I never got to know matzo lasagna when I was a kid, but I would have been supremely happy for an introduction.
After the Passover Seder, the only thing we did with the leftover matzo (which is eaten during the holiday to commemorate the unleavened bread baked by the Jews as they fled slavery in Egypt) was to fry it with eggs for breakfast. As much as I adore matzo brei, it gets old after the third time in one week. And eating buttered matzo with salt is never as good as saltines.
With its cheese pulls and molten ricotta filling, matzo lasagna rounds out the usual post-Seder offerings in an especially appealing way.
It grew out of a much older Sephardic tradition of Passover pies, or casseroles, called minas. Minas are composed of sheets of matzo layered with savory ingredients and baked. Some have ground lamb and tomatoes; others are made with spinach and cheese. They’re a bit like burekas, except made with matzo instead of phyllo. Layering matzo with ricotta, tomato and mozzarella gives this Sephardic tradition an Italian slant.
This recipe stays fairly close to classic lasagna flavors. There’s a marinara sauce made from canned tomatoes, garlic, a touch of red-pepper flakes and some optional anchovies (which dissolve in the sauce leaving behind an umami trail). The ricotta is mixed with eggs and seasoned with basil, pepper and nutmeg. Then, they are both layered with matzo crackers, which replace the pasta to hold the other elements in place. A combination of mozzarella and Parmesan cover the top, melting into stretchy puddles as the whole thing bakes.
It’s as easy as making lasagna with no-bake noodles and just as craveable.
One thing to note: If you are using regular supermarket matzo from a box, you don’t need to soak the crackers in water first. The moisture from the sauce is enough to soften them as they bake. But if you’re using handmade shmurah matzo, which is less airy than machine made matzo, you will want to presoak them.
In either case, you can assemble the matzo lasagna the day before you want to bake it. Then pop it in the oven to serve for dinner or brunch. It may not be as fast as matzo brei, but it adds some much needed variety to the Passover table, with copious melted cheese on top.
Time: 1 1/2 hours
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 anchovies, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
1 rosemary sprig
2 3/4 cups/24 ounces whole-milk ricotta, preferably fresh
1 large egg
1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped, plus more for serving
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 (10-ounce) box matzo, preferably egg or salted matzo
1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced, then torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pot over medium, heat oil, and stir in garlic, anchovies (if using), pepper and red-pepper flakes. Cook until garlic starts to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Use your hands to squeeze and crush the whole tomatoes as you add them to the pot, along with any liquid in the cans (or use kitchen shears to cut the tomatoes in the can). Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and rosemary sprig, bring to a gentle simmer, and simmer at medium-low heat for 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together ricotta, egg, basil, pepper, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and nutmeg.
4. To assemble the lasagna, spread generous 1/2 cup sauce on the bottom of a 9-by-13 baking dish. Place matzo crackers in an even layer on top, breaking crackers to fit as necessary.
5. Spread half the ricotta mixture over the matzo layer, spreading all the way to the edges. Top with generous 3/4 cup tomato sauce, then scatter with 1/3 of the mozzarella.
6. Repeat matzo, ricotta, tomato sauce, and mozzarella layers.
7. Top with a final layer of matzo, then spread remaining tomato sauce (about 2 cups) on top, making sure all of the matzo is covered. Top with remaining mozzarella and 1/2 cup Parmesan.
8. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until cheese is golden and sauce is bubbly, about 20 to 25 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then serve topped with more basil, a drizzle of olive oil and more red-pepper flakes, if you like.