The Winemaker-Chef

The Winemaker-Chef

Passover recipes from Jewish winemakers.

Being a good winemaker requires many skills, but more importantly, it requires passion and a good palate — two items that every good chef also possesses. Not surprising, many winemakers are also amateur, and in some cases professional, chefs. So The Jewish Week decided to find out how three Jewish winemakers like to celebrate Passover, and get a few recipes from them.

Lewis Pasco, the owner/winemaker for the soon to be released Pasco Project #1 Bordeaux Blend (Galilee, Israel, $27), has had a varied career. After dropping out of Columbia, to work as a prep cook in New York, Pasco quickly worked his way up in kitchens on the East and West coasts. “At 25, I actually had my picture on the cover of the magazine of the Sunday [San Francisco] Chronicle Examiner as a chef,” says Pasco. “I was becoming pretty famous in the Bay area, but I began to get bored by it [being a chef] because it’s not very intellectually challenging.”

So Pasco went back to school, first to University of California-Berkeley, where he got a bachelor’s degree in botany, and then to University of California-Davis, where he got a degree in viticulture and enology. Since then, Pasco has worked as a winemaker at a number of wineries in both California and Israel — including Tishbi and Recanati, where he was the founding winemaker. After a nearly five-year absence from Israel, in 2012 Pasco returned to Israel to make what has become known as the Pasco Project wines, the first of which will be released in the U.S. later this month.

Pasco says that he learned when working at a chef at an Italian Trattoria in Berkeley that “people appreciate simplicity” in cooking, a philosophy that embodied in his recipe for roasted lamb shoulder. Pasco shared a lamb recipe with The Jewish Week because it reminds him of Passover during his childhood. “In my family it was always a leg of lamb [at Passover]. What else on the table might vary, but we always had a leg of lamb.”

Brown in bag “roasted” boneless lamb shoulders with mushrooms and Jerusalem artichokes

Serves 8-10.


For the marinade

• 6 tbs. minced fresh “fines herbs” –Italian (flat leaf) parsley, tarragon leaves, and chives.

• 5-10 sprigs of fresh thyme

• 6 tbs. finely chopped shallots

• 4 tbs. finely chopped carrots

• 4 tbs. finely chopped celery leaves

• 2 heaping tbs. Chinese 5-spice blend

• 10-20 twists of fresh ground black pepper (depends on the size of the peppermill and your taste for black pepper!)

• 1 cup of rich oaky Chardonnay.

• 3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil (preferably made from varietal Arbequina olives, which make a very fruity and elegantly fresh scented oil)

For the roast

• 2 de-boned shoulders of lamb, trimmed well of most fat, untied. These should weight 4-5 lbs total.

• One or two turkey size oven roasting bags

• 12 Jerusalem artichoke pieces peeled and trimmed clean, each the size of a big fat thumb. (If you can’t get Jerusalem artichokes, substitute half fresh small peeled and quartered turnips (3) and 2 medium peeled and quartered rutabagas.

• 2 packages (dry pints, about 10-12 oz. weight each) very tight and fresh button mushrooms, preferably the brown skinned “crimini” type. True button mushrooms will be no more than 1.5 inches in diameter. If you cannot get all buttons, but rather have a mix of small buttons to medium sized mushrooms, you should halve or even quarter the larger ones to make all the mushrooms and pieces about the same size.

• 8-12 baby cippoline onions (they are sweet and rather disc shaped, with typically a very thin skin when fresh) peeled and roots removed.

• 1 lemon, juiced

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together in a large stainless steel, glass or ceramic bowl, then dredge the splayed open debone lamb shoulders in this marinade, turning the meat over several times to make sure bits of the herbs and spices are well distributed over the lamb’s inner and outer surfaces, then pack the lamb tightly in the bowl or in a covered plastic container just large enough to fit both shoulders and the marinade. Leave the meat in the marinade, refrigerated, for at least 12 hours, up to 24 hours.

Take the marinating meat out of the refrigerator about two hours before beginning to roast it, and make sure your oven has 15 minutes to pre-heat to a 400°F temperature. After the mushrooms have been prepared (see below), you should tie the deboned lamb shoulders into globe shaped or cylindrical shaped pieces with butcher’s twine, packing as much of the chopped vegetables and herbs from the marinade into the center of the tied shoulders as possible.

