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.

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.

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.
Start with a quick spritz of cooking spray at the bottom of your pan. Add a little tomato sauce.
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.
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,
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.
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.
Start your layering with some pesto-covered matzo.
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:

As they say in France, “bon appétit!”

Meatless Manic Monday

Let’s talk about this relentless winter. Like a demanding toddler, this winter has been running around all over the country with its snow and ice, and if for one minute we seem to be forgetting about its power, it wallops us to get our attention. We have been at the mercy of frequent snow storms in the Northeast. Last week, I had not one but TWO snow days off from work. I am fortunate enough to be in a position where having a few days with the office closed doesn’t put me incredibly behind at work, nor threaten my vacation days. I’m not in danger of having a shorter summer, like the teachers, and I don’t have kids to scramble to find care for or to keep entertained myself. For me, these days can be viewed as wonderful gifts. I should be thrilled to have extra time to cook, or to take care of my task list, or take on creative projects.

The truth is, both of these days went by very quickly. The main feeling I had, by the end, was that I was cooped up in my house. I missed my routine, and felt a little lost having such open chunks of time. It is nice to have somewhere to go every day, even if you don’t necessarily love the place you’re going. I get the feeling that you all might be a little tired of these disruptions too? For some reason I wasn’t drawn to cook those days; in fact, I had a hard time pulling myself from the computer, which is dangerous because lengthy computer use can sometimes negatively affect one’s mood. I did use one of the days to leisurely prepare these chocolate hazelnut linzer heart cookies from Smitten Kitchen. It required me first to trudge around or through uncleared sidewalks and in the traffic lanes of slippery roads to the corner store for Nutella (why didn’t I have Nutella on hand? Good question.) It was worth it.

On Monday (another day with extra time because of the President’s Day holiday) I decided I wanted to prepare simple sandwiches for my husband and me. Hot paninis to be exact, because a cold sandwich never quite satisfies to the same level–my husband feels this quite strongly. A week or so earlier we had an awesome portobello mushroom panini out at dinner, so I picked up a few caps thinking I would give it a shot. It helped that, once again, we had a some of his delectable homemade bread on hand.

Grilled Portobello, Pesto, and Roasted Red Pepper Panini
Inspired by La Bottega restaurant and A Hint of Honey

2 portobello mushroom caps, stemmed and gills scraped off
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices hearty bread
, wheat or multigrain
2 slices of cheese – provolone, cheddar, swiss, havarti, or whatever you have
1/4 Cup basil pesto
2 slices roasted red pepper
, patted to dry slightly

This sandwich was great for using what I had hanging around, including some of a Costco-sized sliced cheese assortment.

This sandwich was great for using what I had hanging around, including some of a Costco-sized sliced cheese assortment.

Heat your grill pan. You might have a stovetop grill pan that works, or like us, a Cuisinart “Griddler” which is ideal for paninis.
A grapefruit spoon works great for de-gilling.

A grapefruit spoon works great for de-gilling.

Brush both sides of portobello caps with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place mushrooms on grill and cook on medium for several minutes on each side, until soft.
De-gilled mushroom caps on the Griddler.

De-gilled mushroom caps on the Griddler.

Top mushrooms with cheese so that it melts while the mushrooms are still over heat. Set aside on plate, temporarily.
Meanwhile, spread about 1 Tablespoon of pesto on each slice of bread.
Layer sandwiches grilled portobello, cheese, and roasted red pepper. Return to the grill/Griddler/panini press to further melt the cheese and toast the bread. You may want to brush a little olive oil on the surface of the bread.
You might notice that these photos look a little below par--I was so lazy that I didn't even get out my SLR camera, so I only used my iPhone.

You might notice that these photos look a little below par–I was SO lazy that I didn’t even get out my SLR camera, so these were taken on the iPhone.

Remember my urge to preserve? We are enjoying this same basil pesto from the summer! I could have made and jarred my own red bell peppers too. Now, in the middle of winter, we can enjoy a taste of summer flavors. We’ll just keep the shades closed so we aren’t so keenly aware of the mess outside.

