When it comes to Passover, the same treasured foods grace tables every year. Matzah ball soup. Gefilte fish. Brisket. Roast chicken. Growing up, my husband’s family table was no different. I, however, grew up Italian and later converted to Judaism. Our Passover meals now not only include the customary Jewish dishes, but also some of my Italian flavoring as well.
Passover traditions limit how Italian we can go, of course. But beyond the Italian penchant for homemade bread and pasta, there are other foods often universally beloved that add some Italian flair. Here are my top five.
Although only introduced to Italy in the 16th century, tomatoes eventually became widespread and strongly associated with Italian cooking. For Passover, try a tomato-braised chicken or brisket dish. The red color enlivens the dinner spread, but foremost, tomatoes offer bright, Mediterranean flavor to awaken the senses. Plus the acidic juices can help produce tender meat.
My favorite recipe is Chicken Cacciatora, or “hunter’s style” chicken, with some roasted peppers and a few modifications to be kosher for Passover.
2.Make a Matzah Pizza
Matzah works surprisingly well as a pizza base as long as you eat the pizza promptly. And it might be closer in spirit to the original Neapolitan crispy thin pizza crust than many of the thick bready crusts we use in the United States. But the best part is that you can be creative in topping your blank canvas with whatever you want—and you don’t have to wait for your dough to rise.
3. Reach for Ricotta
Upgrade any meal with ricotta. If you are having a vegetarian Seder, ricotta can complement and enhance a wide variety of dishes. Otherwise, fold it into your matzah brei or scrambled eggs. Spoon some on matzah and top with smoked salmon. Sweeten and combine it with dried or fresh fruit. Or dollop it on that aforementioned matzah pizza.
Kosher for Passover ricotta is hard to find, so if you follow strict kosher rules or you simply want something spectacularly fresh, make your own. Here’s one recipe.
This Mediterranean vegetable, prized by ancient Romans and appearing often in the cuisine of Italy’s Jews, is in its delicious prime right now. The hearts are ubiquitously (for good reason) folded into dips, which can you can scoop up with matzah crackers or vegetables. Steaming or braising also work very well, and cooked artichokes can be served warm or at room temperature.
5.Finish with Fruit and (More) Wine
Fruit is often featured at the end of meals in Italy. And at the end of a long and heavy Seder dinner, sometimes fruit is just what’s needed to cleanse the palate and tell a tummy full of matzah that it all will be okay.
*A platter of washed and sliced fruit, splashed with a squeeze of lemon and garnished with a little fresh mint. Strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, mango and apples are good options.
*Dark- and white-chocolate-dipped fruits, such as strawberries, orange slices or dried apricots.
*A bowl of macerated (or marinated) fruit. Combine two or three kinds of fruits (like a mixture of berries), cut up any large pieces so the bites are even-sized, sprinkle with sugar and drizzle on a little kosher for Passover white wine or the fresh orange or lemon juice. Refrigerate for one to three hours, removing from fridge about 20 minutes before serving. Taste and add more sugar if needed.
Recipe courtesy of Marcia Friedman from Meatballs and Matzah Balls.
Colorful, tender, flavorful “hunter’s style” chicken did not originate as a Passover dish. But I find the Italian tomato-braised chicken stew a welcome addition to the holiday table. I like adding roasted peppers for their color and sweetness. For best results, allow yourself time to cook the stew over very low heat (see note). You can also make it ahead and gently reheat before serving.
3 large bell peppers (ideally 1 each of red, orange, and yellow), halved
Extra-virgin olive oil
Canola or other good frying oil
A 4-pound chicken, cut up, or 4 pounds mixed skin-on, bone-in chicken pieces, patted dry
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large red onion, halved and sliced (about 2 cups)
2 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 tablespoon matzah cake meal (or all-purpose flour when not Passover)
½ cup dry white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted) with their juices
½ cup no-salt added tomato sauce
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped (optional)
Preheat the broiler. Arrange the peppers cut side down on a baking pan covered with foil. Brush the peppers lightly with olive oil. Broil until the skins are mostly blackened (8 to 15 minutes). Remove and cover with foil for about 15 minutes. Remove and discard charred skins and slice the peppers into strips.
Heat a layer of canola oil in a large nonstick pan with a lid (preferably a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Add a single layer of chicken pieces and season lightly with salt and generously with pepper. Brown both sides. Remove and repeat with remaining chicken. When cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin (this keeps the stew from being greasy).
Add the onion to the empty pan and sprinkle lightly with salt. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat and scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan until the onion starts to soften (2 to 5 minutes). Add the garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, until fragrant. Sprinkle the cake meal or flour over the vegetables, and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 to 45 seconds. Stir in the wine, tomatoes, sauce, pepper strips, and chicken and its accumulated juices, submerging the chicken. Cover loosely and simmer over low heat, stirring a couple of times, until chicken is tender and at an internal temperature of 165 to 170 degrees (about 40 to 50 minutes, but longer if heat is very low). Remove from heat and stir in the basil. (If making ahead, wait to add the basil until just before serving.)
Yield: 6 to 8 servings (Meat)
Note: To cook over very low heat, a flame tamer or heat diffuser can help moderate the heat on the stovetop. Use an instant-read thermometer to monitor doneness and adjust heat as needed to keep the cooking on track for your timetable.
Chag Sameach and Buon Appetito!
Marcia Friedman is a food writer, editor, photographer, home cook, and recipe developer. She’s savored delving into both Jewish and Italian culinary traditions in creating the cookbook Meatballs and Matzah Balls: Recipes and Reflections from a Jewish and Italian Life. She continues writing about the intersection of Jewish and Italian food and life at www.meatballsandmatzahballs.com. Photo Credit: Marcia Friedman