when you can’t have risotto…

April 24th, 2008

Make matzotto. Matzotto? Let me explain.

Last Saturday evening was the first night of Passover, that eight day festival of freedom during which observant Jews abstain from eating leavened baked goods. The prohibition extends to grains of all kinds, and for many Jews, certain legumes and seeds as well. This means no bread, pasta, oatmeal, and even popcorn, hummus, tofu, mustard. Homes are cleaned from top to bottom and kitchens turned inside out so that any stray crumbs are disposed of. Pots, pans, and dishes must be kashered or replaced with kitchenware specially reserved for the holiday. Household cooks must then prepare meals based on such varied carbohydrate sources as potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, and potatoes. (World Jewry heaved a collective sigh of relief a few years ago when quinoa was designated kosher for Passover. Quinoa is a new world seed rather than a grain, so rabbis have permitted its consumption on Passover.)

Aside from potatoes, many Jews traditionally prepare a variety of starchy side dishes using matzah, such as the famous matzah balls or kneidlach. These are light and fluffy soup dumplings that melt in your mouth when you eat them, in stark contrast to the matzah from which they are made.

As matzah is scarce this year, I bought a huge container of matzah farfel. Matzah farfel is bits of crumbled matzah, which is the cracker bread we Jews eat during the 8 days of the Passover holiday. To be precise, matzah as it is known in the Western world represents the Ashkenazi (European) Jewish tradition of baking flat, hard unseasoned cracker-like breads for Passover. The traditional matzah of Mizrahi Jews (Jews of the Levant or Middle East) on the other hand, is often a soft flatbread much like naan, which is much more fun to eat. It’s hard to make a matzah sandwich that doesn’t turn into a plateful of crispy, shard-like crumbs. If you’ve ever tried spreading cold butter on a slice of matzah, you know what I’m talking about. You may as well eat it with a spoon. I guess that’s where matzah farfel comes from. Matzah factories must have giant buckets full of inadvertently broken matzah which they process and sell as farfel. And there you have it. European Jewry’s answer to pasta for Passover.

In this recipe, I cooked matzah farfel risotto style, more or less. You can also use matzah farfel to make kugel, a traditional savory or sweet pudding served on Jewish holidays.

matzotto

butter and olive oil
1 cup matzah farfel or bits of broken matzah
1-2 handfuls dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water
handful of chopped parsley or other herbs
salt and pepper

  • Melt some butter with olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the matzah farfel and stir to cover in butter and lightly toast until slightly golden. Add more butter or olive oil if the pan gets dry.
  • Remove mushrooms from from water and squeeze out any remaining moisture. Reserve the soaking water.
  • Coarsely chop mushrooms and add to farfel. Stir to cover in butter.
  • Add some of the mushroom water to farfel mixture and stir. As the farfel absorbs the mushroom water, add more and stir.
  • Taste as you go to get the consistency you prefer. Then season to taste with salt, pepper, and herbs.

Serves 2

Variations: Use smoked salt and/or smoked paprika. Add bits of smoked duck or goose. Use hot chicken stock to soak the mushrooms. Use whole wheat matzah farfel or spelt matzah farfel. Grate in some parmiggiano or pecorino.

Note: To keep the matzotto kosher, use either dairy or meat ingredients, but not both.

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