Growing up in Israel in the 1970s, I was exposed to only one kind of lasagna: my mother’s. It was deliciously made with a simple tomato sauce, cottage cheese (there was no ricotta) and grated “yellow” cheese, all nestled between softened layers of … matzo.
Imagine my surprise the first time I encountered the authentic Italian pasta dish. (You make lasagna with THAT?) Matzo lasagna remains one of my family’s favorites.
For centuries, all over the Diaspora, Jews have come up with creative ways for incorporating matzo during the Passover holiday. Jews in the Ottoman Empire used it to make the small, savory pastry called burek.
Mina de carne and mina de espinaka are pies of matzo shells stuffed with either meat or spinach that were prepared by Sephardi Jews to replace the many pastries they served throughout the year. There are numerous matzo kugels, sweet and savory, from the Ashkenazi cuisine. You can even find matzo baklava, from the cuisine of Mizrahi Jews, which replaces the phyllo dough with the so-called bread of affliction.
Speaking of affliction, the accompanying matzo recipes will help dispatch leftovers from the season’s ubiquitous five-pack of matzo.
This is a simple, kosher-for-Passover version of the classic Italian recipe, with layers of tomato sauce, cottage cheese and grated cheese nestled between layers of matzo.
Feel free to add fresh basil and/or parsley to the layers, if desired. Adapted from Erela Amon, a Tel Aviv cook.
¼-½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 1 ounces canned crushed tomatoes
5-6 plain matzos (7-by-7-inch squares)
1 pound regular or low-fat cottage cheese
8 ounces (2 packed cups) shredded cheese, such as a Mexican 4-cheese blend
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the inside of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking oil spay.
Stir the salt (to taste) and oregano into the crushed tomatoes. Spread a couple of spoonfuls of the tomatoes over the bottom of the baking dish.
Put just-boiled or very hot water in a container large enough to hold the matzo unbroken. Add 2 matzos and soak briefly, so the matzos become damp yet are still firm enough to hold their shape, shaking off any excess water. Transfer to the baking dish and arrange as one layer, breaking off pieces of the matzo to fit as needed.
Spoon one-third of the cottage cheese on top of the matzo layer, spreading it to the edges. Spread one-third of the tomato mixture to cover the cottage cheese. Scatter one-third of the shredded cheese over the tomato layer. Repeat with the matzos, cottage cheese and shredded cheese to build three layers, ending with the shredded cheese.
Bake for 45 minutes; the cheese on top will be golden brown. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.
Makes one 9-by-13-inch pan (8 to 10 servings).
Per serving (based on 10, using low-fat cottage cheese): 200 calories, 14 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 520 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar.
Serve this Sephardi Passover pie as a weeknight entree, with a simple crisp salad of shredded cabbage dressed with apple cider vinegar, canola oil and a pinch of kosher salt.
Mina de Carne
2-3 medium golden potatoes (8 to 10 ounces total)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
5 tablespoons corn oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 pound lean ground beef chuck
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
5 large eggs
2 cups no-salt-added or low-sodium chicken broth, heated
8 plain matzos (7-by-7-inch squares)
Put the potatoes in a small pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife. Drain, cool and peel the potatoes, then mash them in a mixing bowl.
Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a large skillet over medium-low heat for a few minutes until fragrant and golden, shaking the skillet often to keep them from burning. Transfer to a small bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons of the oil to the same (empty) skillet; increase the heat to medium-high. Add the onion and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring several times, until golden but not browned. Add the beef and cook just until no trace of pink remains, using a spatula to break up any clumps. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the salt and all of the black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. Remove from the heat; stir in the pine nuts.
Lightly beat 2 of the eggs, then stir them into the mashed potatoes. Add to the onion-meat mixture and stir until well incorporated.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking oil spray.
Put the heated broth in a container wide and deep enough to hold 6 of the matzos, stacked. Soak them in the broth for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until they are flexible, yet still firm enough to hold their shape, shaking off any excess broth. Line the bottom of the baking dish with a double layer. Use 1 soaked matzo to line each side of the baking dish. (They will be folded over the filling.)
Spread the potato-meat mixture over the bottom matzos, then fold the matzo from the sides over it. Soak the remaining 2 matzos in the broth and use them to create a double top layer.
Combine 1/3 cup of the broth you used for soaking the matzo, the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, the remaining 3 eggs and the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt in a liquid measuring cup, stirring until well blended. (Discard, or strain and reserve, any remaining broth.) Pour the mixture over the top matzo, tilting the baking dish slightly to make sure the egg mixture covers evenly and soaks into the sides and corners. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until golden brown and somewhat firm.
Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Makes one 9-by-9-inch pie (6 to 9 servings).
Per serving (based on 9, using no-salt-added broth): 330 calories, 17 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, no dietary fiber, 1 g sugar.