Seder dinner may be the most beloved meal of the Jewish year, but it's also the most daunting: All the elements must be ready to go -- and then abandoned -- for the hour or two it takes to get through the prayers, singing and stories in the first part of the seder.
A successful Passover dinner depends on careful planning. Here's a menu and a minute-by-minute timeline that takes you through all the preparations to serving the meal. Except for gefilte fish, everything is made from scratch.
This year, the first night of Passover falls on March 25. Since sundown will be at around 7:15, we're using that as a start-seder time. Seders can run anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours; you'll probably be ready to eat by 8:30, but the timetable for this Seder is adjustable. Observant Jews, who do not cook or shop on Saturday before sundown, can do the work Saturday evening.
ONE WEEK AHEAD
Shop, order shank bone, order gefilte fish from fish store or purchase it at supermarket.
Soup: Make broth, strain and refrigerate.
Brisket: Make, cool and refrigerate.
Soup: Make matzo ball mixture, refrigerate.
Brisket: Skim fat, reduce sauce, slice and place meat in ovenproof serving dish.
Roast vegetables: Prepare, roast and refrigerate in ovenproof serving dish.
Dessert: Make torte and compote.
Set table: Take out all serving pieces.
Soup: Prepare vegetables (chopped parsnips, carrots, etc.) for serving soup.
Soup: Form matzo balls, refrigerate.
Asparagus: Zest, section and juice grapefruit.
Asparagus: Make vinaigrette.
Asparagus: Trim asparagus.
Seder plate: Roast shank bone and egg; make haroset; wash herbs, bitter herbs; make salt water.
Wine: Refrigerate whites.
4:00 Take brisket and roasted vegetables out of refrigerator to come to room temperature.
5:15 Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
5:30 Roast asparagus for about 15 minutes, remove, cover with foil.
5:45 Bring matzo-ball-cooking broth to simmer, poach matzo balls for about 20 minutes, then keep warm in a colander, covered, over simmering water.
6:00 Bring soup to simmer, add prepared vegetables. Cook until vegetables are just tender, then cover and turn off heat. Chop dill for garnish.
6:45 Place brisket, covered, into 350-degree oven.
6:40 Plate gefilte fish and leave on counter (short seder) or stack in refrigerator (long seder).
7:00 Assemble seder plate.
7:10 Turn oven off with brisket (covered) inside.
Add matzo balls to soup, bring soup to simmer.
8:35 Turn oven back to 350 degrees, put roasted vegetables alongside brisket to reheat.
8:35 Serve gefilte fish.
In this recipe from "The Mile End Cookbook" (Potter, $27.50), Noah Bernamoff cautions, "When you're rolling them, you're not making a meatball. You don't want them to be too tight and dense, so use a gentle touch."
1 1/2 cups matzo meal
4 large eggs
1/3 cup schmaltz (chicken fat) or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon baking powder
8 cups chicken broth
1. Mix all the ingredients except the chicken stock together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. (You can make the mixture a day ahead; store it in a sealed container that has enough room to allow it to expand.)
2. Form the mixture into balls that are a little larger than a quarter; they should be completely smooth on the outside with no cracks. Put the chicken broth in a wide pot and bring to a bare simmer. Cook the matzo balls for 20 minutes. (Discard broth, save for another purpose or use to extend your homemade soup.) Add cooked matzo balls to finished chicken soup, or keep them warm by placing them in a colander and placing the colander in a covered pot that has an inch or so of simmering water on the bottom.) Makes about 10 matzo balls.
This recipe is adapted from "The Mile End Cookbook" by Noah and Rae Bernamoff. If you don't want to make your own chicken broth, skip down to step 4 and proceed with 3 quarts of canned low-sodium broth.
For the broth:
3 small chickens (2 1/2 pounds each), each cut into 8 pieces
10 whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 medium parsnips, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, peeled and quartered
2 stalks of celery, trimmed and quartered
2 large onions, peeled and quartered
3 sprigs dill
3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
3 sprigs thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
For the soup:
2 medium parsnips, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 ribs of celery, trimmed, cut into 1/4-inch dice
Matzo balls (see recipe)
Chopped fresh dill for garnish
1. Place chicken pieces in large stockpot along with peppercorns, salt, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Heat over medium until the liquid starts to simmer. Adjust heat to maintain a low simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 1 1/2 hours, occasionally skimming any foam and fat that rise to the top.
2. Using slotted spoon or tongs, remove breast and thigh sections; reserve for the soup (or another use, such as chicken salad), leaving drumsticks and wings in pot. Add the parsnips, carrots, celery and onions and continue to simmer for another 1 1/2 hours, stirring and skimming occasionally.
3. Remove pot from heat and add dill, parsley, thyme and bay leaves. Allow herbs to steep for 30 minutes, then remove all meat, vegetables and herbs and discard. (They will have lost all their taste.) Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve or a colander lined with one ply of a two-ply paper towel. Refrigerate the soup and, if desired, skim off excess fat when it solidifies.
4. About 45 minutes before you plan to serve the soup, bring it to a low simmer. (If you don't have 3 quarts, add a little canned chicken broth.) Add the cubed parsnip and carrot, and the diced celery. Simmer until the vegetables are just tender, about 15 minutes, then add the cooked matzo balls and, if desired, some of the reserved breast and thigh meat. Simmer for 5 minutes more and season to taste. Garnish with dill. Serves 8 to 12 as a first course.
