Paula Shoyer’s Stress-Free Farm-to-Table Seder Menu

“Farm-to-table” evokes many different concepts of food depending what climate you live in. FT&V is based on the United States’ East Coast. The cold spring we’ve been enduring means there is very little excitement in the local farmer’s markets at the moment, although I’ve had a glimpse of incoming asparagus.

The Seder menu presented below, however, adapted from Paula Shoyer’s The Passover Menu, takes advantage of new asparagus and leeks in an innovative (and kosher-for-Passover) recipe for a spring “kugel.” For those fearful of making matzah balls, Paula has made hers from chicken, which bounce lightly in a delicious broth enhanced by young zucchini “spaghetti” in lieu of noodles. Her recipe for a Moroccan charoset brings spring freshness in the addition of cubed (not grated) apples, with a spicy kick; beef brisket cooked osso bucco style evokes the famous Italian dish for veal, with a seasonal breath of parsley, garlic and lemon gremolata.

While I’m impressed by Seder cooks who present multiple elaborate courses — and main course choices! — for a single Passover dinner, I’m someone who likes to focus on a few key dishes, and then present simple, market fresh, menu-enhancing sides.  Not only does such a menu exceed the expectations of a crowd, but it keeps cooking much less stressful for me.  When you’re buying vegetables and meat straight from a market there’s usually little you have to do to make them taste good. Much of this Seder menu can be prepared in advance. Make the broth for the soup, the brisket (15 minute prep time!), and the charoset (minus the fresh apples) up to three days in advance. The day before, make the meatballs (you’ll cook in the soup before serving), and the vegetable kugel (while you’re at it, why not roast your egg and lamb shank for the Seder plate?). On the day itself, you need only make the zucchini “spaghetti” and reheat the brisket. As an additional side to the brisket, I’d cut up a bunch of spring root vegetables — new potatoes, Jerusalem artichoke, celery root, parsnip — toss them in olive oil and salt, and roast them at 400-degrees for an hour or so. Sprinkle with fresh-chopped Italian parsley when ready to serve.

We are not huge gefilte fish fans in my family (odd, I know…), but Paula offers a creative take in her book: a fresh salmon gefilte loaf with arugula, avocado and mango slaw.

For dessert, try Paula’s easy Lemon Tart with Basil Nut Crust and Meringue topping, which can be made up to three days in advance.

~ Danielle Frum

Middle Eastern Charoset

Makes 3 cups (serves 25 for Seder).

Prep time 10 minutes. Advance prep may be made 3 days in advance; add apple just before serving.

I have always enjoyed Sephardic charoset recipes because they often taste like dessert. This recipe merges several charoset traditions and, unlike the classic Ashkenazi varieties, this one has texture.

1 1/2 cups (230g) pitted dates
1 cup (150g) dried figs
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons sweet kosher wine
1 teaspoon orange zest (from 1 medium orange)
1 cup (120g) walnuts, chopped into 1/3-inch (8-mm) pieces
1 cup (200g) dried apricots, chopped into 1/4-inch (6-mm) pieces
1 1/2 red apples, not peeled, chopped into 1/3-inch (8-mm) pieces

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, place the dates, figs, nutmeg, ginger, wine, and zest. Process to a paste. Add the walnuts and apricots and process until the mixture comes together. Scoop into a small serving bowl; add the chopped apples and stir.

Chicken Soup with Chicken Meatballs and Zucchini Spaghetti

Serves 14–16.

Prep time 25 minutes. Cook time 2 hours, 8 minutes. Advance prep: Soup may be made 3 days in advance or frozen; meatballs may be made 1 day in advance.

Like most people, I love matzoh balls. Although everyone knows me as a from-scratch baker, I am admitting here that I always make matzoh balls from the mix. After eating my mother’s matzoh balls for years, which alternated from year to year between light and fluffy and something else (I think because of variations in egg sizes), once I tried the balls from the mix, I never went back. Constant dieting has forced me to avoid them, so I developed chicken meatballs as an alternative. They even look like matzoh balls. But the traditionalists out there need not worry, as I have also provided ideas below for updating traditional matzoh balls.

For the soup:

2 whole medium chickens, cut into pieces
2 large onions, quartered
6 carrots, peeled and cut in half
1 leek, white and light green parts only, cut lengthwise in half
6 stalks celery with leaves, cut crosswise in half
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 parsnips, peeled and cut in thirds
1 fennel bulb, quartered
1 turnip, peeled and quartered
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 gallon (3.8L) water
½ bunch parsley
½ bunch dill
Salt and black pepper

For the Chicken Meatballs:

2 boneless chicken breasts (about 5–6 ounces each)
1/4 cup (60ml) chicken stock
2 tablespoons ground almonds or matzoh meal
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large egg
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For the garnish: 

2 medium zucchini, not peeled

To make the soup:

Place the chicken pieces in a large pot. Add the onions, carrots, leek, celery, garlic, parsnips, fennel, turnip, bay leaves, and salt. Add the water and bring to a boil. Use a large spoon to skim the scum off the top of the soup. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and let the soup simmer, checking after 5 minutes and skimming off any additional scum. Add the parsley and dill, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Let cool. Strain through a large sieve, reserving the carrots to return to the soup when serving. Taste the soup and add more salt or pepper if necessary.

