What is a pashtida, you may well ask. It’s the Israeli term for a noodle or egg casserole. Mac ‘n’ cheese, lasagne, quiche, and kugel are all pashtidot. The word derives from the Italian pasticcio and the Sephardic pastida, originally, crusted meat pies dating from medieval times. These homey casseroles perfectly suit my shelter-in-place mood for comfort food.
Dairy-based pashtidot are popular in Israel at Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah. Why are dairy foods traditional at this holiday that occurs during the May & June microseason? Because everything has a season, including milk, which is more plentiful after spring calving. I love that!
Snap peas, asparagus, and ricotta cheese, perfumed with lemon zest, are among my favorite late-spring foods, a refreshing departure from wintry foods and a bright prelude to summer. Right about now, I could use something pretty and lighthearted! You, too?
So, I put all of these thoughts, desires, and seasonal ingredients into a creamy-rich, easy-to-make pashtida for the first-ever virtual 10-day Great Big Jewish Food Festival to raise funds for those impacted by COVID-19–frontline workers, the hospitality industry, food insecure communities. My pals Liz Alpern and Jeffery Yoskowitz of the Gefilteria (part of an illustrious team of creators/presenters) invited me to create an Instagram recipe story for the event. Have I ever done such a thing? No, I have not. With the help of my young colleague, Sara, we put this together…remotely. A Quarantine Kitchen arts ‘n’ craft project I can’t resist deconstructing to share with you here.
Substitutions: Feel free to use all of one vegetable, or substitute 2 cups fresh or frozen English peas. Rough-chopped cauliflower or broccoli florets are also fine. Whole-milk dairy products work best; the fat prevents curdling during baking and, of course, yields a creamier finish. Whole-milk cottage cheese works well, too!
Make the cheese-y breadcrumbs first. In fact, make extra. They’re a terrific convenience food to keep in your freezer so you can effortlessly dress up simple meals. It’s a good way to use up stale bread. Panko’s great, if you have it.
Prep and blanche the vegetables. Shocking them with cold water and ice stops the cooking process and preserves bright color. Pro tip: Use same pot of water to cook pasta. The vegetable water adds flavor and there will be one less pot to wash.
While noodles are cooking, make the creamy part of the dish, using a bowl large enough to hold all ingredients. When everything is lusciously coated, zest 1 lemon over all and stir again. I use a microplane to get teeny pieces of zest throughout casserole. Pro tip: zest citrus over other ingredients to catch the spray of fragrant citrus oils.
You can assemble the casserole up to one day ahead and refrigerate. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly and edges are crisped, about 30 minutes (+ 10 minutes for cold casserole). Zest 2nd lemon over hot casserole for more citrus aroma. Pro-tip: use a 5-hole zester for long curls of zest to finish dish prettily. Yummmm.