In Your Easter Basket

A special holiday meal is a wonderful way to celebrate spring.

Photography courtesy of Paul Lally

Easter has always been symbolic of renewal, a time to begin again. Days are longer; the air is fresh and crisp; the landscape brightens with hyacinths and daffodils that awake from beneath their winter blanket to delight us with their cheery color; and there is a definite spring in our step.

Whether you celebrate Easter or Passover, or are just happy to have Old Man Winter say farewell, this is a time to gather family and friends at the table to share in a spirit of renewal. For me, nothing connects family and friends more than sharing in the planning and preparation of a holiday meal.

I like to set a festive table with pastel colors and beautiful spring flowers. And I want to choose a menu that is easy and elegant. Roast spring lamb perfumed with fresh rosemary and garlic, and served with new potatoes, is a great favorite. But if you are not a lamb fan, consider a turkey or glazed ham for your main offering. Fresh asparagus is in season and makes a great accompaniment to lamb. Purple and red beets served with crisp carrots make for a colorful salad. For dessert, chocolate in some guise is a must—either a light and airy mousse, or a delicious dense and fudgy chocolate tart with walnut cream sauce will do just fine.

And what would the day be without those Easter baskets! Even as my children reached young adulthood, they still looked forward to their baskets. I tried to be imaginative, giving something that defined each personality and his or her interests. My husband got chocolate bunnies pushing wheelbarrows because he is a gardener. He got packages of seeds, gummy worms and a new plant mister. My son, the basketball fan and exercise lover, got chocolate basketballs, jelly beans and running gear. My daughter, the world traveler, got a chocolate globe, chocolate cream eggs and a travel journal. Me? I did not get a basket. I just help myself to theirs … when they are not looking. Some things are better left unnoticed.

Easter signals a lifting of our spirits. We feel happier, lighter and more content, and we can brush off the heaviness of winter’s coat and look forward to nature’s promise of bright and long sunny days. 

Spring Beet and Carrot Salad

Spring Beet and Carrot Salad  
Serves 6–8

This is a jewel of a salad in more ways then one. The vibrant colors of the beets, carrots and tender beet tops sparkle on any dinner table.

Be sure to make the salad early in the day and allow the flavors to blend at room temperature for several hours before serving.

3 large red beets with tops attached (about 11/4 pounds)
11/2 cups beet tops, torn into pieces
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 large carrots, scraped and cut into matchstick pieces
1/2 cup minced fresh mint tablespoons minced fresh chives

1. Wash the beets well to remove tough surface dirt. Cut off the beet tops, leaving about 3 inches of stem attached to each beet, and reserve. Place the beets in a large saucepan and cover them with cold water. Boil the beets until a knife is easily inserted all the way into the beets. Depending on the size of the beets, they will cook in about 30–35 minutes. Drain the beets and set aside to cool.

2. Remove the beet leaves from the stems. Discard the stems. Tear the beet leaves into bite-size pieces and set aside.

3. In a bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, celery salt and sugar.
Set the dressing aside.

4. When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel the skin, cut off the remaining stems and discard them. Cut the beets into thick, round slices, and cut each slice into 1/4-inch-wide strips.

5. Place the beet strips in a large, rectangular dish. Gently mix in the carrots, beet leaves, mint and chives. Pour the dressing over the beet mixture and toss gently to coat the salad well. Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and allow the salad to stand at room temperature for several hours before serving.

Roast Lamb Roman Style

Roast Lamb Roman Style
Serves 8

Milk-fed lamb not more than six months old gives the best flavor.

4 pound leg of lamb
3 cloves garlic, slivered
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves  
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
11/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine

1. Wipe the meat dry with paper towels. With a small knife, make slits about 1-inch deep all over the meat and insert the slivers of garlic and rosemary.

2. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, salt and pepper, and mix well with a fork. Rub the mixture all over the lamb, coating it well. Place the meat in a deep dish, cover it and marinate in the refrigerator for 2–3 hours.

3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan and add the wine to the pan. Roast for 1–1½ hours or until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the leg registers an internal temperature of 135°F–140°F for medium rare or 160°F for medium. Baste the meat every 15 minutes with the pan juices.

4. Transfer the roast to a cutting board and let it cool slightly. Carve into pieces, arrange on a platter and pour the pan juices over the meat. Serve immediately.

Notes: To make a gravy for the roast, skim off the top fat from the pan drippings and place the pan over two stove-top burners. Over medium heat, stir in 1 tablespoon of flour and 1½ cups of chicken broth, and stir to make a smooth sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and serve on the side.

Mint jelly and roasted new potatoes are perfect to serve with the lamb.

Fudgy Chocolate Cake with Walnut Cream Sauce

Fudgy Chocolate Cake with Walnut Cream Sauce
Makes one 9-inch cake

For special occasions, I turn to this wonderful fudgy and dense chocolate cake with a smooth and dreamy cream and walnut sauce.

2 cups walnut halves
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
3 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon plus a pinch of salt, divided
Zest of 1 large orange
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or orange liquor, divided
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup heavy cream
Orange slices, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter a 9-inch-by-11/2-inch round baking dish. Line the dish with a circle of parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan and lightly butter the paper. Set aside.

2. Place the walnuts in a medium-sized sauté pan and, over low heat, stir them until they are fragrant. Do not let them burn. Cool and transfer 11/3 cups of the nuts to a food processor and process until coarsely ground. Set aside; reserve remaining nuts.

3. Melt 1 stick of butter. Stir in the chocolate, and mix until smooth and well blended. Set aside.

4. Beat the eggs and 1/2 cup sugar in a medium bowl with a hand-held mixer until the mixture thickens. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt, the orange zest, and 1 tablespoon of the vanilla or orange liquor. Stir in the ground walnuts, then stir in the chocolate and pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

5. Bake for 30–35 minutes or until a cake skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Do not over-bake the cake; it should remain moist. Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes.

6. Run a butter knife along the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake and invert the pan onto a cooling rack. Remove and discard the parchment paper. Invert the cake and place it on a cake plate.

7. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for 1 minute, making sure that the paste is smooth and well blended. Slowly pour in the cream, and stir in 3 tablespoons of sugar and a pinch of salt. Cook the mixture over medium heat until the sauce is smooth and has thickened.
Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the remaining walnuts and 1 teaspoon of vanilla or orange liquor.

8. To serve, cut the cake into wedges and pour some of the sauce over the top. Garnish with orange slices.

Categories: Food & Recipes