Advice | This Passover, make a better matzoh pizza

When I was a kid, the prospect of a week without bread at Passover was a daunting one. What would my mom make me that I would eat? Matzoh pizza was often the answer.

Matzoh is an unleavened bread, essentially a cracker, that is eaten during the Jewish holiday to commemorate the Jews’ exodus from ancient Egypt when they hurriedly left without waiting for their bread to rise. So, the holiday prohibits the consumption of bread made with yeast, as well as many other baked goods. (You can still have flour in the form of matzoh and related products, as long as they are certified kosher for Passover, which is different from everyday kosher guidelines.)

Get the recipe: Matzoh Pizza

To satisfy cravings for foods we can’t have during the holiday — “chametz” is the technical term — we often try to re-create them, with varying degrees of success. Matzoh pizza is a relatively safe bet. Plenty of people appreciate this stand-in for what it is, rather than an also-ran.

Like Matzoh Brittle, an irresistible confection of matzoh with layers of butterscotch and chocolate, the Passover-friendly pizza brings back memories of family traditions and comfort food, even if it’s not something our ancestors would recognize.

At its core, matzoh pizza is simple: matzoh, tomato sauce and cheese. Anyone who’s had a soggy slab, though, will acknowledge there’s room for improvement. So I set about building a better matzoh pizza with a few small upgrades, while not destroying its quick and easy spirit. Here are my top tips for how to make matzoh pizza, grouped by component.

The matzoh. The go-to matzoh is the 7-inch square. Cookbook author Leah Koenig recommends shmurah matzoh, a round option she says holds up a little better and boasts some of the same charred flavor as Neapolitan pizza. For something more grocery-store accessible, consider salted matzoh, says chef-owner Michael Friedman of Washington pizzeria All-Purpose. “That makes a huge difference.”

Prompted by my son’s love of a certain delivery pizza, I decided to try some dried herbs to jazz up plain-Jane matzoh. I happened to recently be testing Jessie Sheehan’s Soda Bread Focaccia, and inspiration struck. I tweaked her herb mixture, swapping oregano for thyme, and applied a coating of olive oil to the matzoh before generously sprinkling it with a blend that also featured garlic and onion powders, and crushed red pepper flakes. Bingo!

Was there another way to coax more flavor out of the matzoh and provide insurance against disintegration? Everyone I talked to agreed on the need for an extra application of heat beyond that of a moderate oven, though in slightly different iterations. Among the suggestions: using a skillet to shallow-fry the matzoh before baking or browning it after baking, and just using a very hot oven. For minimal fuss, I chose the last option, baking the matzoh pizza for 4 to 5 minutes on a sheet pan preheated in a 450-degree oven. You’ll hear an instant sizzle when you set the oiled square on the pan, which is just what you want. I also used a quick (optional) broil — 1 minute or less — at the end to nudge the cheese into golden, bubbling bliss. Just keep an eye on it to prevent scorching, especially if you leave a bigger border without sauce or cheese, or don’t oil it all the way to the edges.

The sauce. People’s individual standards may differ depending on whether you avoid just certain ingredients or will only use those marked kosher for Passover, so Koenig suggests paying attention to your bottle of jarred marinara if you fall into the latter category. I decided to go the store-bought marinara route to keep the work to a minimum. As we witnessed in our jarred sauce taste test, the consistency of brands can vary widely, and even the good ones tend to be too watery for matzoh’s structural integrity. Friedman recommends cooking down jarred marinara so it thickens and spreads more than pools, which is just what I did. A few minutes in a skillet while the oven preheated did the trick.

Use a light hand to avoid a soggy mess. Friedman’s suggested 1/4 cup was perfect for a standard matzoh. For extra insurance, Alex Levin, director of strategic business initiatives and pastry programs at Schlow Restaurant Group, flips the script, applying the cheese before the sauce, a la Detroit pizza. I went with the more traditional sauce then cheese, but feel free to shake things up.

The cheese. Again, moisture is the enemy. Low-moisture, shrink-wrapped mozzarella, often sold in bricks, works well. If using fresh mozzarella, thinly slice it and pat it dry, Levin suggests. I found my sweet spot of mozzarella at 1 1/2 to 2 ounces of cheese per pizza. Another melty cheese, such as Muenster or fontina, would also be fine. If you want dollops of ricotta or fresh goat cheese (chevre), make them small and be judicious in the amount. Try a dusting of parmesan after baking for a final flourish.

The toppings. As with most pizza in general, the lighter you go on toppings, the better. This prevents the matzoh from getting soggy and makes for a neater eating experience. Friedman says small amounts of thinly sliced onion or peppers are worth considering. My preference: minced or thinly sliced pepperoncini. If you want to use more watery vegetables, such as mushrooms or zucchini, cook them down first in a skillet. Or focus on plus-ups you can apply after baking, whether it’s a light drizzle of hot honey or olive oil, a shower of crushed red pepper flakes or torn herbs, or even a modest pile of lightly dressed arugula for a salad pizza experience.

Get the recipe: Matzoh Pizza

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