Matza Lasagne by 'The Cook and the Rabbi'

Culinary craftsmanship intersects with spiritual insights in the wonderfully collaborative book, “The Cook and the Rabbi.” On April 14 at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck (6422 Montgomery Street), the cook, Susan Simon, and the rabbi, Zoe B. Zak, will lead a conversation about food, tradition, holidays, resilience and what to cook this Passover.

Passover, marked by the traditional seder meal, holds profound significance within Jewish culture and for many carries extra meaning this year at a time of great conflict. The word seder, meaning “order” in Hebrew, unfolds in a 15-step progression intertwining prayers, blessings, stories, and songs that narrate the ancient saga of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery. It’s a narrative that has endured for over two millennia, evolving with time yet retaining its essence, a theme echoed beautifully in “The Cook and the Rabbi.”

Part liturgy, part folk art, part narrative, “The Cook and the Rabbi” is a testament to the adaptability of Jewish traditions. In the introduction, Rabbi Zak articulated, “My prayer has been to reveal a glimpse of the hidden sparks of each holiday and their connection to one another.”

Zak has served as the rabbi of Temple Israel of Catskill since 2012. Simon, the chef and visual artist behind the book, approached Zak with her literary agent after attending one of her services at Temple Israel with the idea for the book. Their collaborative effort is imbued with history and reverence for tradition while expanding meaning, creating an invitation to make the holidays deeply personal. With Passover in particular, Zak wrote: “Some of us long for our childhood and devote ourselves to re-creating those experiences, whereas others are determined to create something different for themselves, their families, and friends.”

From “The Cook and the Rabbi”

Matza Lasagne with Spinach and Roasted Butternut Squash

Is there anyone who doesn’t love lasagne with its layers of oozing ingredients complementing one other as they attach themselves to your fork? Here’s a recipe that uses sheets of matza instead of pasta, letting you keep up with your lasagne cravings, even during Passover. I used butternut squash for one of the layers as it can be found almost year-round. The flavor of squash diminishes over time— so, you might want to freeze it, peeled and cut into chunks, when it’s freshly harvested. Roasting is a good method to coax flavor out of even the most recalcitrant squash.

Serves 8

—One 1½-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1½-inch chunks

—½ cup olive oil, plus some for pan and drizzling

—Flaky salt

—8 ounces spinach, tough stems removed, rinsed

—½ cup chopped onion

—2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

—¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes

—One 28- ounce can peeled plum tomatoes (choose the best quality because they’re likely to be preserved in a thick sauce; if the sauce is watery, thicken with a tablespoon of tomato paste)

—1 pound whole- milk ricotta

—¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

—A few grinds of black pepper

—6 matzas

—½ cup grated Parmesan

—Leaves from 6 flat-leaf parsley sprigs

Heat the oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet or jelly- roll pan with parchment paper.

Arrange the butternut squash chunks, in a single layer, in the pan. Moisten with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of flaky salt. Bake, occasionally flipping the chunks, until all sides are golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven but don’t turn the oven off. Mash the roasted squash and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium- high heat. When the oil is hot, add the still wet spinach and a pinch of salt. Toss to completely coat the spinach. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until just wilted, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Place the remaining 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and Aleppo pepper flakes to the pan and sauté until the onion is translucent. Use your hands to crush the tomatoes into the pan. Add all of the can’s sauce. ­Simmer for 20 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, place the ricotta in a medium bowl. Coarsely chop the cooked spinach and add to the bowl along with the nutmeg, black pepper, and a pinch of salt. Thoroughly combine.

Use a teaspoon of olive oil to lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Assemble the lasagne: Cover the bottom of the dish with 1½ matzas. Spread the mashed squash over the top. Cover the squash with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Cover the sauce with 1½ matzas. Spread the spinach mixture over the top. Cover that with a thin layer of tomato sauce, and then cover it with 1½ matzas. Cover this matza layer with half of the remaining tomato sauce. Cover the top of the sauce with 1½ matzas. Evenly spread the remaining sauce over the top. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the sauce. Sprinkle the parsley leaves on top of the Parmesan. ­Drizzle olive oil over the top.

Bake in the already heated oven until the top is golden and the sides are bubbling. The top of the lasagne should be crunchy — a perfect foil for the almost mousse-like filling.

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