Matzo lasagna: A vegetarian Passover entree
Let's say that most of the folks coming to your place for the Passover feast are vegetarians. And let's say that you want to cater to them without breaking the hearts of the die-hard carnivores whose mouths water at the very thought of pot roast. Is there a centerpiece dish that will make everyone happy?
Yes. As long as your vegetarians can tolerate dairy, this "lasagna" is a winner.
Passover forbids the eating of most foods made with flour, which is why this recipe calls for whole matzos (an exception to that rule) in place of lasagna noodles. Matzo turns out to be a perfect stand-in. Thin and square (they're usual 6- or 7-inch squares) a whole sheet of matzo is a tailor-made bed on which to layer other ingredients. It also absorbs flavors beautifully, holds its shape when baked, and browns nicely in the oven.
I've paired the matzo with zucchini, which loses its watery blandness and gains a spring-like assertiveness once it's been shredded, salted, squeezed and sauteed briefly with onions and garlic. The zucchini then is combined with my cheating version of a cream sauce. Typically, that would be a bechamel — milk or cream thickened with a roux. That's too much work. It's much easier simply to use a food processor to whiz together cottage cheese, milk, eggs and cream cheese. The result is a sauce as creamy and delicious as a bechamel without any of the gummy flour taste that can mar the classic sauce.
The matzos need to be soaked in some of the cheese mixture to soften them slightly before baking. To do so, stack them in a deep container that isn't much wider than the matzo itself. I used a square brownie pan and rotated each matzo's place in the stack every so often to make sure they all were evenly soaked. This is a way to counteract the fact that the liquid sinks to the bottom half of the container.
Once you set the matzos in a rectangular baking pan, it'll take two of them side-by-side to form a single layer. If your matzos are 7 inches square, they'll overlap a bit lengthwise, even as they fall slightly short of the pan's width. Not to worry. The filling will indeed ooze out slightly beyond the edges of the matzos, but as the dish bakes all the parts come together beautifully, allowing you to cut it into individual servings with no problem.
I dreamed up this dish as a Passover entree, but it would work equally well as the centerpiece for a brunch any time of the year. As for your Passover guests, here's a prediction from someone who married into the tribe: As soon as they realize they can't argue about the food, they'll happily move on to politics.
Zucchini matzo lasagna
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (1 hour active)
2 pounds medium zucchini
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/3 cup packed fresh dill, chopped, plus extra chopped dill to garnish
16-ounce container cottage cheese
2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon lemon zest
8 ounces cream cheese
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled, divided
6 matzos (6- to 7-inch squares)
Heat the oven to 400 F. Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Trim off and discard the ends of the zucchini. In a food processor fitted with the grating disk, coarsely grate the zucchini. Transfer the zucchini to a strainer and toss with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Let drain over the sink or a bowl for 15 minutes. Set the food processor, unwashed, aside to puree the sauce in. After the zucchini has drained, using your hands and working with small handfuls, squeeze out as much moisture from it as possible.
In a large skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the 1/3 cup dill. Season with black pepper.
Fit the food processor with the regular cutting blade. In it, combine the cottage cheese, milk, eggs and lemon zest. Process until smooth. Set aside 2 cups of the mixture, then add the cream cheese to the mixture remaining in the processor. Process until smooth, then pour the mixture into the zucchini mixture along with 1 cup of the feta. Stir well, then set aside.
Stack the matzos in a deep dish (such as a square baking pan) and pour the reserved cottage cheese mixture over them. Let stand for 15 minutes, rotating the crackers every so often so they get evenly soaked.
Arrange 2 of the soaked matzos in a single layer in the prepared baking dish. Top with half of the zucchini filling, spreading it evenly. Cover with 2 more matzos, then the remaining filling. Top with a final layer of matzo. Scoop any remaining filling from the bowl that the matzos were soaked in and spread it over the final matzo layer. Sprinkle with the remaining feta.
Bake on the oven's middle shelf until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 420 calories; 230 calories from fat (55 percent of total calories); 26 g fat (13 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 145 mg cholesterol; 680 mg sodium; 31 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 10 g sugar; 19 g protein.
Sara Moulton is the host of public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals." She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including "Cooking Live." Her latest cookbook is "Home Cooking 101."
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