“The New Jewish Table” offers contemporary takes on traditional Jewish dishes, some of which might be perfect for Passover.
The eight-day holiday commemorates the Jews’ escape from slavery in ancient Egypt and begins this year at sundown April 3. So this seems like a good time to revisit a few favorite recipes from the 2013 cookbook from the husband-and-wife team of Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray.
They’ve owned and operated the celebrated Equinox restaurant in Washington, D.C., since 1999.
Their book shares their love story and blends their traditions. She’s Jewish and from the city; he’s a chef from an Episcopalian family in small-town Virginia.
Recipes combine seasonal American and Eastern-European Jewish cuisine.
Here are a few of them.
Matzo-Stuffed Cornish Game Hens
From “The New Jewish Table” by Todd Gray & Ellen Kassoff Gray
1 cup chicken livers (about 7 ounces)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into quarter-inch dice
3 celery ribs, cut into quarter-inch dice 3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 matzo crackers (full sheets), crushed into pieces
4 Cornish game hens
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cut into small pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup roasted chicken jus (chicken broth can be used as a substitute)
Make the stuffing. Clean the livers then coarsely chop them into ½-inch pieces. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and garlic, cook for 2 minutes; lower the heat to medium-low and continue to cook until the vegetables are translucent and begin to soften, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the livers, sage, salt and pepper; sauté until the livers are cooked, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Place the crushed matzos in a medium bowl; add the liver mixture and mix well with a wooden spoon. Taste the stuffing and add more salt or pepper if you wish.
Clean the hens. Trim any excess fat from the hens; wash them under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.
Mix a mirepoix. Mix the carrots, celery and onions in the bottom of a roasting pan large enough to hold all 4 hens.
Stuff the hens. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Loosely fill the cavity of each hen with stuffing. Drizzle 1 ½ teaspoons oil over each hen and rub into skin. Sprinkle each hen with salt and pepper. Truss the hens with twine (tie the legs together, tuck the wings under the backs). Place the hens, breast up, in the roasting pan, on the mirepoix. Dot each with the butter, dividing equally. (If there is extra stuffing, place it in an appropriate size casserole or ramekin; add it to the oven with the hens about halfway through the roasting time.)
Dot the hens with margarine instead of butter, or brush them with canola or olive oil.
Roast the hens. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 10 minutes, lower the heat to 325 degrees. Roast for 40 minutes more, until done (the internal temperature of the thigh should register 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer), checking from time to time that the hens are browning evenly and rotating the pan 180 degrees about halfway through the cooking time.
Make the sauce. Transfer the hens to a cutting board and cover with foil to keep warm. Transfer the mirepoix and pan juices to a small saucepan and add the Roasted Chicken Jus. Bring to simmering over medium heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into another pan or serving pitcher; discard the mirepoix and keep the sauce warm.
Carve the hens for serving. Slice the thighs, legs, and breast meat from each hen as you would when carving a turkey. Carefully spoon the stuffing from inside each hen and place on individual plates. Spoon some Braised Cabbage next to the stuffing. Arrange the meat from one hen on top of the stuffing and cabbage on each plate. Spoon the sauce over the top and serve. The authors suggest serving this dish with braised cabbage.
Note: This stuffing is also an excellent choice when you feel like roasting a whole 3- to 5-pound chicken (or can’t find any Cornish hens). Prepare the recipe as indicated here, but let the chicken roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes before lowering the heat to 325 degrees, and allow more time overall for it to cook, 60 to 80 minutes total, depending on size. Carve the chicken as you wish and serve as described for the hens.
Fig & Port Wine Blintzes
From “The New Jewish Table” by Todd Gray & Ellen Kassoff Gray
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
cold unsalted butter for greasing sauté pan
2 cups dried black mission figs
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup port wine
1 1/2 cups cream cheese (12 ounces), softened
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
4 finely diced fresh figs for serving
Prepare the crepe batter. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter; let cool slightly. Whisk together the milk and eggs in a small bowl; then whisk in the flour until well combined. Pour the batter through a mesh strainer into another small bowl. Stir in the melted butter. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Prepare the figs for the filling. Place the dried figs, water and port in a small saucepan and bring to simmering over medium heat; lower the heat to low and cook until the figs absorb the liquid – about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside until the mixture is lukewarm. Transfer the mixture to a chopping board and finely chop – it should turn into a pulp.
