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A Passover Pleasure: Matzo Pizza



During Passover, Jews move culinary mountains with matzo: cheesy lasagna with layers of the unleavened bread instead of noodles; peanut and caramel brittle; homemade pasta; and even pizza.

It’s one of 10-year-old Hudson Greenstein’s favorite foods. During Passover two years ago, he was craving pizza when he and his father stopped by one of his favorite neighborhood restaurants, Nick’s Pizza & Ice Cream in Armonk, N.Y., to pick up a salad for his mother.

That’s where he got the idea to sell matzo pizza. Last year, he organized a pop-up, Yalla Matzah Pizza, at the restaurant, making the pizzas with Nick’s sauce, ingredients and oven to make it crispier and replicate a thin-crust pizza better than anything he could have made in his home oven. Hudson sauced and topped more than 400 pizzas on Streit’s matzos. Demand was so great that he has started a second pop-up for Passover at Frankie’s Pizza & Restaurant in Merrick, N.Y.

“I was nervous but was excited to show if off to my friends,” he said of that first year slinging pizzas. “It was a big difference because it’s in a pizza oven. It tastes more like pizza.”

Matzo is a staple during Passover, which celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. They left so quickly that there was no time for their bread to rise, which is why crisp, unleavened matzo is so popular during Passover.

Most people buy store-bought matzo, like that made by Streit’s, a family-owned company founded on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century. The business makes more than three million boxes of matzo for Passover.

Bakers at its factory in Orangeburg, N.Y., start making matzo for Passover beginning in October, under rabbinical supervision to ensure that the bread is mixed and baked in a scant 18 minutes, so it does not ferment, said Aaron Gross, a fifth-generation owner of Streit’s.

Passover lasts about a week, and matzo can last even longer than that, so creative ways to use it have long been coveted.

“Matzo is a very nice, neutral base that you can really do a lot of cool things with,” said Mr. Gross, whose cousin Michele Streit Heilbrun wrote a cookbook on that very topic, “Matzo: 35 Recipes for Passover and All Year Long.”

Ancient matzo wasn’t as crackerlike as it is today. It was likely similar to a pita, said Jordan Rosenblum, a religious studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “There’s a 2,000-year history of putting stuff on matzo and eating it,” he said.

Not everyone has joined in, he said. Hasidic Jews are reluctant to put anything that might be liquid on the matzo, to prevent it from fermenting even a second longer than it should.

Silvia Nacamulli, the author of “Jewish Flavours of Italy: A Family Cookbook,” has made matzo pizza with her family since she was a child in Rome. She recalls spreading her mozzarella cheese on the flatbread in the shape of a smily face. Her brother would top his with olives. She now makes it for her daughter at home in London in the style of a margherita pizza.

Others say matzo pizza as we know it has taken on American identity.

“It’s become this kind of quintessential American Jewish recipe,” said Jake Cohen, the author of “I Could Nosh: Classic Jew-ish Recipes Revamped for Every Day.” He grew up eating matzo pizza as a child in Forest Hills, Queens. His mother used jarred tomato sauce and Polly-O mozzarella.

Now, he has elevated the pizza at his family gatherings with homemade sauce, good quality cheese, basil, jalapeños and honey.

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