There are only two days of Passover left, but that matzo in your kitchen is going to last a lot longer than that. Seriously, if you’re looking for a versatile pantry item that has a shelf life of about twenty years, you might want to pick up a few cases of matzo when they go on sale later this week. I’ve already extolled the virtues of matzo and given you a damn tasty recipe for chicken thighs and greens with schmaltzy matzo croutons, so I’ll resist the urge to write another thousand words on all the delightful and unexpected ways you can use this most maligned of pantry carbs. But I will be sharing my recipe for matz-agna, which makes the case all on its own.
A matz-agna is, as the name implies, a lasagna that’s made out of matzo. Is it better than a lasagna made from noodles? No, but that’s because it’s its own thing entirely. Matzo absorbs the sauces that surround it, becoming pliable like the most al dente of noodles and resulting in a lasagna-ish casserole that does not slip and slide into a hot mess on the plate. As much as I love how it tastes, what really endears me to matz-agna is how easy it makes my life when I’m cooking on a weeknight. A whole piece of matzo can be plopped perfectly into a square casserole dish, so if I’ve got sauce, cheese, and some other tasty bits and bobs hanging out in the fridge, you can get a “lasagna” in the oven while still decompressing from staring at a screen all day. A lot of matzo-haters say that it tastes like cardboard, but cardboard is great for building structures that you can beautify with a little imagination.
This recipe is a riff on the Greek dish pastitsio, which, like lasagna, combines pasta, bechamel, and a tomato meat sauce. Though this dish is made with matzo, the combination of meat and cheese is decidedly unkosher—but fear not, my observant friends! There are three ways to make this recipe, so you may choose your own adventure: during Passover, try it with eggplant or lentils. Once Passover ends, those who don’t keep kosher can make it with the meat sauce to use up leftover matzo. The third option is to use whatever you want to make it however you want. That’s the magic of matzo.
Note: This can be made in a 2-quart casserole dish, a square baking pan, or four 8-oz. individual baking dishes.
- 1 lb. lean ground beef or lamb, or 1 (15-oz.) can cooked lentils, or 1 large eggplant
- Olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 (28-oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter
- 1/2 cup potato starch
- 4 cups milk
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 egg yolks
- Salt and pepper
- 4 oz. crumbled feta
- 1 box matzo
- Chopped parsley
If using eggplant: Peel the eggplant and cut into 1" cubes, toss with a generous amount of salt, and put into a colander in the sink for one hour. Rinse the eggplant very, very well to remove the salt and the bitter liquids it has extracted from the eggplant, squeeze to remove any excess moisture, and blot dry with paper towels. Coat the bottom of a hot saute pan with olive oil and fry the eggplant, working in batches if necessary, until brown.
If using lamb or beef: Brown the meat in a hot saute pan with a bit of olive oil, then move to a bowl.
If using canned lentils: Rinse very, very well to remove salt, then set aside.
In a saute pan over high heat, cook the red onion in a bit of olive oil for about 3 minutes or until the onions are translucent, then add the garlic and tomato paste and continue cooking for another 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant. Stir in the red wine, diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano, cinnamon, and bay leaves, bring to a boil, then stir in the meat/eggplant/lentils and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until thickened, then remove bay leaves, taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then whisk in the potato starch until there are no raw bits visible. Whisk in the milk, one cup at a time, until the sauce is thick and steamy. Remove from heat; add the nutmeg and Parmesan cheese and whisk for about 2 minutes to help the sauce cool down a bit. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as desired, then whisk in the egg yolks.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat the bottom of one large or four individual-sized casserole dishes with a bit of olive oil. Line the bottom with matzo, then layer as follows:
- Half the tomato sauce
- One third of the white sauce
- Half the feta
- Sprinkling of chopped parsley
- Layer of matzo
- Remaining tomato sauce
- One third of the white sauce
- Remaining feta
- More parsley
- Layer of matzo
- Remaining white sauce
Bake the pastitsio until brown on top—between 30-40 minutes for individual sized, 45-55 minutes for large. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.