It was barely Purim and my phone was ringing off the hook with friends and clients asking questions regarding Passover. What am I making? Will I share recipes? Can I come over and cook for them? Will I come over for a meal? (I especially love that one).

I felt the panic creep into my normally blasé attitude toward the holiday. I made my peace with Matzo Madness years ago and have my annual game plan in place.

But the dread is contagious and I caught it.

I started digging around in cabinets. I planned my meals for the next month, all in an effort to rid my home of forbidden food items. I started my pasta scrap bag with its load of remnants of various pasta shapes. I call the dish created with it Pasta ala Odds and Ends-YUM!

As the anxiety deepened, I went through my spices and planned an alarming number of meals containing my most treasured ingredients. I love my spices and take great pride in my custom mixes. A little of this and little of that and voila, I have a masterpiece. As part of Passover prep, I fear that the delicate nuance that I try to achieve may just become a hodge-podge of global influences all in one dish with too much of this and too much of that.

Oh well, I will sleep well knowing that the spice cabinet Pesach cleanse has been schemed.

I practically freaked out when my husband brought home his favorite dried fava beans. I demanded an explanation for his lack of calendar sense. IT’S ALMOST PESACH! His response mentioned something about 30 days to go.

I was really starting to fret as I was planning my menus a mere 4 weeks before the Seders, when I realized that I have a secret weapon for the holiday. My favorite ingredient, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, is kosher for Passover. I may have to give up my pastas, rice and spices, but I still have my extra virgin olive oil.

All extra virgin olive oils are kosher for Passover and year round, even without kosher supervision. How awesome is that? We may give up our breads and cakes for eight days, but we will emerge from the holiday having feasted on foods made with delicious and healthy extra virgin olive oil. You cannot say that about Kosher for Passover oil which tends to be harsh and bitter and not healthy like extra virgin olive oil. How much cooking time and how many ingredients do you need to cover up the taste of bad oil?

My nerves have been calmed and I am cool as a spring day in Chicago knowing that my Passover plan has been executed. I can approach the holiday with excitement…….now back to those Seder menus.

Relish of artichokes

The relish is a concoction of early spring and late winter vegetables. I serve it with roasted chicken, duck and fish. It adds flair to any table and for Passover we drizzle our matzo with extra virgin olive oil and herbs and then dollop some of this springtime treat on top of it for a crunchy snack, side dish or appetizer before the Seder meal.

Yields about 2 cups

1 pound baby artichokes or frozen artichoke hearts

1 fennel bulb, cut into julienne (save fronds for garnish)

2 leeks, white parts only chopped

3 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ cup white wine

½ cup golden raisins

¼ cup pine-nuts

¼ cup chopped fresh mint + additional for garnish

½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

  1. To clean the artichokes, use a paring knife to cut the outside leaves free from the body of the vegetable. Continue turning your knife around the artichoke until the leaves are pale yellow. Be sure to leave the stem intact and peel some of the tough green fibers from the outside to reveal the inner soft white core. The stem gives the artichoke a pretty shape! Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and scoop out the choke (if any) with a melon baller. Place the artichoke pieces in a bowl of cold water with lemon juice squeezed into it to keep the artichokes from turning dark.
  2. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat and coat the bottom lightly with extra virgin olive oil. Add the fennel pieces and leeks. Sauté the vegetables until they are lightly browned and have softened. Add the drained artichokes and continue sautéing until the artichokes are lightly browned. Add the garlic, tomato paste and white wine. Stir together. Add the raisins and turn down the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer until the artichokes can be easily pierced with a paring knife (about 15-20 minutes).
  3. Place a small sauté pan over medium heat and add the pine-nuts. Toast the pine-nuts until they are lightly browned (about 5-7 minutes). Watch them carefully as they can burn quickly.
  4. Add the pine nuts to the mixture. Add the mint, parsley and thyme. Salt and pepper to taste
  5. Serve the relish warm or cold. The relish can be made three days before serving and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

Roasted Halibut with Green Olive Pesto

Even if the spring weather in your area is not cooperating and doesn’t exactly feel bright and cheery, this sprightly flavored dish will remind you of warmer days. Halibut is my favorite springtime fish and the buttery flavor of the fish pairs well with the tasty and easy to prepare pesto.

Serves 6

For the halibut

6 6-ounce skinless halibut filets

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat Oven to 350

  1. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Season the filets with salt and pepper.
  2. Place the filets (presentation side down-this is the side that did not have the skin on it. It is the prettier side!) into the pan. Allow the filets to brown (about 5 minutes). Transfer the filets to a sheet pan and roast in the preheated oven until the filets are firm to the touch (about 10-12 minutes depending upon thickness)
  3. Spoon the pesto over each filet and garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and mint leaves.

For the Pesto

½ cup almonds, toasted

½ cup golden raisins

2 cups green olives, pitted (I like the product from Israel)

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

2 cloves garlic

Zest of 1 orange

Pinch of crushed red chilies, optional

¼ cup fresh mint leaves + additional leaves for garnish

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

  1. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until the mixture is a very thick paste with some chunks remaining.
  2. The pesto can be made up to 3 days ahead of serving and can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator.
Laura Frankel is an Executive Chef at Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering and author of numerous kosher cookbooks including Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes. To purchase her books, click here.
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