Italian Jewish culinary culture is fascinating. Not Ashkenazi, not sephardi it’s its own mashup of flavors and dishes. So it isn’t surprising that Italian Jews actually figured out a way to enjoy pasta during Passover. Like pretty much everything Italians do, their matzo is prettier than ours, often round and punched out to look like a lacy doily. However our square shaped giant crackers are perfect for constructing a “lasagna” or as my staff started calling it “mazzagna” (matzo+lasagne). I’ve heard these “pies” layered with matzo called Tortino, Mina or Scacchi. You might think that this idea is a poor substitute for the real thing, but actually it’s pretty great. The matzos which are soaked prior to layering, absorb the tomato sauce and become light and fluffy.
You can use this idea to make any kind of “tortino” whether you construct it with a meat sauce (made with groung lamb perhaps) or vegetables as I do here. At Angeli we decided that the best use of the Mazzagna/Tortino was as a vegetarian option/side dish for all. If you’re keeping kosher or doing a traditional meat meal than leave out the parmesan. If not, then go for it. Either way your guests will be happy to have something on the table that’s light (ish).
And conveniently, you can make many parts of the Tortino in advance. Make the sauce, cook each veggie separately, and even put the whole thing together the day before. It’s better that way because the matzos get really soft with the juices of all the ingredients they’re layered with. p.s. If you don’t add the cheese it’s VEGAN.
Tortino di Azzime aka Mazzagna
2 onions, peeled, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 pound mushrooms, stems trimmed, cut into quarters or sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 bunches fresh spinach, washed or 4 bags washed spinach
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, leaves only, coarsely chopped
Grated Imported Italian Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 boxes of matzo
In a large skillet slowly cook the onions in oil and until they are very soft and golden brown. When done, set aside in small bowl.
Saute the mushrooms over high heat in oil, adding garlic, parsley and basil to taste. When done set aside in small bowl.
Saute spinach with garlic to taste in olive oil with just the water clinging to their leaves, in a covered pan. Add salt and a little red chile flakes. When done set aside in small bowl.
Assembling the Dish:
Cover the bottom of a baking dish with just enough sauce to prevent sticking.
Run the matzo under cold water 1 piece at a time or briefly soak them in a bowl of water as you put the dish together. Make a layer of matzo that completely covers the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of onions over the sauce. Top with half the mushrooms. Again drizzle with sauce. Make another layer of matzo. Continue layering with cooked vegetables, sauce and matzo until all the ingredients are used. If using dairy, scatter some parmesan over each layer. Finish with a layer of matzo topped with a layer of sauce. Cover casserole with aluminum foil. At this point you can refrigerate the Tortino for 24 hours.
When you’re ready place in preheated 375 oven and cook approximately 40 minutes or until bubbling hot. This dish is delicious even when barely warm, so you can make it ahead and not worry about keeping it piping hot. I take the foil off once it’s heated through and let the top get a little “golden”.