The mushrooms should be rapidly sautéed in about 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil just to the point before they start seriously turning color (i.e., sauté them until they have leached out their interior moisture and it’s been re-absorbed or boiled off.) This should take about 10-15 minutes with frequent agitation over a high flame. Just after the mushrooms start releasing their water, add the juice of one medium lemon to the sauté pan; it will keep them a nice color rather than turning a dull gray, and the acidity of the lemon is a welcome relief to the wine, mushroom juices, and lamb drippings that will accumulate in the oven bag during roasting.

Once the mushroom pre-cooking is done (they will cook plenty more in the bag itself) you can assemble the oven bag. If the bag is large enough it will accommodate both deboned shoulders and their marinade, along with the mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes (or substituted root vegetables) and cippoline onions. If the bag(s) are single roasting/frying chicken size, you might need 2 bags – each containing one lamb shoulder and half the total of cooked and uncooked vegetables. Close the bags tightly with a small piece of thick wire twisted onto itself 2-3 times. Put the sacks in a 400°F oven for 10-15 minutes, then lower the temp to 375 or 350, depending on how much coloring has taken place inside the bag in that short time (so far).

Keep an eye on the lamb every 20 minutes or so, turning the whole bag as necessary. As it approaches “done-ness” both the lamb, the vegetables within, and the broth should become a rich brown color. When done, the lamb will be meltingly tender to the touch. Total cooking time should be between an hour and a half and two hours.

You can thicken the sauce from the juices within the bag with a bit of potato starch blended into cold water or wine, or just serve as is “au jus.” If there isn’t much braising juice left by the end of the roasting, you can supplement it with good quality beef broth or demi-galce.

Serve with the 2012 Pasco Project #1.

Amichai Luria is the winemaker of the Shiloh winery, which is located in Israel’s Judean hills. The American-born Luria, who moved to Israel at age 4, started his career as a contractor who made wine as a hobby. However, says Luria, “When you do something as a hobby, you take it to the extreme … and I turned my hobby [of winemaking] into a profession.” In 2005 Luria, was tapped by Mayer Chomer, a Mexican-born Jewish entrepreneur, to become the winemaker of his fledging winery.

Wine is not the only hobby that Luria has taken to an extreme. “To be a frum Jew is practically to live around food all the time … every holiday, every celebration, every Shabbat is around food,” says Luria. “And I like cooking because [unlike winemaking or construction] it’s almost instant satisfaction. … You don’t have to wait a couple of months or a couple of years to enjoy it.”

In the weeks before Passover, Luria begins his preparation for the holiday by baking his own matzahs in a matzah bakery that Luria and a neighbor built several years ago. He also arranges to have a live sheep procured in case the Temple is rebuilt, so that he will be able to bring the paschal sacrifice. “I also make sure that I have very good wine for the four glasses, a different wine for each glass, and another wine for the meal itself.”

Upper (Top) Blade Roast

Serves 4-6


• A upper blade roast (this cut is part of the shoulder. It has a relatively low fat content and there’s a connective tissue running through its center. Ask your butcher for the whole cut of meat, which should weigh around two to three pounds; It is located adjacent to the center of the shoulder clod, under the seven or paddle bone.)

• 2 morrow bones

• Chopped celery

• Chopped artichoke hearts

• 1 bay leaf

• 1 finger of fresh ginger, peeled (don’t use powdered ginger)

• Balsamic vinegar

• Olive oil

• Salt to taste

• 2 bottles of Shiloh Legend or Shiloh Secret Reserve Shiraz — one to cook with and one to drink

Rinse the roast with cold water and pat dry. Then brush a thin layer of balsamic vinegar all over the meat.

In a heavy pot or Dutch oven, which is large enough to contain the entire roast, heat up a thick layer of olive oil, and sauté the roast for five minutes. Add the bones and enough wine to cover the lower half of the roast. Bring to a simmer and add the celery, artichoke hearts, bay leaf, and ginger then cover and simmer for 90 minutes. Taste, and add salt if necessary.

The best thing to do is to put the pot in the refrigerator overnight and the next day to slice then broil and brown in the oven before serving.

Serve with the same wine you cooked with.

