Ellen Liberman


At Walter's Aquaviva, a sleek Providence, Rhode Island bistro, a handful of guests are extending the Passover season over braised lamb and fish -- traditional Jewish holiday fare, but with the Italian accents of garlic, saffron, and red wine.


Americans may associate Italy with Catholicism, but it also boasts Europe's oldest Jewish community.  According to food historian and Aquaviva chef Walter Potenza, when the Spanish Inquisition drove many news Jews north out of Sicily, it forever changed the way Italians eat.  For example, before the late 15th century, Italians avoided fruits or vegetables in the nightshade family, believing they were all poisonous; Jewish cooks taught them to savor eggplant and tomatoes, now quintessential Italian ingredients.


For 20 years, Walter has honored this confluence of ancient tastes and cultures with a special Passover menu offered for two or three nights during the eight-day festival.  This year's Passover celebration at Aquaviva will be April 12-13.  The following recipes have been adapted from Walter's menu:



                    Tomato and Matzo Soup

              Egg and Vegetable Tart with Leeks

                 Gratin of Snapper Florentine

                   Lamb Braised in Red Wine

              Strawberry Sabayon with Macaroons




(Tortino de vendure ed uova con porri)


    This is Walter's version of a Swiss chard tart

    that originated in the Italian port city of Genoa.


      6 large        eggs

      2              leeks, white parts only,

                       washed and julienned

      2 large        Swiss chard stalks, thick stem

                       removed, washed and julienned

                       (may substitute equal amount

                       of fresh spinach)

      4              asparagus spears, thinly sliced


        Pinch        saffron threads

        Pinch        ground cinnamon

      3 Tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil,

                       divided, plus extra for


      2 teaspoons    kosher or sea salt

      1 teaspoon     freshly ground black pepper

      4 Tablespoons  medium-ground matzo meal

      3 large        roasted peppers

      1 clove        garlic

                     garnish of fresh baby greens

                       or mesclun mix, toasted walnuts


Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 300 degress F.  In a medium mixing bowl, beat eggs, then add leeks, Swiss chard, asparagus, saffron, cinnamon, 2 Tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Mix well and set aside.


Brush the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan with olive oil; line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit.  Grease the top of the parchment paper.  Sprinkle an even layer of matzo meal onto the greased surface.  Bake 5 minutes.


Pour the egg-vegetable mixture into the pan and place in the oven.   Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  (A little wetness is fine -- the tart will continue to cook as it rests.)  Cool before serving.


Combine peppers, garlic, and 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and puree in a food processor or blender.  If the mixture appears too thick, add a Tablespoon or more of water to thin.


Cut the tart into wedges and place on serving plates.  Spoon the pepper-garlic puree over the top or on the side of each wedge and garnish with greens and walnuts.


Total time: 1 hour; active time: 15 minutes.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.





(Minestra di ponodori e azzime)


    To make this soup even more refined, pass the

    tomatoes through a food mill to remove the seeds

    before adding them to the pan.  Canned whole

    plum tomatoes are the best choice for this

    recipe, since they are packed at the height of

    ripeness and pre-peeled.


      6 cups     vegetable stock

      2 pounds   plum tomatoes, peeled

                   and chopped

      2 sheets   matzo, crumbled

      4 cloves   garlic, minced

      8          basil leaves

    1/4 cup      extra-virgin olive oil

                 kosher or sea salt and

                   freshly ground pepper,

                   to taste

                 garnish: chopped fresh basil,

                   extra-virgin olive oil


In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine stock, tomatoes, matzo, garlic, basil and olive oil; bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring often to crush the matzo into the stock.  Discard the basic leaves and season with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped basic and a drizzle of olive oil.

