A sea of tan and beige covered the Pesach table of my youth. While we are supposed to view ourselves as having left Egypt, I assume the sand-inspired landscape was an unintended desert experience, a splitting of the sea of matzah meal and mashed potatoes. Though the food was always delicious and plentiful, it was a typical Ashkenazi heritage of mono-chromatic offerings. Exotic herbs and spices did not abound in Poland. Potatoes did.
When I started making Pesach in my own home, I was determined to brighten up the colors and flavors to enhance the menu and our feeling of freedom. Choosing other root vegetables, building in more colorful vegetables and spices, and using strong vibrant flavors have definitely given our Pesach table a facelift. Most of these recipes can be made ahead—without sacrificing flavor or color. A fresh garnishing of herbs can always be done right before serving to spruce up a dish. Wishing you all a chag kasher v’sameach—a bold and beautiful Pesach!
Italian Veal Stew
Yields 6 servings
A flavorful braised stew perfect for Pesach or any other time of year. Serve over a bed of mashed potatoes or quinoa.
2-2½ pounds cubed veal stew meat
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 large red pepper, cut into strips
2 large carrots, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
5-6 plum tomatoes, cut into eighths
8 ounces mushrooms, quartered
2⁄₃ cup plus 1 tablespoon
white wine, divided
1½ bunches scallions, chopped
¼ cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon potato starch
Chopped parsley, for garnish
1. Season veal cubes with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper to taste.
2. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Brown veal cubes on each side, turning once (you may need to do this in batches). Transfer veal to a separate dish.
3. Add 1 tablespoon wine to the pot, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add onions, peppers and carrots; season with remaining ½ teaspoon kosher salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until tender, about 8-9 minutes.
4. Add 2⁄3 cup wine and stir to blend; bring back to a simmer, then return veal to pot and add garlic, rosemary and thyme. Cover, reduce heat to low; simmer covered for 30 minutes.
5. Add tomatoes, stir to blend and continue to cook covered for 15 minutes. Then add mushrooms; continue to cook covered for another 15 minutes.
6. Combine orange juice and potato starch in a small bowl, whisking to blend until completely dissolved; pour mixture into pot and add scallions. Cook for another five minutes, stirring often until stew broth has thickened and veal is tender (test with fork). Season to taste, adding more salt or pepper as needed. Garnish with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
Horseradish-Hazelnut Crusted Fish
Yields 6 servings
What a perfectly flavorful way to use up that leftover Seder horseradish! Have no fear, grated horseradish loses its potency as it cooks. This simple recipe works well with thick fish fillets like halibut or cod as specified below, but is just as delicious with thinner fish fillets like tilapia. If using tilapia or the like, reduce cooking time to 8-9 minutes, depending on thickness. Be sure to pre-toast your nuts for best flavor!
6 (4-5 ounce) fillets halibut or cod
1½ tablespoons mayonnaise or aioli (garlic mayo)
¾ teaspoon Kosher salt or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup packed grated fresh horseradish
¾ cup toasted, chopped hazelnuts
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Rinse fillets and pat dry; place fillets on a baking sheet. Season fillets liberally with ¾ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise over top of each fillet, about ½-¾ teaspoon of mayonnaise per fillet.
3. Combine horseradish and nuts together in a small bowl. Add oil and toss until mixture is moistened.
4. Mound a few tablespoons of the mixture on top of each fillet, spreading and packing it down in an even layer.
5. Roast uncovered for 13-15 minutes (depending on thickness) on center rack in the oven. Crust should appear golden and completely opaque (from side view), and the fish should flake easily with a fork.
6. Sprinkle fillets with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
Provençal Roasted Root Vegetables
Yields 8-10 servings
Herbes de Provence is a mixture of dried herbs representative of the Provence region of southeast France. Mild yet earthy, this spice blend is a wonderful staple to have on hand for savory dishes, especially root vegetables.
1 small or half a large rutabaga (about 3 pounds), peeled, and cut into 2-inch long slices (¼-inch thick)
3 large or 4 medium red beets, peeled, halved and sliced (¼-inch thick)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence, divided*
2½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons honey
½ cup olive oil, divided
3-4 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
*If Herbes de Provence is not available, make your own with the following recipe:
1 tablespoon celery seed (optional)
1 tablespoon marjoram
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon thyme
Combine all spices and mix to blend. Store in an airtight jar or container.
1. Preheat oven to 450°F and adjust top rack to rung closest to the heating element.
2. Line two large baking sheets with heavy duty foil or parchment paper.
3. Arrange sliced rutabaga on one baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence, 1½ teaspoons salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon honey and ¼ cup olive oil. Toss to distribute spices and coat evenly with oil, spreading to an even layer on baking sheet. Place baking sheet on prepared top oven rack in oven and roast for 20-25 minutes until tender, tossing halfway through cooking time.
4. Repeat with sliced beets on second baking sheet and toss with remaining spices, honey and oil. Roast for 15-20 minutes until tender, tossing halfway through cooking time. (Roasting the beets and rutabaga separately will prevent the beet juice from staining the rutabaga during cooking.)
5. Combine roasted rutabaga and beets before serving and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Chocolate-Cherry Pistachio Tart
Yields 8-10 servings
This lovely tart features a pistachio frangipane, a French pastry filling that is traditionally made with almonds. It perfectly complements the flavor of the chocolate and sour cherries.
Chocolate Shortbread Crust
1½ cup (10 ounces) shelled,
1⁄3 cup sugar
¼ cup cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 egg white
½ teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (about 2/3 cup)
¾ cup (5 ounces) shelled raw pistachios
½ cup sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup potato starch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup frozen sour cherries, thawed;
or jarred sour cherries, drained
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom and set aside.
2. Process pistachios, cocoa, sugar and salt in food processor until nuts are ground. Add melted butter/margarine, egg white and vanilla, pulsing until mixture is a moistened paste.
3. Transfer mixture to the tart pan. Using your hands (easiest with gloves!), press evenly onto bottom and up sides of pan in an even layer.
4. Bake crust for about 12-15 minutes; turn off oven. Sprinkle chopped chocolate over bottom of crust and return to shut (hot) oven for 5 minutes.
5. Remove crust from oven; use a knife or offset spatula to spread melting chocolate evenly over the bottom of the crust. Transfer crust to rack to cool completely.
6. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Combine nuts and sugar in food processor. Pulse, blending until nuts are finely ground. Add butter/margarine and process until creamed into a thick paste. Add potato starch, eggs, extracts and salt. Process until creamy and mostly smooth.
7. Spread filling evenly into crust. Arrange cherries in concentric circles atop filling. Bake tart until filling is lightly browned and set, about 40 minutes. Cool tart completely on rack. When cool, remove from tart pan
Chef’s Note: Both the pastry and the filling can be made one day ahead and stored separately before baking (filling should be refrigerated).
Naomi Ross is a cooking instructor and food writer based in Woodmere, New York. She teaches classes throughout the country and writes articles connecting good cooking and Jewish inspiration. She is excited to be writing her first cookbook, which will be released next year.