish they can track down. If you’re curious, this year’s verdict was that Holy Schmitt’s had the best heat and flavor combination, and the Atomic blew everyone away, but wasn’t so flavorful otherwise.

It is no secret that one can create highly adequate substitutions for traditional dishes using matzo or matzo meal. (Egg, of course, produces magical effects even without yeast.) When my husband was young, he would come home from school almost every day during Passover and make matzo pizza. Story has it he was so proud of himself for this “invention.” God knows he can’t handle going more than a few days without his beloved pizza. I even got him this T-shirt for his birthday last year.
DSC_3999When we were in Paris, we passed over the bridge filled with “love locks“, and while we did not add our own, I thought this one at center might as well have been left by Matt.
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When I was making matzo crunch/chocolate caramel matzo brittle for the Seder the other day, and some pieces were accidentally overlapping, Matt had the bright idea of matzo lasagna. A couple of days later, we decided to extend our vacation bonding time and cooked together with leftover matzo. We created two savory matzo lasagnas that incorporated cheeses and the remains of two different kind of pestos from the freezer.

This hardly deserves a written recipe, because you could throw whatever you want and whatever you have in the layers. Various sauces, vegetables, meat…even leftover brisket! Lasagna normally has a ricotta and egg mixture, but we didn’t have ricotta so we left that out. I found when searching Google for “matzo lasagna” that the top recipes use cottage cheese–didn’t have that either. I made one combined bowl of shredded mixed cheeses and split it between the two lasagnas. There are classier recipes out there. Needless to say, it’s hard to go wrong with melted cheese, sauce, and a carbohydrate vehicle.
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Version 1:
Matzo Lasagna with Red Sauce and Basil Pesto

2.5 sheets matzo crackers, broken to fit your two-serving baking vessel
about 1.75 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
a little more than 1/2 ounce pecorino romano cheese, shredded
about 1/3 ounce parmesan cheese
about 1/2-3/4 Cup your favorite jarred marinara/tomato sauce
(ours is from Vincent’s Clam Bar)
about 1/4 Cup prepared basil pesto

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Start with a quick spritz of cooking spray at the bottom of your pan. Add a little tomato sauce.
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Then spread some basil pesto on the pieces of matzo going on your first layer.

It is easier if you spread the pesto on the matzo before setting it in the pan, but this works too.

It is easier if you spread the pesto on the matzo before setting it in the pan, but this works too.


Sprinkle about 1/3 of your cheese mixture atop the pesto, and then pour a little tomato sauce on top of that. Repeat with at least two more layers, reserving cheese for the top layer.
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Cover with aluminum foil and bake for at least 10 minute to bring up to temperature. Remove the foil layer and bake for about 5 minutes more. If you wish, turn the oven to broil for a quick two minutes to brown the cheese.
This is what it looks like WITHOUT extra baking/broiling time, which I recommend.

This is what it looks like WITHOUT extra baking/broiling time, which I recommend.

Version 2:
White Matzo Lasagna with Parsley Pesto

2.5 sheets matzo crackers, broken to fit your two-serving baking vessel
about 1.75 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
a little more than 1/2 ounce pecorino romano cheese, shredded
about 1/3 ounce parmesan cheese

Béchamel sauce:
1 small shallot,
minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour, a little more will be needed if using skimmed milk
3/4 Cup milk, fuller fat is best
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, a little more if using skimmed milk
1/2 Cup low-sodium chicken broth
a few Tablespoons prepared pesto
(parsley almond in this case)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Prepare the sauce: heat a saucepan on medium-high and add the butter to melt. Cook shallots, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring frequently and controlling the heat to prevent browning, about 1 minute.
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Slowly whisk in the milk and chicken broth.
DSC_8385 Bring the mixture to a boil and continue whisking until the sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, 10-20 minutes, depending on the type of milk you are using (add a little more flour if it isn’t thickening after 10 minutes).

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in a Tablespoon or two of the prepared pesto. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Spray the bottom of the pan with cooking spray. Spread a layer of pesto cream sauce.
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Start your layering with some pesto-covered matzo.
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DSC_8395Layer on the mixed shredded cheeses and more pesto cream sauce. Continue with these layers, finishing with shredded cheese on top.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes to heat through. Remove the foil layer and turn the oven on broil. Add pan back to oven to broil the cheese for 2-3 minutes.

