- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

For the past 20 years during the Jewish holiday of Passover, which this year begins the evening of Monday, April 5, we’ve held a Seder at Spago. This ritual dinner, in which foods help tell the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, provides a wonderful time for family and friends of every faith to come together in celebration of freedom.

As you probably know, one key element of the Seder is matzo. This unleavened bread recalls how the Israelites fled the pharaoh’s tyranny so swiftly that they had no time to let their bread dough rise before baking it. The crisp, plain crackers evoke childhood Seder memories for so many people, including my two sons. But for me, not having been raised in that faith, all I could think about when I first tasted matzo was how much I wanted to try making my own.

And so we do each year at Spago. My recipe isn’t strictly kosher, because true Passover matzo is produced in special factories following strictly inspected religious guidelines. But it certainly captures the spirit, look and texture of traditional matzo, while adding the exciting flavors of extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, onion and thyme. If you prefer a plainer version, leave out the onion and herbs; or substitute shallots for the onion or another herb for the thyme. Grated Parmesan and maybe a dusting of paprika are also delicious additions.

To get the perfect thinness that ensures crisp matzo, you could diligently roll it out with a rolling pin. I’ve found it easier, however, to use a hand-cranked pasta machine, passing pieces of the dough through the rollers at the narrowest setting possible so that the dough does not tear. You may have to experiment with a few small pieces before you get it right on your machine. Just be sure to let the dough rest before rolling, so its elastic gluten fibers will relax and make the dough more pliable.

This matzo tastes so good that we always make extra, so Seder guests leave with take-home packages. Leftovers are excellent the next morning broken into small pieces, mixed with beaten egg and then sauteed in butter to make the popular deli dish called “matzo brei.”

Or, for a special appetizer at any time of year, try serving matzo as an accompaniment for dips or spreads. One of my favorite partners for it is a light, yet rich, layered mousse made with smoked sturgeon and smoked salmon. Taste your salmon, in particular, before preparing the recipe, and if it is very salty consider reducing or even eliminating its share of the salt in the recipe.

Happy matzo-making, and happy Passover!


Makes about 6 large sheets, 12 servings

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups very fine semolina flour, or 1 1/2 cups additional all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons table salt

4 eggs

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons whole fresh thyme leaves, or 2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1. Put the flours, salt, eggs and half the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade or in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Process or mix until the dough forms a ball that rides around the bowl on the blade or hook.

2. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl and cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Leave the dough at room temperature to rest for at least 2 hours.

3. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Using a pasta machine with its rollers at the thinnest setting (usually “one”), or a rolling pin on a flour-dusted work surface, roll out each piece of dough until it is as thin as a sheet of lasagna pasta. Each sheet should measure roughly 6 by 10 inches.

4. Drape the dough without overlapping on baking sheets. Brush them very lightly with the remaining olive oil, and then sprinkle them lightly but evenly with the sea salt, thyme and onion. Bake until golden brown and crispy, about 10 minutes.

5. With a large spatula, transfer the matzo to wire racks to cool. Store in airtight containers until ready to serve.


Makes about 2 1/2 cups

4 ounces smoked sturgeon, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 ounces smoked salmon, cut in 1-inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 cup heavy cream, whipped

2 ounces red or black caviar

1. With your fingertips, feel for and remove any fine bones from the sturgeon and the salmon.

2. Put the sturgeon pieces in a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade and process until pureed. With a rubber spatula, press the puree through a fine sieve into a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Clean out the processor bowl and blade, then follow the same steps to puree the salmon, storing it in a separate bowl.

3. Season each fish puree to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

4. With a rubber spatula, fold half the cream into the sturgeon puree until smoothly blended. Do the same with the remaining cream and the salmon puree.

5. With the rubber spatula, evenly spread the sturgeon puree on the bottom of an attractive three-cup serving dish. Sprinkle with half the caviar. Spread the salmon puree evenly on top and sprinkle it with the remaining caviar. Cover the serving dish with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

6. To serve, do not unmold the mousse. Simply place the serving dish in the center of a larger serving platter and surround it with large pieces of matzo.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s new TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays and Wednesdays on the Food Network.)



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