It was barely Purim and my phone was ringing off the hook with friends and clients asking questions regarding Passover. What am I making? Will I share recipes? Can I come over and cook for them? Will I come over for a meal (I especially love that one)?
I felt the panic creep into my normally blasé attitude toward the holiday. I made my peace with Matzo Madness years ago and have my annual game plan in place.
But the dread is contagious and I caught it.
I started digging around in cabinets. I planned my meals for the next month, all in an effort to rid my home of forbidden food items. I started my pasta scrap bag with its load of remnants of various pasta shapes. I call the dish created with it Pasta ala Odds and Ends—YUM!
As the anxiety deepened, I went through my spices and planned an alarming number of meals containing my most treasured ingredients. I love my spices and take great pride in my custom mixes. A little of this and little of that and voila, I have a masterpiece. As part of Passover prep, I fear that the delicate nuance that I try to achieve may just become a hodge-podge of global influences all in one dish with too much of this and too much of that.
Oh well, I will sleep well knowing that the spice cabinet Pesach cleanse has been schemed.
I practically freaked out when my husband brought home his favorite dried fava beans. I demanded an explanation for his lack of calendar sense. IT’S ALMOST PESACH!
I was really starting to fret as I was planning my menus a mere four weeks before the Seders, when I realized that I have a secret weapon for the holiday. My favorite ingredient, extra virgin olive oil, is kosher for Passover. I may have to give up my pastas, rices and spices, but I still have my extra virgin olive oil.
Last year I wrote about extra virgin olive oil and how it is important to purchase the best oil you can. I am revisiting that notion with renewed vigor and excitement.
Maybe you are like me. You go to the grocery store and you know you should buy good quality extra virgin olive oil, but you do not know which one is the best. You look at prices, pretty labels and country of origin and then make your best guess. You are rolling the dice and plunking down good money for something that may or may not be tasty.
Or, you could taste the oil before you buy it. I am not suggesting you crack open bottles and take a swig at the local supermarket. But, what if you could taste the olive oil before you purchase it, just like you go to a wine tasting and sample wines before you buy them?
There is a terrific store in Chicago that allows just such an experience. City Olive is a store specializing in extra virgin olive oils from around the world. At the back of the clever little shop there is a tasting bar where you can slurp and savor your way through dozens of bottles of luscious fragrant oils.
On a recent trip to City Olive, I tasted buttery oil from France that I am using for my Pesach baking. I also tasted oil from Spain that smells just like artichokes and tomatoes. I am using that oil for drizzling on finished dishes and for making pesto and vinaigrettes. I found my workhorse oil from Morocco that will be used for just about everything. That oil is complex and fruity.
You don’t have to be like me and purchase separate oils for everything. But why not? All extra virgin olive oils are kosher for Passover and year round, even with out kosher supervision. How awesome is that? We may give up our breads and cakes for eight days, but we will emerge from the holiday having feasted on foods made with delicious and healthy extra virgin olive oil. You cannot say that about Kosher for Passover oil which tends to be harsh and bitter and not healthy like extra virgin olive oil. How much cooking time and how many ingredients do you need to cover up the taste of bad oil?
My nerves have been calmed and I am cool as a spring day in Chicago knowing that my Passover plan has been executed. I can approach the holiday with excitement.
Roasted Halibut with Green Olive Pesto
This sprightly flavored dish will remind you of warmer days. Halibut is my favorite springtime fish and the buttery flavor of the fish pairs well with the tasty and easy to prepare pesto.
For the halibut
6 6-ounce skinless halibut filets
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350
1. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Season the filets with salt and pepper.
2. Place the filets (presentation side down-this is the side that did not have the skin on it. It is the prettier side!) into the pan. Allow the filets to brown (about 5 minutes). Transfer the filets to a sheet pan and roast in the preheated oven until the filets are firm to the touch (about 10-12 minutes depending upon thickness)
3. Spoon the pesto over each filet and garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and mint leaves.
For the Pesto
½ cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
½ cup almonds, toasted
½ cup golden raisins
2 cups green olives, pitted (I like the product from Israel)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 cloves garlic
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of crushed red chilies, optional
¼ cup fresh mint leaves + additional leaves for garnish
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until the mixture is a very thick paste with some chunks remaining.
2. The pesto can be made up to 3 days ahead of serving and can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator.
Olive Oil Cake
Luscious olive oil, saffron and almonds are the foundation for this fragrant Passover dessert. The cake is light and airy with a moist crumb. The saffron gives the cake an earthy honey flavor that complements the olive oil and almonds. I like to spread Olive Oil Ganache over the cake layer and garnish with toasted almonds for an elegant dessert.
2 ½ cups sugar
1 cup white wine
½ teaspoon saffron threads
½ cup fresh squeezed lemon and/or orange juice
Zest of 3 oranges
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 ½ cups best quality extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups almond flour
½ cup potato starch
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350
Line a 9 inch spring form cake pan with parchment paper.
1. Beat the eggs and sugar to a ribbon stage using the whisk attachment.
2. Combine the wine, saffron, citrus juices and zest, the vanilla bean and the olive oil and set aside.
3. Combine the almond flour, potato starch, baking soda, baking powder and salt and whick together. Set aside.
4. Alternate the wet ingredients and dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until the top springs back when lightly pressed. Cool the cake on a cooling rack.
Invert the cake layer onto a cake board or decorative platter. Garnish with Olive Oil Ganache or Passover powdered sugar.
Olive Oil Ganache
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (during Passover I Schmerlings)
2/3 cup brewed coffee
½ cup of Passover confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons best quality extra virgin olive oil
1 vanilla bean, scraped
2 teaspoons Fleur de Sel (the sea salt has a sparkly flavor that brings out the best in the chocolate and the olive oil)-optional
1. Melt the chocolate with the coffee over a double boiler in a bowl suspended over simmering water. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk to combine.
3. Pour over cakes while still warm and garnish with Fleur de Sel.