Eat Local Passover on Menu Monday
This post is going up, obviously, not on Menu Monday but on no name Tuesday. Myself and the whole Local Family were way too busy cleaning the Bungalow and preparing the festive sedar meal to have any time to blog on Menu Monday. Still, if you had any doubt, yes it was a very local Passover celebration for us.
Passover, like its cross-religious related holiday, Easter, is supposed to feature elements of Spring and re-birth in its meal. Not for this Local Family; between the time when Passover fell this year and the cold weather, this was very much a backward looking meal. It featured a lot from our root cellars, although we could brighten things up slightly with some hoop-house greens. There was no asparagus, fava beans or peas on our table. There was Grandma’s Tzimmes.
My wife, the Condiment Queen, the Other Cookbook Addict, took one look at the piles of carrots, and knew exactly who to call for the holiday recipe. My Mother prides herself as the keeper of Grandma’s (or Bubbie’s) Tzimmes. This sweet medley of vegetables was a specialty of my Dad’s Bubbie or Grandmother, and she (Grandma-Grandma to me when she was still alive) deemed my Mother a good enough cook to take over the dish. Grandma’s tzimmes is distinguished from other tzimmes in a couple of ways. First, unlike many Jewish tzimmes recipes (tzimmes simply means mix), it does not contain meat or dried fruit. Second, it also contained a potato-matzoh meal ball, we called bulkes. The magic of the tzimmes was supposed to be in the existence of the bulkes, but 90 percent of the times my Mother made her otherwise excellent rendition, the bulkes disintergrated into the the rest of the mess, with the carrots, the brown sugar and the sweet potatoes. This, my wife called to learn how to make. And after the call, it turns out the keeper of the recipe has no real sense of how she does it. There’s no recipe. It’s all in her head. And her hands. Her one imparting thought, you don’t add the brown sugar until later.
OK, there are some general guidelines to making tzimmes. You cook your vegetables in a big pot of liquid. Mom just uses water, but the Condiment Queen used a mix of water and local apple cider. Others use orange juice. Carrots, of great cold weather storage, were one of the few widely used vegetables of Eastern European Jews. Thus, tzimmes, is, I believe, historically, a carrot dish. Other root vegetables can be used, like turnips and rutabagas. My Mother always used sweet potatoes, for textural contrast but also for another layer of sweetness to what is a cloy dish for sure. We did not have any local sweet potatoes left, but a few assorted winter squash played the same role. My wife, with the help of one daughter, seasoned her tzimmes a bit more exotically, including Chinese five spice powder in the blend. The bulkes, like heavy matzoh balls from the inclusion of potatoes, managed to stay in one piece. They stayed so well, that my wife served them in a seperate bowl from the rest of the tzimmes. It did not taste quite like Grandma’s Tzimmes as made by Mom, but it was the start of a very new, very good tradition.
It is also tradition, in the Local Family to eat bollito misto on Passover. In fact, outside of Emiliga-Romagna and nearby regions, there may not be other kids who know bollito miso more than the Local Kids. They know it as a great holiday dish because only when you have more than ten is it a dish worth doing. Bollito misto is the Italian name for mixed, boiled–nay simmered–meats. It requires several cuts of meat and several sauces. Again, it is a dish that works well with what we have in stock this time of year. We could make its stock from old leeks, old onions, and old carrots left in storage. A good bollito should contain meat from at least three animals, in this case, Wisconsin veal, a large chicken raised on Tomato Mountain’s farm, and grass-fed beef. It should also vary between leaner, fatty and bonier parts. You want somethings like oxtails or shanks to add ooph to the broth. A veal breast did that very much so, if perhaps too fatty so, for some. We actually had a fourth meat, playing the kosher part of the cotechino sausage often used in versions, some fresh made chicken sausage. Yet, also playing the part of the thing we forgot about, we forgot to poach the sausages. There still was a lot of meat.
As you can see from the finished product, bollito misto is a bit of the drab side. The meats are rich but plain. Which is fine because bollito misto is all about the sauces. My wife scored enough local herbs at the Logan Square Farmer’s market last Sunday to make a killer salsa verde, the most classic of bollito sauces. It is also a tradition at our sedars to use the green sauce with hard boiled eggs, eggs which are the first thing eaten after the first round of service. Another classic is a red sauce or salsa rossa, which she made by doctoring up Tomato Mountain whole roasted tomatoes with savory spices. Finally, she made a horseradish sauce with grated horseradish, olive oil and lemon juice.
The rest of the meal included various other local foods. There were slices of stored radishes for nibbling. Instead of gefitle fish, we had local whitefish cooked in a traditional North African manner with summer dried chili’s (to those Jews as much a holiday staple). Local potatoes and turnips were put to use in kugel or a pudding, and for the one green thing on the table, a big salad of frost-kissed spinach. The rest of the menu this week, you can see this week, will be leftovers.