The Jewish holiday of Shavuot begins on Thursday evening, May 28. Many families celebrate the holiday with dairy foods. Rich, cheese-filled pastries and cheesecakes are often on the menu.
Since shopping is more complicated these days, we decided to settle for simpler dishes that can be easily modified, so that if you don’t have an ingredient, you can substitute another. Our Mediterranean-inspired vegetable salad, for example, is accented by a choice of tasty toppings, such as Brie cheese, walnuts, asparagus tips, raspberries and apple slices.
Shavuot means weeks, a reminder that it is celebrated seven weeks after Passover. The holiday is also known as the Feast of the First Fruits because this was the time of early harvest in ancient Israel. To commemorate this, produce is prominent on many Shavuot tables. This is a custom we like to follow, and so we try to include vegetables or fruit in every course. For our main course we’re making a delicious pasta dish with roasted eggplant, creamy feta cheese and a light tomato sauce.
This Shavuot most of us will celebrate with members of our households rather than at larger gatherings of family and friends. Our dessert of orange panna cotta, a luscious treat that is popular in restaurants, is practical to prepare for a small number of people and is in fact easy to make at home.
Four-Way Tomato-Cucumber Salad with Brie and Walnuts
Four-Way Tomato-Cucumber Salad with Brie and Walnuts can also be topped with asperagus tips and raspberries. (Photo by Yakir Levy)
Choose Brie of the degree of ripeness that you like; the cheese is easiest to slice when it is still firm. You can substitute goat cheese, feta cheese, blue cheese or Swiss cheese. For additional garnish, you might like to add raw fresh asparagus tips, apple slices, raspberries, or all three.
Baby lettuces are more attractive in the salad if left whole but are easier to eat if they are coarsely chopped. You can dice the cucumber, chop the parsley and cut the onion in advance. Put the salad together shortly before serving.
Yield: 3 or 4 servings
2 to 2 1/2 cups (loosely packed) mixed baby lettuces or baby spinach, coarsely chopped if desired
4 to 5 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 to 6 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 small apple, tart or sweet (optional)
2 mini cucumbers (Persian cucumbers), diced
1 or 2 plum (roma) tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons red onion in short, thin slivers, rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley (optional)
8 to 10 small pieces Brie cheese (3 or 4 thin slices cut in chunks)
8 to 10 walnut or pecan halves
8 to 10 asparagus tips (optional)
8 to 10 raspberries (optional)
1. Put lettuces in a deep plate or platter. For dressing, combine lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk until blended.
2. Just before serving, spoon about half of dressing over lettuces and toss very lightly.
3. Cut apple in thin slices or wedges. Top greens with diced cucumbers, diced tomatoes, onion slivers and chopped parsley, then with small chunks of Brie and with walnut halves. If you like, garnish salad with asparagus tips, apple slices and raspberries. Drizzle salad with rest of dressing.
Rigatoni with Roasted Eggplant, Feta Cheese and Light Tomato Sauce
Rigatoni with Roasted Eggplant, Feta Cheese and Light Tomato Sauce can also be made with penne for the pasta and goat cheese instead of feta. (Photo by Yakir Levy)
We like to flavor this hearty pasta dish with sheep’s milk feta cheese. You can substitute creamy goat cheese if you like. Instead of rigatoni, you can use penne. The simple sauce is made from bottled tomato puree, garlic and a few seasonings.
Roasting cubes of eggplant is an easy way to cook this vegetable. You can roast the eggplant in advance and reheat it. If you don’t have eggplant, you can use sauteed diced zucchini.
Yield: 3 or 4 servings
A 1-pound eggplant, cut in small dice
1/2 cup chopped onion
About 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 plum tomato, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 teaspoons)
1/2 cup bottled tomato puree (passata)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 pound rigatoni
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
About 1/2 cup small chunks of creamy feta cheese
A few fresh oregano leaves or za’atar oregano leaves (optional, for garnish)
Olive oil for drizzling
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine eggplant and onion in a roasting pan. Drizzle with 4 teaspoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 20 minutes. Stir and bake for 20 to 30 minutes longer or until eggplant is tender. Add diced tomato, keeping it on one side of the pan, and bake for 10 more minutes.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a fairly large skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until it just begins to turn golden; immediately add tomato puree. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes. Add thyme, pepper flakes and half the roasted eggplant. Cooked for 2 minutes and remove from heat.
3. Cook rigatoni in a large pan of boiling salted water until barely tender (al dente), about 9 or 10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid.
4. Drain pasta and add it immediately to pan of tomato sauce. Add 1/4 cup of pasta cooking liquid. Cook over medium-low heat, tossing lightly, about 2 minutes or until sauce thickens and adheres to pasta, adding a little more of pasta cooking liquid if sauce becomes too thick.
5. Add most of roasted eggplant, half of roasted diced tomato and half of parsley to pasta mixture. Toss lightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Transfer pasta mixture to a warm serving platter and top it the rest of roasted eggplant and tomato. Sprinkle with the remaining chopped parsley and scatter bits of feta cheese and oregano leaves. Drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil if desired, and serve.
Orange Panna Cotta with Orange Compote
Orange Panna Cotta with Orange Compote is a luxurious dessert that’s surprisingly easy to prepare. (Photo by Yakir Levy)
This recipe is from “Orange Appeal: Savory & Sweet” by Jamie Schler. Panna cotta, which means cooked cream in Italian, is a luxurious dessert that’s surprisingly easy to prepare and can be made with either heavy cream or light cream. You can use blood oranges to give the compote a more striking color.
Yield: 6 servings
2 1/2 cups heavy or light cream, divided
2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 tablespoons whiskey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract or orange blossom water
2 medium or large oranges
3 teaspoons granulated brown sugar or honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Pour 1 cup cream into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan and sprinkle gelatin on top; gently tap the gelatin to push it under the liquid. Allow to sit for 5 minutes.
2. Place saucepan over low heat and allow cream to heat slowly, whisking gently, for 4 to 5 minutes until gelatin dissolves completely; do not allow cream to come to a boil.
3. Whisk in sugar, remaining cream, orange juice, and zest. Continue to cook over low heat until sugar has dissolved and liquid is thoroughly warmed through. Stir in whiskey and vanilla and orange extracts. Remove from heat.
4. Divide mixture evenly between 6 glasses or pudding bowls and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate overnight.
Cut away the orange peel, white pith and outer membrane from the oranges. Divide each orange in segments and cut them in small cubes; you will need about 2 cups.
Place orange cubes, brown sugar, and vanilla in a saute pan and heat to a low simmer for 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and let cool to room temperature.
When ready to serve, spoon a heaping tablespoon of compote on top of each dessert.
Faye Levy is the author of “1,000 Jewish Recipes.”