Depending on your family traditions, next week’s holidays may bring a different variety of dishes to your dinner table. Easter and Passover are both around the corner and each have their own set of culinary delights.
Saturday, April 7, marks the first day of Passover — an eight-day holiday that commemorates the Israelites’ emancipation from slavery in ancient Egypt.
Various incarnations of the unleavened bread matzah, or matzo, are a traditional Passover favorite.
The Passover story of the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt resonates particularly strongly for people like Wolfgang "Wolfie" Rauner who escaped Nazi persecution for a new life in the United States.
Rauner, 83, arrived here June 21, 1941, from Nazi-occupied Luxembourg, where his German Jewish family had fled in the years before World War II. His family settled in New York; today he’s a resident of the Fresh Meadows neighborhood in Queens.
"We were freed," he said simply when asked why Passover is so special. "We were the freed ones."
Every year at Passover, he makes his mother’s matzo balls and remembers. He shares his story, and the recipe, in an unusual cookbook, "Recipes Remembered."
He serves them boiled, as was his mother’s family’s custom, and fried, as was the tradition in his father’s family. Although Rauner calls them matzo balls, he notes they are sturdier than the light, fluffy version many people are familiar with, which may be why they’re called kloesse, dumplings, in the book.
Rauner’s recipe calls for soaking the matzo in water before using, but there are varying opinions about eating "gebrokts," fully-baked matzo that has come in contact with water, during Passover. He recommends you follow the rules and traditions of your particular faith community.
On Easter Sunday, April 8, ham is likely to be the star of the dinner table in many homes.
According to "Food on the Table" chef Heather Hunsaker, "Ham is a traditional Easter food that dates back centuries."
"Before refrigeration, fresh pork was butchered in the fall and whatever meat could not be eaten before Lent was then cured," Hunsaker said.
"This curing process lasted several weeks making it ready just in time for Easter."
Although traditional recipes call for baking a whole ham, shank or butt-end for hours in the oven, more modern recipes are taking advantage of the beautiful spring weather and outdoor cooking opportunities.
Hunsaker’s recipe calls for grilling thick slices of ham and glazing them with a sweet cherry sauce while they cook.
If you prefer the larger traditional ham, Hunsaker recommends adding a liquid to the roasting pan to keep the meat from drying out while it bakes. Apple or pineapple juice, or even cola are tasty options, she says.
Covering the pan with foil also helps to reduce the amount of juices that escape from your ham.
If you’re adding glaze, Hunsaker suggests reserving that step until the last 30 minutes of the cooking process.
MCT Information Services and www.foodonthetable.com contributed to this article.