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April 22, 2011

Keeping Passover Fresh

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/keeping_passover_fresh_20110422/

The 12 days of Christmas. The 30 days of Ramadan. The 8 days of Passover. Holidays that come with built in sequels present major food challenges.  All the anticipation and excitement over the special foods, the familiar smells, the favorite recipes, plummets along with your appetite after you overindulge at that first celebration.  Specialness breeds contempt.

Now, just at the Passover hump, the glow is waning.  The holiday of freedom is beginning to feel a bit confining. 

One solution is to cook better.  That is, really enjoy and explore the foods that Passover allows you to focus on, rather than bemoaning all the ones you are forbidden.

Passover it turns out is perfectly in tune with the season.  Long before seasonal and local were buzzwords—about 3000 years before—Jews celebrated the Passover by making sacred what was seasonal and local—greens, eggs, lamb, wild gefilte fish….

Okay maybe not the last one.

So as Shabbat nears and the holiday crosses to halfway, I have some ideas for cooking the rest of the week.  If you cook with the season, you’re doing holiday cooking.

To come up with them, I had two kinds of help.  First, a visit to 51Lincoln, a restaurant in Newton Center, MA, whose wonderful chef, Jeffrey P. Fournier, does the seasonal local thing without any pretense or self-righteousness.  It’s a little neighborhood place, elegant, but relaxed and easy-going (like Fournier).  The vegetables are local (our waitress was moonlighting, by day she runs a farmstand just at the edge of Boston); the charcuterie made on premises, and the chef is installing a rooftop kitchen garden this spring.

Fournier, a native of Ainsbury, MA, grew up in a French-Armenian home, moved to LA, where he spent years at Café Montana and cooked with Hand Rockenwager.  (He started his career as an artist—the restaurant’s walls are lined with his paintings).

Here’s what we ate there:  you can make it yourself to help enjoy the end of the holiday: Steamed Asparagus with Homecured Salmon and Hollandaise,  Cod with Herb Emulsion and Mashed Potatoes, Pan Roasted Atlantic Salmon with Beet Aioli.

I’ll post some recipes and photos after Shabbat.

As for the second way to keep enjoying Passover, that comes from my mother-in-law, Ruth Levy.  Every Passover she made us Popovers, airy puffed-up concoctions that are as close to sandwich bread as you get this time of year.  She baked, I watched. After they were puffed and light brown, I slit them open and slipped in a piece of good cheese and perfectly ripe avocado.  An ideal Passover lunch.

Thank you, Bubbie.

Passover Popovers

(adapted from Ruth Levy and Joan Nathan)

1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for baking sheet
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup matzo meal
(or half matzo meal, half matzo cake meal) 
1/2 tablespoon sugar (or, to taste)
4 eggs
 
Directions:

1 Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2 Brush a baking sheet with oil; set aside.
3 In a medium saucepan, bring oil, 1 cup water, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat.
4 Stir in matzah meal (or matzo meal/cake flour) until sticky, remove from heat and let cool completely.
5 Add sugar and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
6 Fill a large bowl with water.
7 Dip your hands in the water and then form dough into a ball about the size of a tennis ball.
8 Place on prepared baking sheet.
9 Repeat process until all dough has been used.
10 Transfer to oven and bake until popovers are puffy, about 15 to 20 minutes.
11 Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until golden brown, about 40 minutes.
12 Serve immediately.

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