Top Brassica

DSC_6230It’s cruciferous vegetable season. Who is excited? This is good stuff. Well, at least some of it. I don’t think all brassica (turnips, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, etc.) are created equal in terms of flavor. But apparently some portion of the population can use genetics as an excuse for disliking the taste of these foods. Brassica plants contain something similar to the bitter compound phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), and scientists found that humans have dramatic variations in PTC sensitivity, with some people being “taste blind.”

I won’t let you use your genetics as an excuse! We humans can overcome nature when we want to.

Somewhere along the way in reading my cooking magazines, email newsletters, and online media, I came across a recipe for using cauliflower as pesto. For some reason (genetics?), I liked the idea of obliterating the cauliflower and transforming it into something mostly unrecognizable.

Part 1:
Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto
From The Washington Post

Kosher salt
6 to 8 ounces dried linguine
or other thin pasta
plus reserved pasta water
1 small (13-ounce) head cauliflower
1/2 Cup unsalted almonds
(or pine nuts)
2 or 3 dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped (I used oven-dried tomatoes from my garden that had been frozen)
1-ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or other similar hard Italian grating cheese, chopped
1 medium clove garlic
1 Tablespoon capers
, drained and rinsed
Small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves
Crushed red pepper flakes
, to taste
3-5 Tablespoons olive oil, to taste
2 to 3 teaspoons sherry vinegar, to taste

Cook linguine according to the package directions in a large pot of salted boiling water. When draining, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Keep pasta warm while preparing the pesto.

Cut the cauliflower into chunks, placing them in the food processor as you work.
Stop when the bowl is about halfway full to allow space for processing (it is much easier to do this in two batches rather than forcing all the cauliflower in and having to pulse and stir repeatedly-trust me).
Pulse until crumbs appear couscous-like. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
DSC_6252Toast the almonds in the oven or in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat until lightly browned, paying close attention and stirring to avoid burning. Cool, then put in the food processor. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, the cheese, garlic, capers and parsley. Process to a chunky bread-crumb consistency, then add the mixture to the mixing bowl with the cauliflower in the bowl.
Stir in the oil, 2 teaspoons of the vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and crushed red pepper flakes to form a pesto-like mixture. The yield is several cups, likely more than you need for 4 servings of pasta.

Add the pasta and toss to coat. Add as much of the reserved pasta cooking water as needed to create the desired consistency. Taste, and adjust the seasoning, adding the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar as needed. I found that the recipe needed extra oil (which could be added in an earlier step also). It may be more accurate to gauge the flavor and texture once everything is stirred in with the pasta.

Bon appétit!

Bon appétit!

Part 2:
I had all this leftover cauliflower pesto, and I didn’t want to keep eating it with pasta. Fortunately, I remembered hearing that you can use a cauliflower mixture as a pizza crust.

Cauliflower Pizza
Adapted from Quick, Cheap Kitchen

Pizza crust:
Approx. 2 Cups of my leftover cauliflower pesto mix, or just raw cauliflower ground in a food processor
1 egg
1/4 Cup shredded mozzarella
3 Tablespoons of flour

dried Italian seasonings to taste, around 1 teaspoon. I used a bread dipping seasoning mix (basil, parmesan, onion powder, garlic powder) plus oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Toppings: Whatever you want! My example:
2-3 Tablespoons prepared basil pesto
2/3 Cup swiss chard stems
Olive oil

3/4 Cup cherry or grape tomatoes
A sprinkling parmesan cheeses

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Microwave cauliflower in a glass bowl for about 8 minutes. Let it cool some, and then transfer to a cheese cloth or clean dish towel to squeeze out any excess water.

My cauliflower mixture was already pretty dry..

My cauliflower mixture was already pretty dry..

DSC_6287Mix together cauliflower, egg, mozzarella, herbs and spices in a large bowl. Spread the cauliflower crust out into a big pan using a rubber spatula. You can use a Silpat, parchment paper, or grease the pan and scatter with cornmeal or semolina. Bake the crust about 10-15 minutes. You will see the crust star to get very dark on the sides.
Mmm browned cheese bits.

Mmm browned cheese bits.

While the crust is browning, prepare toppings.
I sautéed my swiss chard stems in olive oil.
And halved the tomatoes from my garden (this is the last of the ripe ones!)
Add the pesto, swiss chard, halved tomatoes, and cheese. Lower the oven temperature to about 375 degrees and return the pizza to the oven to bake for about 10 more minutes, until the cheese is melted.
Got it just in time.

