At the very end of March, I was caught up with UConn women’s basketball, crazed with the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four. The last had us on tenterhooks, but Notre Dame (and some awful referee calls) beat us in overtime. As I write this column, I must decide whether I will watch the Notre Dame/Baylor game, read my new book, “The Glass Room,” on Kindle or bake a couple of flourless cakes for Friday night Passover Seder at a friend’s home.
Rarely do the holidays of Passover and Easter converge on the same weekend. (The Jewish calendar — which predates the Christian by around 3,000 years — even adds another month sometimes.) Both holidays end with joy — and often with lots of good food. At Passover, Jews do not eat anything that uses leavening or flour, but matzoh is tasty and the rest of the food, including meat and dairy (though not eaten at the same meal) is always delicious.
At Easter, anything goes, but often the food includes a gorgeous ham and other dishes that are harbingers of spring. Fresh brisket, often the entrée of choice at Jewish holidays, isn’t often a leftover; if it is, a brisket sandwich, topped with fresh coleslaw on a roll or rye bread, will be gone within 24 hours. On the other hand, there is often leftover ham. If there isn’t enough for a second meal, making pea soup (green or yellow) will feed a family, along with crusty bread and a salad. If I had the ham, I’d make scalloped potatoes with ham. The original version of this recipe does not include ham; but I dice or cut ham thin and add it in.
From “One Potato, Two Potato”
by Roy Finamore and Molly Stevens (Houghton Mifflin, Boston and New York, 2001)
Yield: serves 4 to 6 people
1 garlic clove, halved
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
2 ounces mild blue cheese
1 and one-half pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
salt and white pepper, to taste (careful with the salt, since the ham is salty)
6 or so ounces of ham, diced or thinly sliced
4 ounces Swiss cheese or fontina, shredded
freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups half-and-half or light cream
one-half cup freshly grated Parmesan
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place heavy-duty aluminum foil on rack below the one you’ll be baking on. Rub the garlic all over the inside of a large flame-proof gratin dish, a flame-proof 2-quart baking dish or a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, pressing hard to release the juices. Let the garlic juice dry, then butter the dish.
Combine goat cheese and blue cheese in a small bowl and mash with fork until well crumbled and evenly combined.
Arrange one-third of potatoes in the gratin dish. Season with salt and pepper. Toss ham over the potatoes. Season with just a little of salt and pepper. Scatter half of the Swiss cheese over top; dot with half of the goat-blue cheese mix. Cover with another third of the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the remaining Swiss and goat-blue mix over the potatoes. Cover with a final layer of potatoes.
Stir in nutmeg into the half-and-half and pour over the potatoes. Heat the potatoes over medium-high heat until cream begins to simmer. Watch it like a hawk, so it doesn’t boil over.
Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top and slide the gratin into the oven. Bake until the top is very brown and bubbling, about 1 hour. Let the gratin rest for 10 minutes before you serve it.
Danielle Crispy Fruit Chips
When I was in Florida, I stopped into a store called Cost Plus World Market, of which there are 250 nationwide. They sell everything from furniture to beer.
While walking around, peering at chocolate, kitchenware and rice, I looked at a small package of Tangy Pineapple Chips. No preservatives, said the bag, all-natural, no trans fat, 260 calories for the entire package. There were just two ingredients - fresh pineapple and rice bran oil.
I bought a bag and shared it with a friend. These were positively addictive. That evening I searched online and found they come in lots of flavors and the chips are made in Boston. Where can you get them? It seems like all Shaw's markets sell them. For more info, make like Tinker Bell and e-mail them. Maybe you will convince them to come to Stop & Shop and Big Y, too.
New England Herbal Foods
Boston, MA 02114