bowl of greens
Braised Artichokes, Asparagus and Lettuce (Photo/Liz Halafia)

Renew and refresh Passover menu with spring veggies

Like Easter, Passover is a spring festival and offers a sense of renewal. Passover begins on the 15th day of Nissan, which falls on April 10 this year.

goldstein looks at a bin of tomatoes
Joyce Goldstein shops at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco (Photo/Brie Mazurek)

Cooking practices change dramatically. Not only are houses cleaned from top to bottom to rid them of chametz (leavened products), but a lighter seasonal menu emerges. Gone are the heavy foods of winter. A stroll through the farmers market is so inspiring that I want to buy every vegetable in sight.

Roscoe Zuckerman’s asparagus from the Delta makes its annual debut early in March and continues to delight through April and May if we are lucky. Long stalks of green garlic are at many stands, as well as globe artichokes. The sweetest spring carrots appear, and soon there are English peas and fava beans.

I plan my Passover menus as I stroll the market. I want to take advantage of all of this seasonal abundance to celebrate the holiday.

This asparagus soup is so delicious because there are no onions to mask the clean asparagus flavor. Use margarine or olive oil if you’ll be serving it with a meat-based meal.

The artichokes, asparagus and lettuce recipe uses the classic Italian Jewish method of cooking vegetables known as sofegae, or suffocated. The vegetables are slowly cooked over very low heat in olive oil or chicken fat and a small amount of water. The traditional recipe, often served at Passover, comes from “La Cucina Livornese” by Emma Belforte. To bring lightness and sparkle, I’m suggesting the contemporary garnish of gremolata, a mixture of lemon zest, garlic and parsley.

In the carrot dish, cooked sofegae style from the Veneto region in Italy, the presence of pine nuts and raisins and a dash of vinegar (to balance the sweetness of the raisins) are giveaways of its Arab or Levantine origin. Some cooks add a tablespoon or two of sugar, but if the raisins and carrots are sweet enough to suit your palate, the sugar can be omitted. If possible, use chicken fat. It can be a wonderful medium for cooking vegetables, as it adds both flavor and rich mouthfeel. If you can find real baby carrots at the market, you may leave them whole and braise them until tender.


Asparagus Soup with Saffron from the Veneto

Serves 6

4½ to 5 cups vegetable broth
¼ tsp. crumbled saffron threads
3½ to 4 lbs. asparagus
4 Tbs. unsalted butter or margarine
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
⅓ cup pistachio nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)

In a small saucepan, bring ½ cup of broth to a boil. Remove from the heat, add saffron, and let steep for 15 minutes.

Have ready an ice-water bath. Trim off tough stem ends from asparagus, then cut spears into 2-inch pieces and reserve tips. Bring a saucepan filled with salted water to a boil, add tips and boil for 3 minutes. Drain, then immerse them in the ice-water bath to refresh. Drain and set aside.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add asparagus stalks and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add potato, saffron infusion, and 4 cups of broth and bring to a boil, Turn down heat to low and simmer until asparagus and potato are very soft, about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool slightly. In batches, transfer soup to blender and purée until smooth, then return purée to saucepan. Reheat to a gentle simmer and add remaining ½ cup broth, if needed, to achieve the consistency you like. Season with salt and pepper. The asparagus flavor intensifies if the soup is set aside for an hour or so before serving.

To serve, return the soup to medium heat, add asparagus tips and reheat until hot. Ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley and nuts.


Braised Artichokes, Asparagus and Lettuce

Serves 6

Juice of 1 lemon
6 large artichokes
2 small heads romaine or butter lettuce, or 4 heads Little Gem lettuce
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed
1 to 2 cups shelled English peas or fava beans, blanched and peeled
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup water or vegetable broth, or as needed

Gremolata

Grated zest of 2 lemons
6 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil
1 Tbs. finely minced garlic

Have ready a bowl of water to which you have added the lemon juice. Working with 1 artichoke, trim off the stem flush with the bottom, then remove all leaves until you reach the heart. Pare away dark green areas from base and then cut artichoke in half. Scoop out choke from each half with a small pointed spoon or a small knife and drop the halves into the lemon water.

Core the lettuces and slice the leaves crosswise into ½-inch-wide strips. Drain artichoke hearts and cut into small pieces or thin slices.

Cut asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Shell the peas if using.

Warm oil in a large, deep sauté pan over low heat. Add artichokes and sauté, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add lettuces, parsley, basil and water to barely cover and season with salt and pepper. Raise heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until artichokes are tender and most of the water has evaporated, 10 to 15 minutes. Add asparagus, favas or peas during last 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the gremolata: In a small bowl, stir together lemon zest, parsley and garlic, mixing well.

Remove from heat, sprinkle with the gremolata and stir well. Let rest for 5 minutes — enough time for the garlic in the gremolata to soften — then serve.


Carote alla Giudia (Braised Carrots, Jewish Style)

Serves 4 to 6

¼ to ⅓ cup rendered chicken fat or olive oil
1½ lbs. carrots, peeled and sliced (about 5 cups), or peeled and left whole if small
¼ cup water, or as needed
6 Tbs. raisins, plumped in wine
3 Tbs. pine nuts, toasted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash of red wine vinegar (optional)
Pinch of sugar (optional)

In a sauté pan over medium heat, warm enough of the chicken fat to form a film on bottom. Add carrots and sauté until well coated with fat, 5 to 8 minutes. Add water, turn down heat to very low, cover and simmer until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

Add raisins with their wine and pine nuts and season with salt and pepper. Add the vinegar and/or sugar for balance, if you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Joyce Goldstein
Joyce Goldstein

Joyce Goldstein is a renowned chef, restaurateur and author in the Bay Area. Former owner-chef of Square One in San Francisco, she is a restaurant and food industry consultant. Her most recent book is “The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home.”