Got it just in time.


The result was wonderfully indulgent. There must be a significant amount of “good fats” in each serving. It’s basically eating pesto on pesto after all! I had no trouble finishing the whole pizza myself in two days. That’s pretty impressive for cauliflower.

The Urge to Preserve

I started to feel the impending change of season press upon me.

The weather certainly wasn’t providing any hints, as I was enveloped by hot, wet, soupy air all last weekend. I did notice brown and orange leaves start to accumulate around the edges of the streets in my neighborhood. It was the obvious things: all of a sudden, Labor Day passed, beaches closed, schools started back in session, and I was reminded that, being September, we are only one month away from October, the month it first SNOWED last year.

Fortunately, it is possible to capture the lushness of summer in a tupperware container! I long to keep the excitement of my garden treasures alive. Call it the urge to preserve.

Cue the whir of the food processor.

Bunches of my healthy basil plant and flourishing parsley plants in hand, it was time to make some sauces and condiments.
Basil Pesto
Parsley Pesto
Fromage Fort

Pesto is one of the very few “recipes” I pretty much have memorized, and/or feel comfortable adjusting by taste and feel. It all started with a recipe Matt and I received from a cooking class put on at a now-closed local Viking Cooking School location.

Basil Pesto
From Viking Cooking School’s recipe packet for a Breads and Pizzas class
Makes about 1 Cup

1 large clove garlic, or to taste, peeled
1/4 Cup pine nuts
2 ounces/approx 1/4 Cup packed Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
2 Cups (packed) fresh basil
1/4-1/3 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
should be plenty

Toast the pine nuts by putting them in a 350 degree oven for just a few minutes, watching closely and shaking the pan after the first minute or two. This can also be done in a dry cast iron or saute pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pine nuts will continue to brown if they sit in a hot pan.
Combine garlic, pine nuts, cheese, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse to make a paste.
Add basil and pulse.
Drizzle in olive oil gradually, ideally with the motor running, until pesto reaches desired smooth consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Basil doesn’t retain its green color in pesto, when exposed to the air, so the best plan is to drizzle extra olive oil on top and put plastic wrap directly on the surface before refrigerating or freezing (it still tastes fine when it darkens). Pesto is both flavor and calorie rich, so I usually only use a little at time, which I can snag from the frozen container.

While I was at it with the processing, I needed to deal with the variety of cheese cubes I bought on a whim at Fairway. (I swear, I have gotten much better about resisting the urge to impulse buy.) Cheese is one of those things that lasts a long time, making it easy for you to forget to use before it is too late. Fortunately, you can make something called Fromage Fort, a cheese spread, to transform the old cheese into something desirable for another week or so, and even use it for entertaining.

Fromage Fort
From Alton Brown via Food Network online

1 pound left-over cheese, (cheddar, parmesan, ricotta, provolone, fontina, mozzarella, stinky blue cheeses all work*) at room temperature
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
, softened
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 small clove garlic

Grate hard cheeses and cut others into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for at least 1 hour for a firmer consistency. Store in the refrigerator; consume within a week (no problem!).
*I used 5 ounces of ricotta, 7 ounces of the miscellaneous cubes that were probably in the gouda and ricotta salata families, and 6 ounce of Wisconsin extra sharp cheddar. It was beyond delicious, especially broiled on some sourdough toast.

Parsley Almond Pesto
Adapted from Food and Wine

1 clove garlic
1 1/2 Cups lightly packed flat-leaf parsley
with thick stems removed
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 Cup olive oil
1/3 Cup unsalted almonds

Puree garlic and parsley with the salt in food processor. Drizzle olive oil in gradually, ideally with the machine running. Add the almonds and pulse to chop.
This can be saved in the same way as the basil pesto. However, it keeps its bright green flavor much better in the refrigerator.

I served this with gnocchi I made from the King Arthur Flour website.

and a recipe that served gnocchi with zucchini and tomatoes but substituted in the parsley pesto:

Recognize those tomatoes yet?

Recognize those tomatoes yet?

I can still taste summer!