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A Seder Meal That Celebrates Its Sources

Sea fish with spinach and green garlic. Photographs by Dan Peretz

Ohad Levy’s restaurant sits atop a ridge, above lush green slopes. Below, a narrow, dusty road stretches away past some low houses, olive and banana groves and a few scattered fish ponds. Then comes another road that stretches down to the sea. The restaurant, Oratorio, is situated next to a new hotel that was formerly a workers’ retreat designed by the late architect Yaakov Rechter in Zichron Ya’akov.

Each morning, Levy gathers plants that grow around him, on the ridge and below it, and leaves his signature on everything he cooks, always remaining faithful to his sources. When you dine at his table, you can feel how his food began to take shape long before it was served. As in art, it begins with the thought or the inspiration, and then evolves and grows and is trimmed and revised, so that only the final story reaches the public.

Levy’s Passover Dinner

We cooked the meal in the morning with the materials Levy brought with him. This is the same fish and the same shank bone, and the same pea pods and broad beans that our ancestors cooked in the spring, year in and year out. Levy just poured some white wine over them and made some modest adjustments, so they will be eaten with great delight on this day.

Sea Fish With Spinach and Green Garlic

Once, fish was not eaten on Passover, since a common technique used to preserve its freshness would have made the fish *chametz. But later the Sages approved eating fish not preserved in this way, so people started to keep carp thrashing in the bathtub until the eve of the holiday. Now, living along a coastline, we can easily make sure our fish is fresh, with supple flesh and shiny eyes.*

1 whole fish weighing 5-6 pounds
½ cup (120 ml) olive oil
2 pounds spinach
6 heads green garlic, with stalks
8-10 small young zucchini
1½ cups (360 ml) dry white wine
Sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

1) Ask the fishmonger to clean the belly of the fish and remove the scales. Preheat the oven to 475˚F. Rinse and dry the fish. Use a sharp knife to make slits on either side of the fish so the seasonings will penetrate. Select an attractive baking dish suitable for serving. Place the fish in the dish and season generously with salt and pepper; brush with olive oil.

2) Rinse the spinach well to remove all the sand and arrange it around and under the fish, along with the green garlic and zucchini. Sprinkle on some more salt and pepper and pour the white wine over the fish and vegetables.

3) Place the fish in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes; the spinach leaves will soften and shrink in the liquid. Spoon the liquid over the fish to moisten it well. Bake for another 10 minutes and then check to see if the fish is done: Insert a knife through the flesh up to the skeleton. If the fish separates easily from the bones, it is ready. If it still adheres to the bone, continue baking for up to another 10 minutes. The total cooking time will vary depending on the weight and shape of the fish and the heat of the oven, so make sure to check it several times while cooking to ensure that it doesn’t get overdone.

4) The fish is served directly to the table, so it’s best to put it in the oven just before the meal. If preparing it earlier in the afternoon, cook it for just 20 minutes and then remove it from the oven. Before the meal, baste the fish with the sauce and finish cooking for about 15 minutes, testing to see when it is ready.

Lamb With Spring Vegetables

The shank bone (zeroa) on the Seder plate symbolizes the strong hand and outstretched arm with which the Lord took us out of the Land of Egypt. In Eastern lands, the custom was to use a bone from a lamb or goat, while in Europe, it usually came from a chicken or goose. Whichever you choose, let us try to think of an arm outstretched in peace.

Shoulder of lamb, with the bone
½ cup (120 ml) olive oil
1 bottle (750 ml) dry white wine
1 quart vegetable stock
4-5 heads green garlic, stems included
6-8 Jerusalem artichokes
15-20 green broad bean (ful) pods
2 fennel bulbs, leaves included
4 artichokes
5 sprigs fresh hyssop (za’atar)
Sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

1) You can ask the butcher to separate the meat from the bone and then tie the meat around it, or leave the meat attached to the bone. Either way, the bone has an important role to play in the roasting process. Preheat the oven to 475˚ F. Season the meat well with salt and pepper and place in a broad pan that can comfortably contain it all. Brush the meat with the olive oil and pour the white wine and vegetable stock over it.

2) Arrange the garlic around the meat; peel the Jerusalem artichokes and add them to the pan. Scatter the broad bean pods in the pan; cut the fennel bulbs in half and arrange them next to the meat; trim the artichokes, cut lengthwise and place on top along with the hyssop sprigs.

3) Season with more salt and pepper, cover with baking paper and then a sheet of aluminum foil and place the pan in the preheated oven. Roast for 30 minutes, then lower heat to 325 degrees and continue roasting for three more hours. Then turn the heat back up to 475 degrees, remove the aluminum foil and baking paper, baste the meat and vegetables with the cooking liquid, and let the meat brown in the oven for another 30 minutes.

4) Remove from oven and let rest for about 10 minutes before slicing the meat.

Green Spring Salad in a Skillet

To this salad you could also add young fennel, snow peas and any other young spring vegetable you like. Start by sautéing the garlic and hyssop leaves in olive oil until the latter becomes very fragrant. Then add the vegetable stock and cook the young vegetables in it for just the briefest time. It will go great on your holiday table alongside a salad of fresh cherry tomatoes spiced with a little hot sauce, and a salad composed of fried onions, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and chopped scallions.

¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
8 garlic cloves
Leaves from 3 hyssop sprigs
½ cup (120 ml) vegetable stock or water
8 artichokes
Juice of 1 lemon
¾ cup shelled fresh peas
¾ cup shelled fresh green broad beans (ful)
1 stalk celery
12 sprigs parsley
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

1) In a wide skillet, heat the olive oil over a high flame. Add the whole garlic cloves and saute briefly while stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the hyssop leaves and let them char slightly. Pour in the stock or water and scrape the bottom of the pan with the wooden spoon.

2) Trim the artichokes and cut them into quarters. Add them to the skillet and simmer until the liquid is reduced a bit.

3) Add the lemon juice, peas and ful. Slice the celery and add. Stir a little, then chop the parsley and add it together with the lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, taste, and adjust seasonings as needed. Remove from the fire and serve warm.

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