The holiday of Shavuot, which starts Saturday at sundown, has a clear theme of eating dairy for secular Israelis. And while cheesecakes are always a good reason to celebrate, it is the pashtida, a crustless quiche, that take center stage in most Israeli households during the holiday.
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Pashtida, a Hebrew word that is likely Judeo-Spanish in origin, is a catch-all name for a family of casseroles. It can include crustless pies, usually with cooked vegetables such as zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli or spinach mixed with cheese and eggs; vegetable or cheese quiches; matzo-based pies for Passover; potato and noodle kugel; pasta-based casseroles and more.
The crustless quiches are the most popular, and Israeli cooks make them year round. Being easy and quick to prepare, they are perfect for casual entertaining and potlucks. Pashtidot consist of a mixture of chopped cooked vegetables in a custard made from eggs, a little flour, cottage cheese, quark (German style soft white cheese) or sour cream, and grated hard cheese or feta.
The dish can also be made parve, without dairy, to serve as a vegetarian side dish for a meat meal. But the love for pashtidot is truly revealed during Shavuot, when most holiday tables will include several, as the main course next to fresh summer salads.
The origin of the pashtida is probably in Medieval Spain, but it was made by Ashkenazi Jews as early as the 11th century; Medieval French Rabbi Rashi described it as a meat pie, with pigeon or duck wrapped in dough crusts. The Sephardi versions include the fritada (yes, similar to frittata) of eggs and vegetables, and the mina, a matzo-based pashtida. And while the Ashkenazi versions evolved into meatless noodle or potato kugel, in Israel these days, kugel is more likely to be called pashtida.
Eggplant quiche (pashtida)
A good rule to remember when choosing eggplants is that they should be light as a feather and dark as the night.
Serves 8. Makes one 8-by-12-inch casserole (20-by-30 centimeters).
1 yellow onion
2 tablespoons corn or olive oil, plus more for drizzling.
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 oz. grated Gruyere, Kashkaval or Pecorino cheese (even sharp cheddar will work)
3 oz. crumbled aged or soft goat cheese (or more of the grated Gruyere)
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino
For the crust
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup olive oil
Peel eggplant zebra-style and dice into 1-inch cubes. Layer in a colander over a large bowl, and liberally sprinkle each layer with kosher salt. Set aside for 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. Wash with running water, and pat dry with paper towel. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Grease an 8-by-12-inch (20-by-30 centimeter) casserole dish with oil.
Dice onion into 1/4 inch cubes. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat and saute onion until golden, about 4 minutes.
Add eggplant, and mix and saute for another 10 minutes until eggplant is golden and soft. Stir occasionally and reduce heat to medium if eggplant starts to burn.
While eggplant is cooking, prepare the crust. Put flour, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor and mix briefly. Add olive oil and egg and mix until a dough is formed. Transfer to greased casserole dish and use hands to spread dough evenly over the bottom. Prick all over with a fork, and set aside.
When eggplant is cooked, transfer to a large bowl and let cool slightly for 5 minutes. Add cream, the Gruyere and goat cheese, flour, pepper and a teaspoon of kosher salt and mix. Add the two eggs and mix again. Pour eggplant mixture over the dough in the casserole dish. Drizzle with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and top with grated Parmesan.
Bake for 50 minutes until the center of the pashtida is set. Set oven to broil for 1-2 minutes to brown the top, and remove from oven. Let pashtida rest for 10 minutes and serve.
Cauliflower quiche (pashtida)
Serves 8-10. Makes one 10-by-10-inch casserole (25-by-25 centimeters).
3 lbs. (1.4 kg) cauliflower florets (2 medium cauliflowers)
2 medium russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for sprinkling
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-by-10-inch (25-by-25-centimeter) casserole dish.
Put 3 quarts water and 3 tablespoons salt in a large pot, and bring to boil over high heat. Add cauliflower florets and diced potato, return to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Drain vegetables in a colander, transfer to a large bowl and mash with a potato masher.
Mix heavy cream, ricotta, parmesan and mustard into mashed cauliflower. Mix together baking powder and flour, add to the cauliflower and mix well. Then add the eggs, black pepper and 2 teaspoons salt. Mix well and pour into a casserole dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan.
Bake for 55-60 minutes until center is set. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.