Mix the filling. Using a wooden spoon, blend the cream cheese and ricotta cheese in a medium bowl. Stir in the fig pulp, honey, salt and pepper until well combined.
Cook the crepes. Line a 10-inch plate with paper towels. Heat an 8-inch nonstick crepe pan or skillet over medium heat. Rub the pan with cold butter and immediately add ¼ cup crepe batter. Cook until the crepe is slightly caramelized on the bottom – about 2 minutes. Using a pancake turner, turn the crepe over and cook the second side until slightly caramelized – about 2 minutes more.
Transfer the crepe to the paper towel-lined plate. Repeat this process until all the batter has been used; place additional paper towels between the cooked crepes.
Fill the crepes. Spoon a dollop of filling onto each crepe, covering about a third of the area nearest to you but leaving an empty margin at the sides. Fold the margin at each side up and over the filling, then roll up the crepe – like a cylindrical envelope. Turn “flap down” until ready to cook.
Cook the blintzes. In a skillet large enough to hold all the blintzes, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and then pan-fry the blintzes until they are golden-brown on both sides – about 4 minutes per side. To serve, arrange the blintzes on individual plates, dust with confectioners’ sugar, and top with a spoonful of the diced fresh figs.
Chocolate Hazelnut Rugelach
From “The New Jewish Table” by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch kosher salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into pieces
10 tablespoons cream cheese (5 ounces), cut into pieces
1 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup hazelnut praline paste
1 cup toasted, coarsely chopped hazelnuts
Cream for brushing
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
Make the dough. Place the flour, granulated sugar and salt in the container of a food processor fitted with a blade; pulse to mix. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse until just combined and a dough forms. Scoop the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight).
Roll out the dough. Lightly flour a work surface. Divide the dough into 2 pieces and roll out each to a 10-inch diameter round about ¼-inch thick. Cut each round into 12 to 15 equal wedges. Cut a very small vertical slit at the base of each wedge – this will help the dough roll into a crescent shape, like a croissant. Transfer the wedges to a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate while you make the filling.
Make the filling. Combine the chocolate and praline paste in the top of a double boiler over (not in) simmering water. Stir occasionally to combine as they melt. Stir in the hazelnuts. Remove the top pan from over the water and set aside until the chocolate mixture cools to room temperature.
Fill the cookies. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper (the paper will adhere better if you lightly spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray before laying the paper on it). Remove the baking sheet with the dough from the refrigerator. Working with one wedge at a time, spread some of the filling over each wedge and then, starting at the base, roll it up and shape it into a crescent. Transfer the crescents to the prepared baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet with the crescents to the freezer. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bake the cookies. When the oven is heated, remove the baking sheet with the crescents from the freezer. Brush the crescents with a little cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool on the baking sheet (crumbs would make a mess on your countertop). When ready to serve, dust the rugelach with confectioners’ sugar if you wish.
Note: Chocolate nomenclature can be confusing, so I think it’s best to stick with percentages (the percent of cocoa solids). I find that chocolate in the 50 to 65 percent range provides the best overall flavor in most recipes, so semisweet would generally be the way to go, sticking as close to the upper range of that as possible.
Below 50 (milk chocolate)
50 to 65 (semisweet)
65 to 75 (bittersweet)
Above 75 (bitter)
Chocolate melts faster if you chop it first.
Microwave method: Place the chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds; remove and stir. if not completely melted, repeat the microwaving. Stir until smooth. Set aside.
Stovetop method: Place the chocolate in the top of a double boiler, over (but not in) boiling water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted. Melted chocolate will “seize” (separate and become grainy) if even a drop of moisture mixes with it and there’s no fix for this, so be careful that no steam or water falls into the pan with the chocolate. Set aside.
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