The Passover story doesn’t change from year to year but your menu can. Although we derive comfort from holiday traditions, a little innovation adds a spark to our celebrations. Kosher wines are now winning awards for their quality and Passover dining has progressed into gourmet territory. Jay Buchsbaum, Director of Wine Education for The Royal Wine Corporation gives advice to JLNJ on how to choose and appreciate wine, and we review The New Passover Menu by Paula Shoyer, with recipes for classicswith a twist and new combinations.
Beginning wine drinkers generally start with sweet wines like Concord, and Buchsbaum suggests expanding the palette by gravitating to a Moscato and then to a good value dry wine. The process is similar to introducing new food tastes to children. “The first time I tasted mustard as a kid, I winced but now I won’t eat a hot dog without it,” he says. Moscato drinkers might like the new cuvet, or blend, being introduced by Baron Herzog, that is “softer, rounder, less acidic.” Baron Herzog, Barkan and Carmel all have wines in the good value category, with appeal to the consumer beginning to appreciate better wines. The next level up includes Segel’s Fusion and Segal’s Reserve, Binyamina Reserve, “a whole slew” from Spain, some Chiantis, Pino Grigiots, and Goose Bay wines. Connoisseurs might consider premium wines like Herzog Wine Cellars Single Vineyard Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Psagot Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Black Tulip, or The Cave Old Vine. Buchsbaum cites the virtues of white wine, like Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc, not only for lighter fare but as an alternative to sweet red.
What gives wines their character? Terroir, or place, and weather affect the taste of grapes. California has very consistent weather, as does Israel. In Israel, there is very little rain during the growing season so nearly all vineyards are irrigated. The weather in Europe is much more varied yet irrigation is not used, and in some areas of France, Spain and Italy, not allowed at certain appellation levels. Each country has a certifying agency that has requirements for aging, irrigation and time spent in oak barrels.
Breathing, or how long a bottle is opened before serving, also affects taste. Buchsbaum says the general rule is that more expensive wines require more breathing time. He suggests opening a bottle before going to shul on Friday night. Or, use the swirl method, as he does. “I open wine when I get home from shul. Even sophisticated wine. I pour a quarter inch into a glass with a big bowl, so there is a lot of surface area. Swishing aerates the wine. You can splash more in and it evolves. In minutes you can accomplish what takes hours when you open a bottle and let it breathe.” And NEVER toss out good wine when the meal is over. He says some wine is as good or better the next day and even for a few days. “It will lose some fruit but be fine to drink.” After Shabbos, I usually refrigerate leftover wine and use it in cooking.
Royal Wine has a portfolio of domestic and international wines and owns and operates the Kedem Winery in upstate New York and the Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, California. For the seder meal, Royal recommends serving white wine with Matzo Ball soup, gefilte fish and chicken, and serving red wine with brisket.
The New Passover Menu has inspired ideas for updating Passover classics. Shoyer is an attorney who graduated from the Ritz Escoffier pastry program in Paris. She teaches baking classes in Washington DC and conducts baking demonstrations throughout the US and Canada. Shoyer is a contributing editor to kosher websites, such as Joy of Kosher, and she edited the books Kosher by Design Entertains and Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen.
My bookshelf contains several just for Passover cookbooks and more with Passover sections, but this book is a welcome addition. It is well designed with beautiful photos and easy to follow recipes. I tested several and found them easy to prepare and only moderately time consuming. Shoyer emphasizes fresh produce and herbs so nothing had that matzo taste that tends to permeate Passover cooking, at least if you eat gebrokts. I’ve had an increasing number of gluten free guests recently so we are already used to some substitutes, like gluten free panko crumbs.
For our Purim Seudah, I made Shoyer’s brisket osso bucco, broccoli with garlic, and quinoa with sweet potatoes and cranberries. Osso Bucco is made with veal shanks in a tomato based sauce with gremolata, a mix of chopped parsley, lemon zest and crushed garlic added at the end of the cooking process. Shoyer adapted the flavors to brisket. I tasted the brisket before adding the gremolata, and thought the tomato flavor was too dominant, but I resisted the temptation to tinker and added the gremolata as instructed. The addition of fresh herbs, garlic and refreshing lemon gave it a better, more complex flavor. The broccoli was simple but tasty. After being cleaned and checked, it goes into boiling water for a quick swim, followed by a dive into an ice water bath, and after toweling off, the florets take a quick tumble in a pan of olive oil and sautéed garlic.
I was very happy when my rabbi, who is the head of OU kosher, approved a specially produced run of quinoa for Passover. Quinoa by itself is bland and gets flavor from other ingredients. Shoyer’s recipe calls for roasted cubes of butternut squash, cranberries, pine nuts, scallions and a Moroccan inspired dressing with cumin, cinnamon and honey. Scrumptious. The pine nuts can be left out if you are serving anyone with a nut allergy, or replaced with pumpkin seeds to keep the crunch. The key to making quinoa is to cool it completely after cooking. If you add dressing too quickly, you will get mush that can’t be corrected.
For the following Shabbos, I made Shoyer’s smothered chicken with wine and herbs, coconut chicken schnitzel with almond butter sauce, and cauliflower with pesto. Shoyer writes that the smothered chicken is an updated version of a stew her mother used to make every Passover. With very little liquid, it is more like a braise. Braised dishes stand up well to waiting in the wings without drying out until being served for a Shabbos dinner. The chicken is browned and then baked with sautéed vegetables and a wine reduction. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and lots of flavor.
The coconut chicken schnitzel would be a good choice for lunch during chol hamoed or the last days of Passover. I thought the almond sauce overwhelmed the coconut flavor, so I added coconut to the sauce and was pleased with the result. The cauliflower with pesto is another solution for adding flavor to a fresh vegetable instead of submerging it into a kugel. The slabs are roasted and then coated with pesto and roasted again until browned and slightly crispy.
Shoyer’s desserts look beautiful in the photos but the recipes are more intricate than the mains and sides, and I didn’t try one as planned. For the seders, I would like to make her chocolate biscotti, meringue shells with lemon curd and fruit, and the pistachio strawberry roll.
The enjoyment of wine and food are enhanced when you have some background but ultimately personal preference rules. For the four cups at the seder, I will be drinking a sweet wine that I can consume like soda. But when I serve Shoyer’s brisket osso bucco for the Seder meal, I’ll be sipping and savoring a Segal’s or Binyamina Yogev Cabernet Merlot Fusion.
By Bracha Schwartz