In radio they call it “dead air time,” those dreaded seconds of unplanned silence that seem like hours. In broadcasting every moment must be filled with sound. As I remember the family gatherings of my youth, there was a similar avoidance of “dead food time.” From the moment you crossed the threshold, you would immediately be invited to have “a little something.” God forbid one should faint from hunger while awaiting dinner! I call it the three-minute rule. A guest must get something to eat within the first three minutes of arrival or it’s a shandah (shame) on the host or hostess.
“Come in. Give me your coat. Have a knish.”
When I started teaching cooking classes at Sur la Table, I was cautioned to be sure the students had something to sample within the first 45 minutes of class. Forty-five minutes? Obviously, they had no experience with Jewish cooking classes! In my classes students would partake of “a little something” as soon as they arrived. God forbid they should faint from hunger during my demonstration!
Forshpeis – a foretaste, appetizer
As the overture is to the musical, forshpeis is meant to build anticipation for the great event to come. But sometimes it’s fun to create a party on forshpeis alone. And judging by the portions served in restaurants these days, an appetizer can sometimes serve nicely as an entire meal.
Looking at the appetizers in Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek’s new cookbook, Starters & Sides: Favorite Triple Tested Recipes Made Easy (Artscroll), we notice a fine line between a starter and the main dish. The “Make it Main!” section offers convenient suggestions for expanding and combining these recipes.
Dazzling color photos accompany each recipe, as do “Ahead” tips for ease of preparation. A “Plate-It!” section illustrates unique serving ideas, like creating a tortilla “bowl” to hold Teriyaki Mushrooms or using extra butternut squash puree to plate the Winter Squash Ravioli. A useful “Building Blocks” section offers essential information for preparing the basics, like rice, potatoes and roasted vegetables. And all are served up in the breezy conversational style we found in the first cookbook of the series Passover Made Easy. (Kids Cooking Made Easy will come out in October.)
Notice, “easy” is the operative word. “When I am entertaining or having the family over for a holiday meal, I don’t want my kitchen to be messy when guests arrive,” says Dwek. “I like to prepare everything in advance, pull it out of the fridge or freezer and pop it in the oven.”
“The recipes in our book are about having ideas you love at your fingertips or using ingredients that you can find at your local supermarket,” Schapira adds.
Leah Schapira, author of Fresh & Easy Kosher Cooking and co-founder of CookKosher.com, an online kosher recipe exchange, has again teamed up with Victoria Dwek, managing editor of Whisk, a popular kosher food magazine published weekly by Ami Magazine, and the 60 creative, on-trend recipes in “Starters & Sides” form an interesting mix of their Ashkenazi and Sephardic roots with lots of updated surprises: Corned Beef and Spinach Spring Rolls, Za’atar and Rosemary Baked Olives, Sweetbreads with White Wine-Parsley Sauce, Falafel Cigars.
They have even sneaked in a few desserts, like Apple Cherry Strudel and Peach Cracker Crumble. “At every meal, I always need a sweet side dish,” explains Schapira. “Victoria is always shocked that I consider those side dishes.”
The idea for Focaccia with Roasted Vegetables came from a photo sent to Schapira from her sister-in-law while dining out in Israel. “The next day it was on my table too,” she says. Interesting tidbit: “In the 18th century, the most common variety of eggplant in Europe was small, white, and round, resembling large eggs. The name stuck….”
Dwek chooses ravioli dough rounds from the freezer section for the Winter Squash Ravioli, “and my pasta dish is ready in as long as it takes a pot of water to boil.” Add a salad and both dishes easily morph into the main event.
Focaccia with Roasted Vegetables
Yield: 4 servings
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup water (or as needed)
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 1/2 to3 cups total diced sweet potatoes, eggplants, and zucchini
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch coarse black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 scallion, diced
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Prepare dough: In bowl of electric mixer, combine flours, salt, sugar and yeast. Stir to combine. Add water, a little bit at a time, while mixing, until dough forms. Add oil and mix to combine. Form dough into a ball and place into greased bowl. Cover and let rise 30 to 40 minutes. If dough is sticky, coat with a bit of flour when forming into a ball, but don’t add more flour to dough.
2 Preheat oven to 475ºF. On bottom rack, place pizza stone or upside-down baking sheet. Line second baking sheet with aluminum foil.
3 Prepare vegetables: Toss vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread on lined baking sheet. Place baking sheet into top half of oven and roast 25 minutes. Set aside.
4 Stretch dough into flat oval on sheet of parchment paper. Brush with olive oil and top with garlic, scallions, oregano and basil. Place onto hot pizza stone or upside-down baking sheet. Bake 13 minutes. (This may be done while vegetables are roasting.)
5 To serve, top focaccia with roasted vegetables and sprinkle with salt.
Winter Squash Ravioli
Yield: 36 raviolis
1 (2½ pounds) narrow butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon salt
36 (3-inch) ravioli rounds
Oil, for toasting
Garnish: Fresh thyme and chopped parsley (optional)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup minced garlic cloves (10 to 12 cloves)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
1 Prepare ravioli: Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place butternut squash in baking pan and bake until completely soft, 60-80 minutes, rotating halfway through (longer for thick squash). Let cool completely. Discard peel and seeds and add squash flesh to medium bowl.
2 Heat olive oil in sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add onion and sauté until golden and caramelized, about 20 minutes.
3 Add onions and salt to squash. Using an immersion blender, blend until completely smooth. Place a teaspoon of squash onto each ravioli round. Fold in half and seal tightly closed, then pinch two edges together. Reserve any remaining squash purée.
4 Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add ravioli in batches and cook until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Set aside.
5 Prepare herb sauce: Heat olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat. Add garlic, thyme, and parsley. Cook until garlic is golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Toss with raviolis.
6 To serve, spoon some reserved purée onto each dish; top with raviolis. Garnish with fresh thyme and parsley, if using. (To make a smoother purée, press squash through wire strainer or sieve.)