Intermarried Jews are used to challenging questions. What about the kids? Will your home have a Christmas tree? Where will you be buried? But when Passover and Easter overlap, a fourth question is added to the mix: How will you negotiate conflicting foodways?
I’m a nice Jewish girl partnered with a cultural Catholic of Sicilian origin. The first time Easter occurred during Passover, my dietary needs and traditions took precedent. We had a lovely roast chicken (kosher, of course), and with the help of Jewish culinary guru Joan Nathan, some very tasty potato kugelettes. My workplace, satisfying in many ways, is less than hospitable to Jews, and my beloved does everything possible to lessen the alienation and calendar travails that often attend Jewish holidays. So chicken and kugel winning out over pasta and red sauce didn’t seem like much of a couple compromise. Eating well is his article of faith, and we certainly did that with a vengeance!
Yet, even as I licked my chops and packed a pesadik lunch for the next day, I found myself vaguely dissatisfied. I’m a feminist academic who studies difference for a living, and I try to practice what I teach. When my partner and I got together, conversion never entered our minds because the “two become one” version of marriage had never been our vision of coupledom. We have two different last names, three checkbooks (hers, his, and ours)—you get the picture. And while I believe that dominant groups need to acknowledge and accommodate to the needs and histories of those who are marginalized, I also strive for a world where cultural difference is not a zero sum game with winners and losers. Not managing that at a holiday table just felt wrong.
Fast forward a few years later when Easter and Passover once again coincided. I’d been chewing on menu ideas and stumbled upon a kosher for Passover recipe for blintzes using cake meal. Realizing that the blintz pancake is remarkably similar to the shell used for homemade manicotti (an Easter tradition in my partner’s family!), I caucused with my beloved. A flexible and adventurous cook, he immediately saw a way to tweak the recipe to get the right consistency for the shell batter (see below). And I immediately recognized that the traditional cheese filling and the homemade tomato sauce had no Passover-problematic ingredients. A delicious intercultural household tradition was born!
For decades now, these manicotti have graced our table whenever Easter and Passover overlap, as they do this year. And we sometimes make them during Passover week even when Easter is not on the horizon. We once brought these kosher for Passover manicotti to a lefty community potluck seder where vegetarian options and non-Jews abound. While members of the tribe who know me and my level of Jewish dietary knowledge ate with gusto (and asked for the recipe!), others steered clear of this untraditional offering. Although lactose intolerance could have been the reason, I suspect some assumed the dish was prepared by a well-intentioned but Jewishly-illiterate Gentile guest. While Jewish-illiteracy IS a problem, sometimes a leap of intercultural faith is in order. For me, the loving proof that Jewish difference can survive and flourish is in the manicotti.
Homemade Manicotti Shells
5/8 cup Passover cake meal
1 cup water
A bissl salt
Mix all ingredients together. Put a film of butter or Passover margarine on the bottom of a small frying pan and heat on medium. When pan is hot, pour a serving spoon of batter, thinly covering the bottom of the pan. When sides curl up, flip shell onto dish. Repeat.
For the filling, mix ricotta cheese, some coarsely grated mozzarella, one egg, some milk, one tablespoon sugar, and black pepper. Put about a tbsp. mixture in the middle of each shell and gently fold.
Cover baking dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce (homemade is best, but the food police won’t catch you if you use a jar of kosher for Passover “spaghetti” sauce). Arrange stuffed manicotti in a single layer, then cover with sauce, put aluminum foil over dish, and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and then bake for ten more minutes.
Helene Meyers, professor of English at Southwestern University, is the author of Identity Papers: Contemporary Narratives of American Jewishness. She blogs for Lilith Magazine.