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 like 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.
Mozzarella and Parmesan melt into stretchy puddles in the oven.CreditDavid Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.
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.