Matzo is indispensable for Passover

On Friday, Sandra Bank and Emily Jane Phillips of Added Touch Catering will be deep into preparation for Passover. Refrigerated trucks will be parked outside their Marietta kitchen, lined with shelves and ready to receive containers of chicken soup, matzo balls, gefilte fish, chopped chicken liver and a host of other dishes their customers could not imagine Passover without.

Bank and Phillips will be finalizing plans for the dozen Passover Seders they will cater, dinners where they may bring everything from the salt water and hard-boiled egg for the Seder plate to special flourless desserts and even the Seder plates themselves. Phillips, the company’s executive chef, will be orchestrating the 15 people she has staffing her kitchen where they will work all weekend so that everything is ready to go out the door beginning at 9:30 a.m. Monday morning.

By 2 p.m. Monday staff will be leaving with everything for the Seders, ready to help guide their clients through one of the most food-centric of Jewish holidays.

“Passover is a big night for us. It’s the one holiday where I find my clients are a little nervous. There’s so much tradition involved in the evening. They bring out their heirloom Passover silver and china, and arrange a long table so everyone can be seated together. Having us provide the food takes some of the pressure off and allows them to focus on the holiday itself,” said Bank, owner of Added Touch Catering.

Bank recently opened A Kosher Touch, operating a kosher kitchen out of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta building on Spring Street in downtown Atlanta. This eight-month-old catering business operates under the supervision of the Atlanta Kashruth Commission.

Preparing meals there and transporting those meals to other venues offers her clients the chance to serve a kosher meal in facilities that don’t have a kosher kitchen. A Kosher Touch’s staff takes care of cleaning the facility’s kitchen to the proper standards so that kosher food can be served. Given the large volume of their Passover business, they won’t be using that kitchen for this year’s preparations.

Passover starts Monday evening, March 25, and continues until Tuesday evening, April 2. During those days, those keeping with Jewish tradition will not eat anything made of wheat, oat, barley, spelt or rye, except matzo or matzo meal made from flour and mixed and baked in less than 18 minutes under rabbinic supervision. Peanuts, rice and corn may also be on the prohibited list which eliminates foods with ingredients like corn syrup, canola oil or lecithin.

Passover meals offer the best of Jewish comfort food. Chopped chicken liver, gefilte fish, braised brisket or roasted chicken are frequently on the menu. To add dishes like stuffing, rolls and desserts to the menu, the cook will probably use kosher for Passover matzo.

Matzo is the leitmotif for Passover. This crisp unleavened bread is obligatory on the Seder plate, representing the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt over 3,000 years ago, when they had no time to let their bread rise.

“Matzo itself is made from wheat flour but the regulations surrounding its baking ensure that the dough will be mixed as quickly as possible and baked immediately,” wrote Faye Levy, author of many Jewish cookbooks including “Faye Levy’s International Jewish Cookbook” (Warner Books. This cookbook is no longer in print but with a Google search online it can be found for a range of prices).

Matzo is a key ingredient in dishes like matzo brei. It’s used as a cracker for every spread imaginable, turned into toffee with the addition of margarine, chocolate and sugar and crumbled and baked into granola. Cakes, cookies, rolls and dumplings for the eight days of Passover are often made with matzo meal or matzo cake meal, both made from ground matzo.

“I do like matzo-based dishes, like sweet and savory kugels, matzo balls, etc. I’m a real carb-lover,” wrote Levy from her home in California.

For our Passover story, Bank and Phillips turned their attention to three different savory matzo recipes, adapting recipes from “Faye Levy’s International Jewish Cookbook.” The result is a versatile roll that can be served from first course to last, a matzo ball soup with asparagus featuring asparagus and a savory stuffed roast chicken with crisp skin redolent of garlic and herbs.

Topper:

These recipes for Passover comfort foods are good for the holiday, but delicious at any time. It’s a good thing matzo, matzo meal and matzo cake meal are available all year around.

Passover Rolls

Hands on: 20 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Makes: 24

Jewish cookbook author Faye Levy notes this is actually a cream puff dough, or pate a choux, made with matzo meal instead of flour. Incredibly versatile, you can serve them as an appetizer, as a dinner roll to accompany your main course or turn them into dessert.

“For an appetizer, I’ve had them with chopped liver inside. Egg salad is good, too. For a sweet filling, if it’s a dairy meal, sweetened strawberries and whipped cream are great. Otherwise, [fill them with] chocolate pastry cream made with potato starch and almond milk, or strawberries and white wine pastry cream,” said Levy.

You can make these rolls with regular or whole grain matzo meal.

1 cup water

1/2 cup kosher for Passover margarine

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups kosher for Passover matzo meal

5 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan, heat water, margarine and salt over medium-low heat until margarine melts, about 5 minutes. Raise heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add matzo meal all at once. Mix well. Return pan to low heat and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool 5 minutes.

Beat in 1 egg. When mixture is completely smooth, beat in a second egg. Continue adding eggs one by one, beating thoroughly after each addition. Drop batter by heaping tablespoons (measuring about 2 tablespoons each) onto baking sheets, allowing about 1 1/2 inches between them. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown and firm.

Adapted from a recipe in “Faye Levy’s International Jewish Cookbook.”

Per roll: 81 calories (percent of calories from fat, 55), 2 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 44 milligrams cholesterol, 148 milligrams sodium.