Here’s a side by side peek at the delicious mush:
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As they say in France, “bon appétit!”

New Ideas

Many people may be ramping up their cooking as part of the new year, whether the reason is to be healthier, to reign in food spending, or, like me, to enjoy new cookbooks that were acquired as part of the holiday season.

Matt’s cousin, an impressive cook and founder of Cooking with Kyler, along with his wife, gifted us with the Ottelenghi: The Cookbook. I had been meaning for a long time to borrow the much-talked-about Jerusalem cookbook from my library, so this was a nice treat to experience Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s style of cooking.
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It seems to me that many of these restaurant-chef authored books incorporate more of those hard-to-find or very recipe-specific ingredients, a lot of homemade components, and frequent scratch-based instructions in their recipes (i.e. home pickling, stocks, and doughs). I have yet to fully commit myself to such an approach. I don’t strive for perfect authenticity. Especially when becoming introduced to a new cookbook, I gravitate toward the recipes that require minimal advance preparation.

Ottolenghi and Tamimi start the book by listing some of their favorite ingredients, many of which I’m on board with but some that I won’t rush to acquire (rose water) or to which am not ready to commit (sumac). I love their #8 item, pomegranate. The first recipe I prepared from the book was a fennel salad with beautiful pomegranate seeds and lemon dressing (I left out the sumac that was listed) as part of a New Year’s Eve meal for two. I had a fennel bulb left over, so that drove my decision to make the below recipe.
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Fennel, Cherry Tomato, and Crumble Gratin
Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook
Scaled down to about 2 servings from the original 6-8

Crumble ingredients:
Makes about 10 ounces

150 grams (a little over 1.5 Cups) all-purpose flour
50 grams/1/4 Cup “superfine” sugar (I used regular sugar and whizzed it in the food processor)
100 grams/6.5 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

If starting from a stick of butter, I recommend cutting it into the small cubes and then returning those cubes to the refrigerator or freezer to ensure they are very cold when added to your mixer or food processor.

Put the flour, sugar, and butter in a bowl to mix with your hands, or in an electric stand mixer, or, like me, in a food processor to work into uniform read crumb consistency. Transfer to a container. You’ll use about 2/3 of it if making a smaller portion of the vegetables like below. The rest can be kept in the freezer for a later date.
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Gratin:
9 ounce fennel bulb
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp thyme leaves
, plus a few whole sprigs
1 clove garlic
, crushed
1 tsp course salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 Cup milk or cream
(I used 2%)
2/3 recipe of Crumble from above
a little over 1 ounce/33 grams Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Approximately 1/2 Cup/150 grams (but this is really to taste) cherry tomatoes, preferably on the vine
a sprinkling of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Trim along the top and the base of the fennel stalks. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise, and slice each half into pieces about 2/3 inch thick.
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Add to a large bowl with olive oil, thyme leaves, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss.
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Pour into an ovenproof dish and pour milk/cream over the mixture. Mix the Crumble and the Parmesan and sprinkle on top. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes.

I forgot to add the milk until partway through the cooking time. Fortunately, it turned out OK!

I forgot to add the milk until partway through the cooking time. Fortunately, it turned out OK!


Remove the dish from the oven and remove the aluminum. Add the tomatoes on top, and scatter some thyme springs on top of that.
How about an extra sprinkling of cheese for good measure?

How about an extra sprinkling of cheese for good measure?


Here’s another reason this recipe caught my attention, and how I was resourceful–these off-season tomatoes actually came from my garden. I think they were one of the the last batches picked from my plants back in November, and they didn’t look especially appealing to eat raw so I roasted them. Then I froze them because I wasn’t feeling the urge to eat them at the time. Since this recipe called for roasting as well, I was happy to use them.

Return the dish to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, approximately. You want to be able to poke through the fennel easily and ideally achieve a golden color. Allow the dish to rest out of the oven for a few minutes before sprinkling with parsley.

I was able to pull a few last acceptable-looking leaves from this plant before I laid it to rest for good.

I was able to pull the last acceptable-looking leaves from this plant before I laid it to rest for good.


As usual, I forgot to add the parsley until after the photos.

As usual, I forgot to add the parsley until after the photos.


Now I want to eat these tomatoes! The sugar and butter in the Crumble make the dish fairly indulgent. I will have to see what the rest of that Crumble can do for other roasted vegetables, perhaps ones I don’t especially like.
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Here’s to trying even more new things in the new year!