Incorporate Italian Flavors into Passover Meals


Chef Stephanie Reitano, owner of Capogiro Gelato Artisans and Capofitto Restaurant, has had a busy month.

Her Old City restaurant Capofitto was adversely affected by the February fire that tore through nearby buildings, and she has been subjected to closures, blocked streets, cranes, dumpsters and other obstructions that make it challenging for customers to find her door.

“Our regular clientele has been incredibly supportive, but we have really struggled. We lost a lot of inventory when we were forced to close unexpectedly for about 10 days after the fire. And once we reopened, the normal, steady foot traffic of people just walking in simply is not happening because the street is closed,” Reitano said. “My staff has worked hard to maintain our quality and service. We are bringing in some new items and mixing it up a bit.”

Add to this major business challenge the fact that, as a Jewish chef, Reitano is busy preparing for her family’s Passover.

“My father was Russian and Turkish, so my culinary heritage blends Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions — lots of deli and pickled vegetables, but then my grandmother would throw raisins into a dish. This was her Turkish background, but to me, it is also very Southern Italian, or Sicilian, which probably influenced my drive to open the type of restaurant that I did.”

As Passover approached, Reitano was determined to create some dishes that honored the holiday yet conformed to Capofitto’s culinary tradition.

The result: potato gnocchi and cauliflower pizza. The fact that both of these dishes can be pareve or dairy means you can follow them with a dessert of gelato or sorbetto. Dayenu.

Reitano provided these recipes in her own words.

Gnocchi for Passover with Brown Butter Sage

Serves six

  • Gnocchi is one of those dishes that you rarely have success on the first try. As you make the gnocchi, pay attention to how the dough feels, how long it takes and how your ingredients are behaving. Are they nice or testy? Once you get the feel, you can bang these out perfectly every time.
  • 2 pounds russet or Idaho potatoes, or any other starchy, low-moisture potato (Do not use Yukon, new, red bliss or any waxy potato; their texture will not make for good gnocchi.)
  • cups of matzah meal ½ cup of potato starch or finely ground almonds (Think of taste and preference.)
  • Salt

For the sauce:

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 25 sage leaves, clean, no stems
  • ¼ cup of pecorino Romano cheese
  • Big piece of ricotta salata cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Scrub the potatoes, place them in a pot and cover with at least two to three inches of cold water. Bring to a boil.  

Mix the matzah meal and potato starch (or almond flour) well in a bowl. A rule of thumb is one cup of dry flour mixture to a pound of potatoes.

Boil the potatoes until they are cooked through and easily pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes and let them cool just until you can pick them up with your hands. Slide the skins off and put the potatoes through a food mill or potato ricer (my preference) onto a clean surface.

Work the potatoes while they are hot/warm. Cold potatoes do not yield a good result. If you can handle the heat, work ’em hot.

Push the potatoes into a pile and flatten the top. Sprinkle the top of the potatoes with about ½ cup of the flour mixture. Start to incorporate and knead the flour into the potatoes. Using a pastry scraper will help when the mixture is stickier/wet. Add more matzah flour as soon as the previous cup is incorporated.

This is when “feel” is important. You only want to use as much matzah flour necessary to get a soft gnocchi. Too much it will be tough. Too little and your gnocchi will fall apart in the water. As soon as your gnocchi dough is not too sticky (yet still a little sticky), but soft and smooth, stop kneading. Cover with a clean dish towel. Let it rest.

While the dough is resting, make the brown butter sauce.

Using a saute pan that can hold all the gnocchi, melt the butter over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted, turn the heat up to medium and add the sage leaves. Cook until the milk solids separate and start to brown to a hazelnut color on the bottom and the sage leaves curl and crisp. This takes about two to four minutes. Don’t walk away!

The butter should be clear and golden with brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat off and start the gnocchi.

Cut off a piece of dough the size of a lemon and, using both hands, roll it into a rope about the thickness of your thumb. Cut it into inch-long pieces. Place them on a baking sheet lined with a thin towel. Continue this process until you use all the dough.

Place a pot of water on the stove to boil. Salt liberally. Turn your brown butter sage sauce to low.

When the water boils, add enough gnocchi to cover the bottom. Give it a gentle stir to prevent sticking on the bottom. When the gnocchi floats to the top, set a timer for 30 seconds.

At 30 seconds, scoop out one gnocchi and cut it in half. If it is cooked all the way through, using a slotted spoon, take out the rest and drop them directly into the butter sage sauce. If the center of the test gnocchi is uncooked, cook the batch for an extra 15 seconds and test again.

Keep track of your time so the next batches are quick. When the gnocchi are cooked through, transfer from the water to the butter sage sauce.

Work in batches until all of your gnocchi are cooked and in the butter sage sauce. Turn the butter sauce and gnocchi to high and gently shake the pan or stir it with a soft spatula, coating the gnocchi and reheating evenly.

Slowly add a tablespoon of your cooking water to the pan and stir gently. This will emulsify your sauce gently and coat all of your gnocchi. This should take a minute or two. Turn off the heat.

Serve your gnocchi in individual bowls. Make sure you distribute the sage leaves evenly and spoon some sauce over the gnocchi in the bowls. Sprinkle each bowl with a tablespoon of pecorino and using the smaller holes on a grater, grate some ricotta salata over the top. Serve immediately.

Worth Making Every Day Cauliflower Pizza Crust

I promise this is a pizza that is so delicious, you will make it again and again — and not just during Passover. Top it with whatever makes you happy.

Makes one rectangular pizza crust

You will need:

  • 2 pounds of cauliflower florets (a big cauliflower trimmed)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 sprig of parsley
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 ounces of soft goat cheese
  • ¼ cup pecorino Romano
  • Salt and pepper

Note: To make this dairy-free, omit the cheese and substitute ½ cup chickpea flour.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Take the cauliflower florets and place them in a processor. Pulse several times and scrape down the sides. Then buzz until you have fine, small pieces.

Transfer all the cauliflower into a saute pan and add the garlic, thyme and parsley. Barely cover the caulifower cover with water. Turn the heat to medium-high. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir and cook until the water is evaporated and the cauliflower is soft. Do not brown. If there is a little water still in the pan, don’t worry. Remove the pan from heat.

Double line a bowl with cheesecloth, draping it over the side. Discard the garlic and herbs. Pour the cauliflower into the cheesecloth. Let it cool.

Gather the cloth and twist and squeeze. Try to remove all the water. Spend the time to do it. It is worth it. You want the cauliflower to be as dry as possible.

Put the dried cauliflower in a clean bowl. Add the beaten egg, soft goat cheese, pecorino (or chickpea flour), and a good twist of pepper. Mix until completely combined.

Line a baking sheet with a Silpat cooking liner. Carefully place the mixture on the sheet. Using a dough scraper or the edge of a spatula, shape it into a rectangle that is about ⅓-inch thick. Form the edges to be a little thicker (think crust).

Put the baking sheet into the lower third of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The crust should feel crisp to the touch and have dark edges.

Now it is topping time. Use your imagination. Brush the entire crust with a good quality olive oil and top as you would your favorite pizza.

Pop it back into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

Cut it into squares and serve.


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