ROASTED ASPARAGUS WITH GRAPEFRUIT
In this recipe, adapted from "The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen" by Matt Lee and Ted Lee (Potter, $35), asparagus is gussied up with grapefruit sections, zest and a grapefruit vinaigrette.
2 grapefruits, preferably a ruby variety
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 pounds medium asparagus, trimmed of any woody ends
Freshly ground black pepper
1. With a zester or Microplane grater, scrape some grapefruit zest from the skin of the fruit for garnish, and reserve.
2. Slice off top and bottom of each grapefruit. Place flat on a cutting board and, following contour of the fruit, use a sharp knife to remove the peel and white pith. Now cut in between the membranes to release each section. Hold grapefruit over a bowl while you do this to catch any juice. When you're finished, squeeze what's left of the grapefruit to release any remaining juice -- each grapefruit should yield about 1/2 cup of juice. Reserve segments and juice separately.
3. Make vinaigrette: Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, the vinegar and the mustard to the bowl with the grapefruit juice and whisk to combine. Pour in 4 to 6 tablespoons of olive oil, whisking to emulsify.
4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put asparagus on a large, rimmed baking sheet in one layer. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper and coat all spears. Roast for 15 minutes, moving spears around with a spatula every 5 minutes or so.
5. Transfer asparagus to platter, scatter the grapefruit segments evenly. If the dressing has separated, whisk to re-emulsify, pour it over the asparagus and grind some black pepper over the top. Garnish the platter with the reserved zest and serve. Makes 8 servings.
POMEGRANATE-ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES
This recipe was developed by Newsday columnist Marge Perry. You can make it early in the day or the day before you plan to serve.
1 (1-pound) bag frozen baby onions, thawed
1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch slices
1 pound unpeeled new potatoes, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound turnips, peeled and cut in half, then in 1/4-inch slices
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch pieces
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Transfer to a large roasting pan and cook for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally. Turn the pan in the oven and cook until vegetables are tender, about another 15 minutes.
2. To reheat, bring to room temperature, then place in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Makes 8 servings.
FLOURLESS ALMOND TORTE WITH APRICOT COMPOTE
Newsday columnist Lauren Chattman developed this recipe, and she advises that when making this torte, be careful not to overbeat the egg whites (they should form very soft, not stiff, peaks) or the cake may sink in the center as it cools.
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) blanched slivered almonds
1 1/2 cups sugar
7 eggs, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups (about 40) dried apricots, coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Make cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray and line bottom with parchment. Spray parchment with cooking spray. Combine almonds and sugar in work bowl of food processor and process until finely ground.
2. Separate 4 of the eggs, placing yolks in a large mixing bowl and whites in another large mixing bowl. To bowl with yolks, add remaining 3 eggs, salt, vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth. Stir in almond-sugar mixture until smooth.
3. Use an electric mixer to whip reserved whites until very floppy peaks just form. Gently fold into batter. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula. Bake until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Check on cake after 35 minutes. If it is browning too quickly, loosely tent with foil for final 10 to 15 minutes. Run a paring knife around the edges of the cake, but cool it completely in pan on wire rack.
4. Make compote: Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in apricots, bay leaves and continue to cook another 5 minutes. Remove from heat, scrape into a bowl, add vanilla extract and let cool to room temperature. Remove and discard bay leaves.
5. To serve, release cake from sides of springform pan and sift some confectioners' sugar over it. Slice and serve with compote on the side. Makes 8 servings.
VERY EASY BRISKET
This recipe is almost as easy as the ubiquitous onion soup mix recipe, and it tastes much better. The meat and vegetables give off moisture as they cook, so there is enough liquid.
2 large onions, cut in half and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup canned chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 (4- to 5-pound) brisket (do not remove layer of fat)
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place onions, carrots, raisins, tomatoes, mustard, salt and pepper in a baking pan or casserole just large enough to accommodate meat. (A 4 1/2-pound brisket fits well into a 13-by-9-inch Pyrex pan.)
2. Mix vegetables to combine well, then lay meat in pan, fat side up, and move some of the vegetables to go on top of the meat. Cover with heavy-duty foil and bake for 15 minutes, then turn oven temperature down to 300 degrees and continue cooking 3 to 4 hours, or until a metal skewer can be easily plunged into the thickest part of the roast. You want the liquid in the pan to be simmering as slowly as possible -- just the occasional bubble.
3. Let brisket cool in sauce. When cool, remove meat and pour sauce into saucepan. Reduce over medium-high heat until slightly thickened. To add body to sauce, you can puree a portion of the vegetables either by using an immersion blender, or by transferring some of them to a blender or food processor, processing, and then returning them to the saucepan.
4. While sauce reduces, slice brisket and lay it in a smaller baking pan. (It will have shrunk substantially.) Cool sauce slightly and pour back over brisket. (If making in advance, cover with foil and refrigerate.) To serve, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake foil-covered brisket until heated through, about 30 minutes (45 if brisket has been refrigerated). Makes 8 servings.