The Jewish people just finished celebrating the holiday of Passover, which means that it’s time for the grocery store to have its 95% off sale on boxes of matzo!
All kidding aside, matzo has an interesting history that can only be described by the story of Passover.
Passover is an eight-day festival that honors the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Every year Passover reminds the Jewish people of the experiences that their ancestors underwent to obtain freedom.
DreamWorks did a legitimate job of explaining the story of Passover in The Prince of Egypt, but I will try to eloquently portray my own tale for you.
Thousands of years ago, the Jewish people were enslaved by Egyptian pharaohs and subjected to painstakingly difficult labor. To stop the multiplication of the Jewish people, the pharaoh required the purging of all newborn Jewish males by casting them into the Nile. A woman named Jocheved built a small, water-proof crib for her son, and, fortunately, fate had a plan for this child. The pharaoh’s daughter found the baby floating in the cradle and took him home. She deemed the child Moses, or “he who was drawn from the water.”
Moses ventured outside the palace as a young man and witnessed the hardships of the Jewish people. Eventually he was exiled from the palace after attacking a few men that were beating the Jews. Moses became a shepherd after fleeing from the palace. He got married, and lived a life of tending to the land.
One day Moses stumbled upon a burning bush. It was lit by the power of G-d. Moses learned of his true family history, and became the prophet of the Jewish people. G-d told Moses to travel back to the pharaoh to “Let my people go.”
When Pharaoh refused, G-d sent ten plagues to the Egyptian people, the last of which was to kill the firstborn children of the Egyptians. The Jewish people were warned about this plague, and smeared the blood of a lamb over their doors so G-d knew to “pass over” their houses.
Make sense now?
The final plague caused Pharaoh to chase the slaves out of Egypt. At the last minute, Pharaoh had a change of heart and tried to force them to return. G-d allowed Moses to part the Red Sea with his staff so the Jewish people could escape. Therefore, the trek to the promise land, Mount Sinai, began.
Unfortunately the Israelites were so rushed to escape Egypt that they baked bread that did not have time to rise. This is how matzo was born!
During Passover, the Jewish people hold a Seder, or a ceremonial dinner that retells the story of Moses and Pharaoh. Symbolic foods are eaten to remind the Jews of the journey their ancestors took to reach the promise land. To commemorate the unleavened bread, the Jewish people don’t eat or own any chametz during the holiday. Chametz are leavened grains. Anything other than properly prepared matzoh that contains wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt is off limits. No food on the holiday is leavened or fermented.
Today’s production of matzo is designed to prevent any fermentation or leavening of the flour in one of three ways. The flour can be “guarded,” or supervised from harvest to preparation. “Passover flour” is watched as the milling process begins. “Ordinary flour” is first observed when it’s mixed into classic, machine-made matzo.
Only water that has rested overnight in a vessel is used to make matzo. This is because water mixed with flour starts to ferment around 18 minutes, and heat speeds the process. Mixing, kneading, and baking should therefore stay under 18 minutes using room-temperature water.
Special equipment was invented for baking handmade matzo. The batter is kneaded using a smasher that beats the dough on a flat surface. Solid wood or metal rollers flatten the dough, followed by the dough’s perforation with a small wheel. This prevents the formation of air bubbles, which means the dough cannot rise. Two major companies are most trusted with the manufacturing of matzo- Manischewitz in the United States, and Streit’s in Israel.
Matzo tastes like super plain crackers. You can probably feed an army with all the extra matzo found at the end of the holiday. Why not transform these leftovers into a hearty lasagna? Or rather, a “matzosagna!”
For the vegetable filling: 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 large onion (diced), 3 cloves garlic (minced), 5 oz. baby kale, 1 lb white mushrooms (sliced), 1 Tbsp dried oregano, 1 cup sour cream
For the cheese filling: 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground black pepper, 1 tsp dried thyme, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried rosemary, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, 3/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese, 1 egg
For the lasagna: 11 oz mozzarella cheese (whole or shredded), 6 oz Swiss cheese (whole or shredded), 9 1/2 sheets of matzo
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch glass baking pan.
Dice the onion, and mince the garlic. Add them to a large saute pan along with the olive oil. Cook the onions and the garlic on the stove top over medium heat until the onions become slightly translucent. Then add the kale, mushrooms, and oregano to the pan. Once all the vegetables are softened, add the sour cream to the pan. Reduce the heat to low, and let the vegetables simmer in the sour cream until the sauce becomes slightly thickened. Once finished, set the pan aside.
Make the cheese filling.
Add the salt, ground black pepper, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and red pepper flakes to a bowl. Mix the ricotta cheeses into the spices. Stir in the egg until it is fully incorporated into the mixture.
It’s time to build the matzosagna!
First place 2 whole sheets of matzo at the bottom of the pan, and break 2 pieces of matzo to fill in the bare gaps at the bottom.
This is a build-as-you-go process, and you may use varying amounts of matzo based on the size of the break.
Spread about half of the cheese filling onto the matzo layer. Then place a few ounces of mozzarella cheese on top of that as the “glue” between all the matzo pieces.
Put half the vegetable filling on top of the matzo and cheese “glue” layers. Then add a few more ounces of mozzarella cheese. I apologize in advance for the awkward-looking cheese level below. I ran out of mozzarella cheese and needed to use string cheese to fill in the gaps.
Add a layer of matzo on top, and then repeat the process with Swiss cheese. Save a little bit of the cheese filling for the final matzo layer (more about that later). Luckily I learned my lesson the first time about saving enough cheese for both the “glue” and separate cheese layer, so I only needed the 6 ounces of Swiss cheese that I originally planned to use.
Add a top layer of matzo, followed by the remaining cheese filling and two ounces of mozzarella cheese.
Place the matzosagna in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove it from the oven, add aluminum foil to the top of the glass pan, and return it to the oven for another 20 to 25 minutes. The matzosagna is finished when the top layer is soft, and the sauce has completely thickened on the inside.
Let the matzosagna cool for at least 10 minutes so the sauce can set and all the layers can stay together. Then slice it and serve.
Mazel tov, you made your first matzosagna! Although matzo is not the tastiest food I’ve encountered, it certainly has many “layers” of symbolism. That’s why it makes such a great platform for baking lasagna.
Cheers, readers. L’chaim! (To life!)