Like many fashionable ingredients, matzah is artisanal. Made from wheat flour and water, it's mixed in small batches and baked quickly in super-heated ovens. The resulting flatbread is blistered and burnt. The darkest eruptions burst, leaving behind scores of pale craters, rimmed in brown, like faux leopard skin.
The texture is harder than crisp, cleaving between the teeth in mica-fine shards that soften and swell on contact with the mouth. Initially, matzah tastes like burnt toast, modified by a reminiscence of cream of wheat, and an acrid finish like the charred skin that sticks to the sides of a rice cooker.
One of the convenient advantages of matzah's dryness is that it microwaves beautifully. Most baked goods petrify in a microwave. Bombarded with microwave energy, the water in baked products turns to steam, which makes the gluten in dough toughen. This happens to bread, rolls and pizza, but not to matzah.
Since matzah is as dry as desert sand, it doesn't contain enough moisture to form steam, and therefore it can be warmed in a microwave with no ill effect.
Two of the recipes that follow take advantage of this phenomenon. Matzah Pizza uses the crispy quality of matzah to make a thin-skinned pizza in less than a minute.
Similarly, an exotic quesadilla throws an Island twist on its native Mexican profile with an amalgam of mango salsa, cilantro and brie, melted in a microwave between two matzah sheets with delicious results.
Make sure all items are kosher-for-Passover.
2-3 Tbsps. pizza sauce
1 sheet matzah
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tsp. grated Parmesan
Spread the sauce on the matzah, leaving a quarter-inch border all of the way around.
Scatter the cheese over the sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan.
Place on a microwave-safe plate and cook at full power for 45 seconds to 1 minute, until the cheese is melted.
Let sit for 30 seconds and cut in quarters.
Makes 1 serving.
Matzah Mango Quesadilla
6 Tbsps. mango salsa
1/2 tsp. hot-pepper sauce
1 tsp. cilantro pesto or chutney or 1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro leaves
4 sheets matzah
6 oz. brie, cut in 8 slices, rind removed
nonstick olive-oil spray
Combine the salsa, hot sauce and cilantro.
Spread 11/2 tablespoons of the mixture on 2 of the matzahs, and place 2 slices of the brie on top. Top each with another sheet of matzah.
Place on a microwave-safe plate, and cook at full power for about 1 minute until the cheese is melted. Press down on the top matzah lightly to help the quesadilla hold together
Let sit for 30 seconds and cut in quarters.
Makes 4 servings.
1 box (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 jar (8 oz.) roasted peppers, drained and diced
1 jar (12 oz.) marinated artichoke heart quarters
1/2 cup olive salad or chopped mixed olives
1 container (2 lbs.) whole-milk ricotta cheese
salt and ground black pepper to taste
jar (26 oz.) chunky marinara sauce
1 cup water
8 sheets matzah, sprayed with water
1/4 cup grated imported Parmesan cheese
1 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine the spinach, peppers, artichoke hearts and their marinade, olive salad, ricotta, salt and pepper.
Pour a quarter of the marinara sauce into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, stir in half the water, and spread evenly.
Place 2 matzah sheets in an even layer on the sauce. Spoon a third of the vegetable-ricotta mix evenly over the noodles.
Then make layers as follows: a quarter of the mozzarella, 2 more matzahs, a quarter of the marinara sauce, another third of the vegetable-ricotta mix, another quarter of the mozzarella, 2 more matzahs, another quarter of the marinara, another third of the vegetable-ricotta mix, another quarter of the mozzarella, and the remaining 2 matzahs.
Pour another half-cup of water into the marinara sauce remaining in the jar, seal with the lid, and shake to combine, pour over the noodles and spread evenly. Cover with foil and place on a sheet pan to catch drips.
Bake for 50 minutes.
Remove the foil and sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining mozzarella. Bake 15 minutes more.
Remove from the oven and set aside to sit for 15 more minutes. Cut into eight or 10 servings, and serve with a spatula.
The lasagna can be made a day ahead of time and reheated; it will cut more neatly that way.
Makes 8 servings.
Ricotta Matzah Pudding
2 Tbsps. unsalted butter, melted
4 oz. (about 2 cups) matzah farfel
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup milk, whole or 2 percent
1 container (15 oz.) ricotta cheese, whole or part-skim
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, large or extra-large
1 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Warm Vanilla Pear Sauce (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Pour half the melted butter in a 11/2-quart baking dish, add the farfel and raisins, and toss to coat. Pour the milk over top, and toss lightly until all of the farfel has been moistened. Gently distribute everything evenly in the baking dish.
Combine the ricotta, sugar, eggs, sour cream, lemon rind and vanilla; pour over the matzah and mix lightly.
Drizzle the remaining butter over the top, sprinkle with the cinnamon, and bake for 1 hour, until loosely set in the center.
Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Serve warm with Warm Vanilla Pear Sauce.
Makes 6 servings.
Warm Vanilla Pear Sauce
3 cans (about 15 oz. each) pears in heavy syrup
1/2 cup white wine
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
4 Tbsps. unsalted butter, at room temperature
Strain the syrup from the pears. Place the syrup, wine, and salt in a saucepan, and simmer for 10 minutes until reduced to about a third of a cup.
Purée the pears in a food processor or blender with the reduced syrup and the vanilla.
When smooth, mix in the butter until incorporated.
Makes about 1 quart.
Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and a cookbook author. His current book is Almost From Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine.