Are you tired of holiday dinners that take a week to prepare? You know the kind. By the time your guests arrive, you’re so stressed out that you can hardly think straight. And by the time dinner is served, you’re exhausted and ready for bed.
It doesn’t have to be that way. No, I’m not suggesting you make reservations. After all, there’s nothing like being home for the holidays. Why not declare a potluck and share the work? Or simplify? Or do a little bit of both?
I fell in love with Italian cooking when I was just a little kid. At the time, the only thing I knew about Italian food was spaghetti, veal parmesan, chicken cacciatore and pizza. I thought Italian cooking was big kettles of tomato sauce that simmered away for hours. By the time I was in high school or maybe it was college, I figured out that there was a bit more to the story. That’s when I discovered veal saltimbocca, tiramisu and a few other interesting dishes. Several years later I visited Italy and realized there was a whole lot more.
So now you’re asking, “What does Italian cooking have to do with making Easter easy?” Everything. Italian cooking is all about fresh ingredients, simply and beautifully prepared. Simple dishes exquisitely cooked with fresh ingredients; that’s the solution to your Easter dilemma.
New Hampshire is a long way from sunny Italy. Here the ground is covered with snow and frozen mud. The first little yellow crocuses may have popped out of the ground during the recent heat wave but it is still too early to find much fresh, local produce. I don’t care. For Easter, I’ll be scouring the market for fresh ingredients. Even if the strawberries and asparagus were grown in California or Florida, they are a welcome sign that spring and summer are coming.
Here are a few suggestions for an elegant, easy and delicious Easter:
To Start: As soon as one of your guests asks. “Can I bring anything?” Without even the slightest hesitation, answer, “Yes! Thank you! An appetizer would be great.”
The Main Course: Three simple dishes. Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb, Roasted Asparagus with Walnuts and Lemon Roasted Potatoes.
You can and should marinate the lamb ahead of time. Let the lamb marinate in the refrigerator overnight and then hand the grilling off to your spouse, brother-in-law, uncle, father or a willing friend.
The asparagus and potatoes take minutes to prep and not much longer to cook. And if someone wanders into the kitchen offering to help, accept. While the grill is heating up, pop the potatoes in the oven. Once the lamb is off the grill and resting, throw the asparagus in the oven. If you are like me, you will need two timers, one for the potatoes, the other for the asparagus. The only way I can juggle cooking, chatting and laughing at the same time is to use a timer or two or three.
Sweet Finale: Wash and slice some ripe, red strawberries. If you like, toss them in a tablespoon or two of Grand Marnier or Cointreau. If you must, add a little honey or sugar. Serve the berries with vanilla ice cream. It’s a holiday so don’t skimp on the ice cream; buy the good stuff. And one final, tip: decorate your table with chocolate bunnies. They’re great to nibble on with your strawberries! Again, buy the good stuff but take a good, long walk to offset the indulgence.
That’s it, that’s all, except to say relax, eat, laugh, be merry … and bon appétit!
Grilled lamb with a classic red wine marinade is perfect for an Easter crowd of family and friends. Enjoy!
Juice and zest of 1 orange
4 cloves garlic
1 shallot, quartered
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups dry red wine
4-to-5 pounds trimmed, boned and butter-flied lamb
1 bay lea
- Combine the orange juice and zest, garlic, shallot, rosemary, thyme, mustard, honey, salt, pepper and about 1/2 cup wine in a blender. Process to combine and finely chop the herbs, garlic and shallot. Add the rest of the wine and process to combine.
- Put the lamb in a large, heavy-duty, plastic, re-sealable bag. Add the marinade and bay leaf; seal the bag, pressing out excess air. Marinate the lamb in the refrigerator, turning every few hours, for at least 4 hours or overnight. Longer is better.
- Men like to grill so find an able-bodied male or two or three. Put him or them in charge of the grill and cooking the lamb. Whether you are using charcoal or gas, tell him/them that you want a medium hot fire.
- Remove the lamb from the marinade and pass it off to your grill master(s). Let them grill the lamb, turning it once or twice until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat registers at 130 degrees, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. Slice the lamb and serve.
Lemon Roasted Potatoes
The lemon brightens up the potatoes and makes them a little special. Definitely more spring-like! Enjoy!
2-2 1/2 pounds red skin potatoes, washed dried and quartered
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
Juice of 1 freshly squeezed lemon
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the potatoes in a metal roasting pan large enough to fit them in a single layer. Add the chicken stock, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes to coat.
- Roast, uncovered, until fork-tender and brown on the edges, about 45 minutes. Turn the potatoes halfway through for even browning; add a little water if all the liquid has been absorbed before they are cooked through and golden brown.
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Feel free to visit my other, cleverly named blog, Susan Nye’s Other Blog, or website www.susannye.com. You can find more than 200 recipes, links to magazine articles and lots more. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2010