Chicken-Asparagus Soup with Almond Matzo Balls

Hands on: 45 minutes

Total time: 3 hours, plus chilling time

Serves: 8

Some people like their matzo balls light and airy. Others prefer a more substantial matzo ball. Faye Levy characterizes these as “floaters” or “sinkers.” To make the matzo balls in this recipe even lighter, add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder when not serving for Passover.

The recipe is modeled after one Levy learned from her mother. “My mother taught me that light matzo balls require a very soft batter and gentle shaping. If the batter is firm enough so the balls can be formed in a neat, perfectly round shape, they will not be fluffy,” she writes.

Phillips says cooking the matzo balls separately is important in order to have a perfectly clear soup. If you like, strain the cooking liquid with a fine mesh sieve and add it back to the soup.

12 cups cold water

1 (3 1/2-pound) chicken

4 celery stalks, divided

1 whole carrot and 1/4 cup diced carrot

1 whole parsnip and 1/4 cup diced parsnip

1 large onion, peeled

5 sprigs parsley

3 sprigs dill

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill, plus more for garnish

2 eggs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup matzo meal

2 tablespoons very finely chopped blanched almonds

1 tablespoon water, more if needed

8 spears asparagus, ends trimmed, cut on the bias into 4 pieces each

In a large stockpot, combine water, chicken, 2 whole stalks celery, the whole carrot, whole parsnip, onion, parsley, dill and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Partly cover and simmer 2 hours, skimming occasionally. Remove from heat, discard vegetables and drain chicken. Remove meat from chicken, cut into bite-size pieces and refrigerate. Strain broth and chill. Fat will rise to the top and congeal; remove fat and discard. Broth and chicken can be prepared up to 3 days ahead.

Make matzo balls in a medium bowl by lightly beating eggs with oil. Add matzo meal, almonds and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir until smooth. Stir in water to make a soft batter. Let mixture stand 20 minutes.

In a large saucepan, bring 6 cups chicken broth to a boil. With wet hands, divide matzo ball mixture into 8 portions and roll between your palms into a ball; mixture will be very soft. Gently slide balls into boiling broth. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until firm. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve. Matzo balls can be cooled and refrigerated in their cooking liquid up to 2 days ahead. Reheat gently in cooking liquid before serving.

When ready to serve, make soup by bringing remaining broth to a simmer. Dice remaining 2 celery stalks. Add diced carrot, diced parsnip and diced celery to broth and simmer 8 minutes. Add asparagus and cook 2 minutes. While vegetables are cooking, reheat matzo balls if they’ve been made ahead. Add reserved chicken to broth and season to taste. Ladle broth with chicken and vegetables into serving bowls and add matzo balls. Serve hot, garnished with fresh dill sprigs, if desired.

Adapted by Emily Jane Phillips from a recipe in “Faye Levy’s International Jewish Cookbook.”

Per serving: 295 calories (percent of calories from fat, 37), 24 grams protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 12 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 113 milligrams cholesterol, 155 milligrams sodium.

Herb-Roasted Chicken with Savory Matzo Stuffing

Hands on: 35 minutes

Total time: 2 hours

Serves: 4

This is a typical Asheknazic onion-flavored matzo stuffing served inside a savory herb-seasoned chicken. The chicken is also delicious without stuffing. If you cannot find kosher for Passover paprika, it can be omitted. If you haven’t made your own chicken stock, look for kosher for Passover chicken consomme or substitute water.

1 (5- to 6-pound) chicken

4 kosher for Passover matzo

3/4 cups homemade chicken stock

7 tablespoons kosher for Passover margarine, divided

2 stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 small onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice

6 cloves garlic, minced, divided

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped thyme, divided

2 tablespoons chopped rosemary, divided

2 tablespoons chopped sage, divided

Salt and pepper

2 eggs

1/2 shallot, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 teaspoon kosher for Passover paprika

Remove chicken from refrigerator about 30 minutes before ready to roast. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, crumble matzos and pour chicken stock over them. Let stand.

In a medium skillet, make stuffing by melting 3 tablespoons margarine over medium heat. Add celery and onions and saute 3 minutes. Add 3 minced cloves garlic and cook 7 minutes more. Stir in parsley, 1 tablespoon thyme, 1 tablespoon rosemary and 1 tablespoon sage. Saute 1 minute, then remove from heat. Stir cooked mixture into softened matzos and mix well to combine. Allow to cool about 5 minutes, season to taste and then stir in eggs.

While stuffing is cooling, prepare chicken for roasting. In a small bowl, combine remaining 4 tablespoons margarine with remaining 3 cloves garlic, shallot, paprika and remaining tablespoons of thyme, rosemary and sage. Mix thoroughly. Stuff this mixture under the skin of the chicken, covering the breasts and thighs, and rub on the outside of the chicken.

Spoon stuffing into chicken. Set chicken in roasting pan and roast about 1 hour, 15 minutes, basting occasionally if desired. Chicken is done when juices that run from the thickest part of the leg are clear when the meat is pierced and a skewer inserted into the stuffing comes out hot. Serve chicken and stuffing immediately. Remove any remaining stuffing to a serving dish.

Adapted from a recipe provided by Emily Jane Phillips of Added Touch Catering.

Per serving: 681 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 56 grams protein, 30 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 37 grams fat (8 grams saturated), 243 milligrams cholesterol, 469 milligrams sodium.

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