Where have these been all my life? Growing up, my matzoh sandwiches consisted of butter and matzoh. Maybe some jelly. Probably strawberry or raspberry or apricot. I don’t recall our home ever having grape jelly. I do not know why. The grape jelly question came up when my daughter asked why we never had grape jelly. I think she was 16 when she asked it. Apparently that is the most common variety that is shoved between two slices of soft, squishy bread along with peanut butter. But then she never had stick to your teeth bread to spread it between.
And I did not have perfectly white soft bread either, because my mother always toasted our bread.The day my father smelled lard coming from the toaster was the day that began and ended, the short moment of soft squishy bread in my ancestral home. In fact, we never brought lunch to school and not many kids did back then. My brother and I were the only two Jews in our elementary school and during Passover we were probably the only two that brought lunch. Certainly we were the only two that brought matzoh sandwiches that consisted of the standard butter and jelly between two matzos.
My kids, unlike me, always took their lunch to school. Though I tried to get them to eat the school’s lunch they refused, and I freely admit that I was trying to get out of making lunches. One does hear bad things about school lunches, but I looked at them as a convenience thing. And no, I never liked those lunchables or any of those convenience things either. My kids always had a real sandwich, carrots, an apple, probably chips and something sweet. And I almost forgot the juice! I’m not sure how much was tossed in the garbage, but that is what they left home with, all the way through high school!
After becoming a substitute teacher, I began to understand why. Many folks talk about the atrocious cafeteria food and I believe them. But what I noticed was the way this “food” was served. In my day, the cafeteria ladies served you (Yes, you read that right) and your lunch was on a real dinner plate. One ate with real silverware and napkins at each place and I even remember salt and pepper shakers on the long, bench sided table. The milk was in a cardboard container. Now, at least from my experience, the food is plopped directly onto an orange plastic tray and liquid items are placed in clear, plastic bowls and served with plastic silverware; that is if you need silverware. I don’t care what the food tastes like, let’s face it, eating with your eyes just ain’t happening in the school cafeteria. And we wonder how we are educating our kids. (Well, you don’t want me to get started on that!)
So, now that I’ve somehow gotten completely off topic, I’ll remind you we are talking about Passover. I’ll remind you that this was the only time I brought my lunch to school. I’ll remind you that no one made me cute little grilled cheese matzoh sandwiches stuffed with fresh mozzarella, anchovies and basil and topped with a lemony, garlic, pepper, olive oil sauce. Maybe it is because one couldn’t buy fresh mozzarella when I was growing up, but even if they could, I’m not sure my mom would have ever made these. And I never made these for my kids, because I just didn’t think of it. No, other than egg salad or tuna fish, our matzoh sandwiches just consisted of butter, and jelly and maybe peanut butter.
Not any more. The times, they are a changin’! I do confess to breaking open the first box of matzoh with anticipatory glee because there is nothing like smearing butter on a giant cracker to celebrate the beginning of our eight day holiday. I also love toasting my matzoh to give it a very crisp, warm bite. But after eight days of matzoh treats I start missing my bread. However, after this cheesy concoction, I might be able hold off the pangs of sorrow and not miss bread quite so soon.
I made these grilled cheese sandwiches with that leftover box of matzoh that every good Jewish family has hiding in their cabinet, until they throw it out the next year. But honestly, that matzoh held up fine. And it tasted might fine when filled with basil and melted cheese. Mighty fine. Really fine. Super fine. This is a great combo. Perfect for a light lunch. Perfect for an appetizer. It would also be superb dunked in a bit of marinara sauce and served along side a bowl of soup. I am so happy with this discovery! Not that I’m saying this is great on the calorie count, but it does add some variety to the matzoh world!
Go ahead. Live a little. Make yourself a matzoh grilled cheese. Even if you didn’t grow up with large, crispy, flat crackers, you will like this. Yes, I know you could make this with real bread. BUT… It just wouldn’t be the same.
Matzoh Grilled Cheese
Adapted From: Jewish Holiday Cooking by Jayne Cohen
Yield: 2-3 Servings
Time to make: About 30 minutes start to finish
10 whole matzohs, egg or plain
About 1/2 lb of fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
12 fresh basil leaves or more to taste
2 large eggs
Olive oil-for frying
2 t finely minced garlic
1 T olive oil
3-4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped (I will not eat anchovies straight up. However, they are essential to this recipe and you will love them!)
Juice of 1 lemon
About 5 grinds of fresh black pepper
Lemon – to squeeze on top and for garnish
Break each matzoh into four equal pieces. Fill a large shallow pan with well salted water. (It should taste salty.) Dip 2 of the matzoh quarters into the water. Swish them around a bit, but do not let them get too soft. Place a slice of cheese and a basil leaf on one half and top with the other. Make sure the cheese is covered by the matzoh. Let dry slightly while you make the others.
Prepare the sauce. Cook the garlic in a small saute pan over low heat until it is just tinged with gold, about two minutes. The garlic should remain soft, don’t let it crisp or brown. Add the chopped anchovies, stirring and mashing until they have melted into the sauce. Whisk in the lemon juice and pepper to taste. Cook, and occasionally stir, for 2-3 minutes so the flavors can blend. Keep warm.
Empty the water from your shallow pan. Add the two eggs and beat well. Heat 1/4″ of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. Just before frying dip each sandwich into the egg, immersing both sides and then let the excess drip back into the pan. Repeat until all sandwiches are coated. Put as many sandwiches as your skillet can hold, into the pan without crowding. Fry until crisp and golden on each side. Avoid turning more than once. Fry in batches if necessary.
Spoon some of the sauce on top. Serve with extra lemon to squeeze on top. I admit that these were good even at room temperature. You could also put an extra anchovy inside if you love anchovies. I am going to make this sauce to spoon over fish. These were so good-and since I am a good Jewish mother, you must take my word on this!
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