By Linda Morel
Preparing food for Passover this year is a challenge. The holiday begins at sundown on Saturday, March 27 — just as Shabbat ends. For Jews who observe the Sabbath, there has never been a time when a make-ahead menu is needed more.
To accommodate this juxtaposition of Shabbat and Passover, planning ahead is crucial. Every detail must be organized earlier than usual.
Before cooking can commence, many Jews rid their homes of chametz, foods with leavening agents, which are forbidden during Passover. Each family decides how thorough a job is required and how long that takes. This first step must be figured into the schedule.
Many holiday foods can be frozen, such as chicken soup, matzah balls, some meats and most desserts. Freezing foods means starting to cook days or even weeks in advance. No matter what, seder cooking should get underway by Thursday, or no later than Friday morning.
The seder’s ceremonial foods — gefilte fish, charoset and hard-boiled eggs — easily last for a couple of days or more in the refrigerator.
But the main course requires expertise. Because Passover seders call for a festive menu, you want to accentuate eye appeal and flavor. But right before the seder begins, you will not have time to chop produce or put the finishing touches on dishes the way you usually do.
Like a professional chef, select colorful marinated salads. Once they’re assembled, you don’t have to think about them again. Opt for main courses that can withstand reheating while still tasting delicious. Hot foods made in sauces, casseroles, elegant stews and one-pot meals brimming with meat, vegetables and potatoes are the most successful.
With a make-ahead menu, you merely pull ready-to-serve salads from the refrigerator and heat up a couple of entrees. And, seamlessly, dinner is ready.
Chicken Casserole with Tomatoes and Potatoes | Meat
Yield: 12 pieces of chicken. Serves 8-10.
Equipment: 10-inch-by-15-inch ovenproof pan, such as Pyrex
Olive oil for coating the roasting pan, plus 2 tablespoons, plus 1 tablespoon
6 chicken legs and 6 chicken thighs with bones and skin on
2 garlic cloves, plus 5
4½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons dried basil leaves, crumbled
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound small red potatoes, about 2 inches in diameter, cut into quarters
6 Italian plum tomatoes, cut into quarters
¼ cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio
Heat your oven to 450 degrees.
Generously coat a 10-inch-by-15-inch ovenproof pan with olive oil. Place the chicken inside skin side up.
Mince 2 garlic cloves and place them in a small bowl. Using the blade of a chef’s knife, smash the remaining 5 garlic cloves. Place them in a second bowl. Reserve the two garlic bowls.
To the bowl of minced garlic, add lemon juice, basil and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Whisk everything together until well combined. Brush both sides of the chicken with some of this mixture and reserve the rest. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
Place the potatoes and tomatoes in a medium-sized bowl. Add the 5 smashed garlic gloves, white wine and the remaining tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle in ⅛ teaspoon of salt. Toss the ingredients until well coated. Arrange the potatoes and tomatoes around the chicken pieces.
With a spatula, scrape all of the garlic and oil into the casserole.
Roast the chicken for 15 minutes. Baste it with pan juices while roasting. Drizzle on the remaining lemon-garlic-basil mixture from the first bowl. Roast another 15-20 minutes, or until juices run clear — not pink— when the chicken is pierced with a knife.
The recipe can be served immediately.
If making it ahead, cool it to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to two days. When reheating, remove it from the refrigerator two hours in advance. Heat your oven to 350 degrees and reheat uncovered for 20 minutes or until the sauce in the casserole bubbles.
Brisket with Vegetables and Fine Herbs | Meat
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper
5 pounds brisket, trimmed of most of the fat
3 tablespoons olive oil, or more, if needed
3 large potatoes
½ pound mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon dried rosemary needles, crushed
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups beef broth
2 cups dry red wine
Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the brisket. In a large heavy pot, heat the oil on a medium flame. Place the brisket in the pot, fat side down. Brown it on both sides. Move the brisket to a platter and reserve. Turn off the flame and remove the pot.
Dice the onions, carrots and potatoes. Return the pot to a medium flame. Add the onions, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms. Stir to combine. Add more oil at any time, if needed.
Sprinkle in the rosemary, sage and thyme. Stir to combine. Add more salt if needed. Sauté until the onion and herbs are fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.
Add 1 cup of broth to the pot. Return the brisket to the pot. Pour in the remaining broth and all of the wine. Stir gently to combine the ingredients. Place the lid on the pot and simmer on a low flame for 3-4 hours, until the brisket is soft when pierced with a utensil-sized fork.
Let the contents of the pot cool to warm. Remove the brisket from the pot and cut it into slices against the grain.
If serving immediately, place the brisket on a platter with a deep rim. Ladle some of the sauce on top. Place the remaining sauce in a gravy boat or bowl. If refrigerating or freezing, let the sauce cool to room temperature. Move the brisket and sauce to one large plastic container and cover with its lid. Reheat the brisket and sauce before serving.
Marinated Spring Salad | Pareve
3 celery stalks
1 small red pepper
1 small onion
1 small zucchini
¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives
2 teaspoons dill, minced
1 teaspoon. sugar
½ cup olive oil
¾ cup red wine vinegar
Kosher salt to taste
Dice the celery, red pepper, onion, carrots and zucchini. Place them in a large mixing bowl.
Add the olives and dill.
In a medium-sized bowl, add the sugar, olive oil, vinegar and salt. Whisk until the ingredients are well combined and the sugar is dissolved.
Pour the salad dressing over the vegetables. Toss the vegetables until well coated. Cover the bowl and refrigerate. Marinate the salad for 24 hours, tossing the vegetables several times.
Remove the salad from the refrigerator an hour before serving and place it in an attractive bowl.