Ernie Weir, the owner/winemaker for Hagafen cellars, started making kosher wines in Napa Valley in 1979, at time when for most American Jews the choice in kosher wine was between Manischewitz and Mogan David. Weir says that his desire to make kosher wine dates back to his childhood in the 1960s when he was bothered by the fact that wine-loving relatives felt the need to bring quality non-kosher wines to the family Passover seder. He said to himself, “This is absurd, why can’t we have that product [quality wine and kosher wine] all wrapped up in one.’”

In 1973 Weir moved to the Napa Valley to learn about growing grapes, and five years later he decided to make his own wine. And so a kosher wine, Hagafen, was born. Hagafen currently makes approximately 8,000 cases of wine each year, much of which is sold at the winery’s tasting room, which has become a regular stop for Napa Valley wine tourists. “Most of the people who come to us have no idea that they are coming to a winery that is any different than any other winery,” Weir says, “and many leave without even knowing the wine is kosher. … We are just part and parcel of the tapestry of the Napa Valley ”

When it comes to Passover Weir points out, “I’m intermarried — I married an Israeli of Persian origin, so it [the food] got more interesting.” Ernie, and his wife Irit, always make a beef and herb stew on Passover, which has been passed down for generations in Irit’s family. Irit considers the stew comfort food, and Ernie says it reminds him of the flanken he used to have on Passover as a child. (Please note that as this dish contains beans and rice, it is problematic for those who follow the Ashkenazi custom during Passover.)

Khoresht Gormeh Sabzi (Persian fresh herb stew)

Serves 10-12


• 1 large white onion

• 1 cup red kidney beans

• 1 cup white cannellini beans

• 1 cup pinto beans

• 3 bunches of organic parsley

• 3 bunches of organic cilantro

• 1 bunch of green onions

• 1 handful of organic spinach leaves

• 2-3 lbs grass fed stewing beef, cubed

• 3 tsp turmeric powder

• 6 medium dried Persian lime

• salt (or soy sauce) and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 2-3 cups Basmati rice in a large volume of salted, boiling water

• Saffron powder

In a Dutch oven, brown the meat in the olive oil just long enough to sear all sides of the cubes (about 20 minutes) and add turmeric toward the end of the searing. Meanwhile, cook beans in boiling water for 30 minutes, then rinse them in cold water.

Sauté onion with meat until onion becomes translucent, add salt and pepper to taste. Add whole dried Persian limes (these will be discarded after cooking) and the partially cooked beans to the Dutch oven.

Soak the green in a large bowl of water to clean all dust, then drain, de-stem and finely chop. (Do not use a food processor, as chopping with a knife will better retain the aroma of the herbs.) Cut greens onions, discarding the lower white area, and add the tops to the herb mixture.

Add 10-12 cups boiling water to the Dutch oven, then add the herbs and additional boiling water as necessary to just cover the greens.

Add 1/4 cup soy sauce (optional): This ingredient is not part of Persian cooking but instead of using chicken consommé or chicken broth I find the soy to add a healthy and tasty balance.

Cover the pot and cook the mixture on the stove for 30 minutes on medium heat, and then transfer to a 350°F oven for three hours. Don’t forget to remove the limes before serving.

Serve the stew with Chelow, (saffron steamed plain basmati rice). Recipe follows:

Cook the rice in the boiling water with a pinch of salt and tablespoon of olive oil for 10 minutes or until the rice is slightly soft but not fully cooked. Then drain. Add a small amount of olive oil to the same pot with a little water and saffron powder, and when hot, empty and fry a thin layer of rice to create a crust for two minutes (be careful not to burn the rice), then add the balance of the partially cooked rice, with 1/4-1/2 cup of water. Lower the heat to simmer and cover the rice with a clean kitchen towel (in order to allow for the steam to escape) and cook for 20 minutes.

When ready to serve take a big flat plate, cover the pot with it, and turn over. What you should see is a crusted saffron layer on top of white rice.

Another simpler way is to cook the basmati rice is to boil it for ten minutes in salted water, drain, add a little olive oil to the pot and return the rice. Add 1/4 cup of water and cover with a towel and lid to simmer for 20 minutes. Then in a small cup, dissolve a pinch of saffron in hot water and pour over the center of the rice.

This Khoresht is served on Shabbat and on holidays. It’s considered comfort food. It’s best served with Pinot Noir or Syrah. In particular, Weir recommends Prix Vineyards’ 2011 Reserve Pinot Noir or Prix Vineyards’ 2005 Reserve Syrah. ✦

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