Total time: 1 hour; active time: 30 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings




(Gratina di pesce alla fiorentina)


      5 Tablespoons  olive oil, divided, plus

                       extra for greasing

      3 Tablespoons  finely ground matzo meal

                       (sold as "cake meal")

      2 cups         non-dairy milk

    1/2 cup          vegetable stock

    1/2 pound        fresh spinach, julienned

                     kosher or sea salt and white

                       pepper, to taste

                     freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

      1 sheet        matzo, coarsely crumbled

      4 8-ounce      snapper fillets (or other

                       firm white fish)


Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a medium sauce-pan over low heat, combine 3 Tablespoons olive oil and cake meal, stirring until a smooth paste forms.  Cook 3 minutes.  Whisk in non-dairy milk and vegetable stock, and raise heat to bring to a boil.  The sauce will thicken considerably.  Remove from heat; add spinach and blend well.  Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and set aside.


In a bowl, combine crumbled matzo and 2 Tablespoons olive oil.  Work the mixture with your fingers to form a semi-wet consistency.


Grease a casserole dish with oil.  Cover the bottom of the dish with 1/2 cup of sauce.  Place fish over the sauce and spoon remaining sauce over the fish.  Top with crumbled matzo.


Bake 20 minutes, until the fish breaks when a fork is inserted on the bottom and lifted.  Serve at once.


Total time: 40 minutes; active time: 15 minutes.

Yield: 4 servings





(Brasato d'agnello en vino roso)


    This hearty main course pairs lamb beautifully

    with roasted new potatoes.  To save yourself a

    step, have your butcher prepare the meat.


      3 pounds       boneless leg of lamb,

                       cut into 1-inch pieces

    1/2 cup          extra-virgin olive oil, divided

      1 sprig        fresh rosemary

      3 cloves       garlic, roughly chopped

      2 whole        bay leaves

      1 large        onion, thinly sliced

    1/2 cup          red wine

      2 cans         whole tomatoes (28-ounces each),

                       coarsely chopped

      2 Tablespoons  tomato paste

                     kosher or sea salt and freshly

                       ground black pepper, to taste

        Pinch        red pepper flakes


In a large bowl, combine lamb, 1/4 cup olive oil, rosemary, garlic, and bay leaves.  Place in refrigerator two hours or overnight.


In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add remaining olive oil.  Remove lamb from marinade (shake off excess) and sear in the hot pan to brown on all sides.  Do not crowd the pan; if necessary, work in batches.  Remove lamb to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.  Lower heat to medium and add onion; cook until softened.  Raise heat to medium-high, add wine, and use the liquid to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Add tomatoes and tomato paste and stir well.  Return lamb to the pan.


Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower temperature to simmer and cover the pan.  Cook 35 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so.  Remove lid; raise temperature to high and reduce liquid by half.  Season with salt and pepper and add a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Remove bay leaves before serving.


Total time: 3 1/2 hours; active time: 45 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings





(Zabaione di fragole e amaretti)


    The Marsala wine adds a richness and depth

    to the warm custard without overpowering it.


    1/4 cup          Marsala wine (or other sweet

                       fortified wine, such as port

                       or Madeira)

      5              egg yolks

      2              egg whites

      4 Tablespoons  sugar

      1 pint         fresh strawberries, sliced

      6              Italian macaroon cookies,

                       crumbled (such as Amaretti di

                       Saronno brand or KLP equivalent)

                     Garnish: ground cinnamon


Fill a medium saucepan one-third of the way with water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Place a large mixing bowl on top of the pan, being certain that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the simmering water.  Add Marsala wine to the bowl, then whisk in egg yolks and whites; incorporate well.  Whisk in sugar.  Continue whisking about 5 minutes, or until sauce thickens.  The sabayon is done when the mixture turns pale yellow and falls off the lifted whisk in ribbons.


Remove the pan from heat.  Arrange sliced strawberries on the bottom of four shallow serving bowls.  Pour warm sabayon over them and sprinkle crumbled macaroons over the top.  Finish with a light dusting of cinnamon and serve.


Total time: 45 minutes; active time: 35 minutes.

Yield: 4 servings.




source: Yankee Magazine / April 2006


        Walter's Aquaviva

        286 Atwells Avenue

        Providence, Rhode Island

        401 273-8664