To make the meatballs:

While the soup is cooking, prepare the meatball mixture. In the bowl of a food processor with the metal blade attachment, mix together the chicken, stock, ground almonds, garlic, and egg until a paste forms. Add the scallions, salt, and pepper and pulse a few times to mix. Transfer the meatball mixture to a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for up to 1 day, until ready to shape and cook the meatballs.

Use a spoon to scoop up the meatball batter and wet hands to shape it into 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) balls. Bring the strained soup to a simmer, add the meatballs, cover, and cook for 8 minutes.

To make the garnish:

Meanwhile, prepare the zucchini “spaghetti” for the garnish. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick (6-mm) slices. Keeping the stack together, use a vegetable peeler to shave the zucchini into long strips. Slice the reserved cooked carrots into rounds and return them to the soup. Top each serving of soup and meatballs with some of the zucchini spaghetti.

Matzoh Ball Variations:

Combine your choice of any one of the following with one packet from a 5-ounce
(142g) package of matzoh ball mix to make 13 matzoh balls. Plan on 2 matzoh
balls per person:

  • 1 teaspoon fresh finely chopped ginger plus 2 teaspoons finely chopped cilantro
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 carrot peeled and chopped into 1/4 inch (6 mm) pieces
  • 1½ teaspoons mixed finely chopped fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, and basil

Asparagus, Zucchini and Leek Kugel

Serves 12-15.

Prep time: 30 minutes. Cook time: 45 minutes. Advance prep: May be made 1 day in advance.

I am known as the enemy of kugel because I make only one kugel every year—my grandmother’s dairy recipe that appears in The Holiday Kosher Baker. I have stated publicly that Jewish holiday meals are heavy enough without turning our vegetables into leaden cakes. Let the record show that I have often been criticized for this opinion. But, as I keep meeting kugel lovers out there, I decided to be flexible and include this recipe. I like it because the vegetables rule the flavor.

3 tablespoons (45ml) vegetable oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved and cut into 1/4-inch-thick (6-mm) slices
1 medium onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bunch (1 pound/455g) asparagus (choose thicker stalks), trimmed, halved the long way, and cut into thirds
1 medium zucchini, not peeled, shredded on the large holes of a box grater (about 2 cups)
1 cup spinach leaves, stacked and sliced into 1/3-inch-thick (8-mm) ribbons
2 scallions, cut into 1/4-inch-thick (6-mm) slices
1 tablespoon slivered fresh basil leaves (see box, page 56)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup matzoh meal
1/4 teaspoon salt
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the leek and onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and asparagus and cook for another 4 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the shredded zucchini, spinach, and scallions and stir to combine. Scoop into a large bowl and let cool for 15 minutes.

Add the basil, eggs, matzoh meal, salt, and pepper to taste to the vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Grease a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33-cm) baking pan with the remaining tablespoon oil. Scoop the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake the kugel for 45 minutes, or until browned on top.

Brisket Osso Buco

Serves 10.

Prep time 15 minutes; cook time 3 hours. Advance prep: May be made 3 days in advance; add gremolata after brisket is reheated.

Osso buco is an Italian style of preparing veal shanks, round cuts of veal with a bone in the center. I first ate osso buco at Tevere 84, a kosher Italian restaurant in New York City, and I loved the fresh lemon and garlic gremolata, which is added at the end of the cooking time. The gremolata flavors give heavy, traditionally prepared brisket a springtime taste. I prefer to use second-cut brisket because it is more tender than first-cut brisket, which has too little fat.

 For the brisket:

1/4 cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (35g) matzoh cake meal or potato starch (40g)
1 (3-pound/1.4-kg) brisket
2 large onions, cut in half and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup (120ml) white wine
1 can (28 ounce/795g) whole peeled or diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste, or 1/2 cup (120ml) tomato sauce
Salt and black pepper
For the gremolata:

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

Heat the oil in a large frying pan with 2-inch (5-cm) sides or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the matzoh cake meal or potato starch on both sides of the meat, shaking off any excess, and brown both sides of the meat until crispy parts develop.

Remove to a plate. Add theonions, carrots, celery, and bay leaf to the pan and cook over medium heat, using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to scrape up any pieces of meat that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the wine and cook until most of it has boiled off and only a little liquid is left around the vegetables. Add the canned tomatoes, including their juices, and tomato paste to the pan and bring to a boil. If you used a Dutch oven, return the meat to the pan. If you used a frying pan, transfer the vegetables and sauce to a baking pan and place the meat on top. Add salt and a generous amount of pepper. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 11/2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the gremolata. Combine the parsley, garlic, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Cover and place in the fridge until ready to serve. Gremolata may be made 1 day in advance.

Remove the pan from the oven, place the meat on a cutting board, and slice against the grain into 1/3-inch-thick (8-mm) slices. Return the slices to the pan, cover, and bake for another 11/4 hours. Sprinkle the gremolata over the meat in the pan, stirring some into the sauce.

* Note on browning meat: During Passover, in the absence of flour, you can use either matzoh cake meal or potato starch to dredge meat or chicken before browning. Both flour substitutes work well, but the cake meal coating encourages better browning. To brown meat or chicken, place enough oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat to cover the bottom. Add the dredged meat or chicken to the pan and cook until the pieces release from the pan on their own and have several crispy parts. Turn over and repeat.

Recipes reprinted with permission from New Passover Menu © 2015 by Paula Shoyer, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Michael Bennett Kress.