I have always loved Easter Sunday since the days my family would set out at dawn to sunrise services in Memphis, where we’d watch the sun come up and begin the day with singing, renewal and sometimes chilling temperatures. We always wore our “Easter coats” in which we launched a day of family, food and egg hunts. Those were simpler days, it seems to me now.
Because of our early start, my mother had plenty of time to prepare the mid-day dinner of ham or stuffed chickens, sometimes attended by several relatives, whose children along with others from the neighborhood kept me busy all day. Children with no siblings love a crowd, and that crowd was me.
As time went on and I moved to New Orleans, Easter Sundays changed to crawfish boils, hotel buffets and other events. Being a Protestant with no available Saturday services, cooking the mid-day meal became a challenge of timing. Do you put the roast in before or after church? Who plans the children’s activities since they certainly can’t run loose on crime-ridden streets?
I think New Orleans’ casualness and abundance of crawfish are a perfect solution, but I also love a menu that’s simple, embodying the essence of renewal – spring lamb, new potatoes, fresh asparagus and local strawberries. To me, this menu marks the end of winter, the arrival of spring with new growth and new energy. The best part is that it can be prepared in little time, no matter how long you spend at church on Sunday morning.
Spring lamb is a dated term referring to the slaughtering schedule of years past. Fortunately, good lamb is available year-round, but tradition still keeps the springtime in mind when it comes to putting it on the menu. Similarly, Cajuns slaughtered pigs in the fall before refrigeration at day long festivities known as boucheries. All of the pig was used, some made into sausages and ham that was smoked and preserved for winter.
Lamb has Biblical ties to Easter and Passover. Ham also became an Easter favorite, probably because of the early ability to preserve it through the winter. And we don’t like to let go of history, especially in New Orleans.
8 cups strawberries
1/2 cup plus 4 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 pint whipping cream
1 pound whipped cream cheese, at room temperature
1 32-ounce pound cake, homemade or store-bought, plain or lemon-flavored
Rinse and dry strawberries. Remove stems, reserving several large berries with stems for garnish. Mash stemmed strawberries with a fork one time each, creating juice. In a bowl, mix strawberries, 1/2 cup sugar and lemon juice and marinate for 30 minutes.
Whip cream in electric mixer. When almost whipped, gradually add 4 Tablespoons sugar. Whip until stiff peaks form. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in whipped cream cheese by hand until mixed.
Cut cake into 1-inch squares.
In a trifle bowl or clear crystal bowl, layer half the cake, half the strawberries and half the whipped cream. Repeat and top with garnish berries.
Make this trifle a few hours ahead and keep refrigerated.
Serves a crowd
Grilled Lamb Chops
Lamb loin chops, 2 to 3 per person
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh rosemary, about 1 teaspoon per lamb chop
Two hours before cooking, rub lamb chops with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with all remaining ingredients except rosemary. Prepare a charcoal fire 30 minutes before cooking or heat a gas grill 5 minutes before cooking.
Meanwhile, chop rosemary leaves until almost minced. Set aside.
A half-hour before serving, place lamb chops on grill about 5 inches above hot coals or flames. Grill for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on heat, and turn. Sprinkle cooked side with a thin layer of rosemary, pressing it into the chop. Grill for 5 minutes and turn. Cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle second side with rosemary. Turn and grill 1 minute. Lamb chops are best when pink in the center.
Serve 2 to 3 chops per person or as many as suits your crowd; you might use extra rosemary sprigs to decorate a platter holding the chops.
2 pounds asparagus
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Good-quality Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1/2 cup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Snap off tough ends of asparagus. Rinse and dry. Grease a baking sheet with olive oil and roll asparagus in the oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice. A half-hour before serving, place in oven and roast for 25 minutes, turning once or twice.
When crisp-tender, remove from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan, rolling asparagus in cheese, and serve.
New Potatoes in Dill Cream Sauce
3 pounds small red potatoes
6 Tablespoons butter
5 Tablespoons flour
4 cups whole milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Peel and boil whole potatoes covered in water until done, about 20 minutes. Drain and place in serving bowl.
In a medium saucepan melt butter. Remove from heat and stir in flour until smooth. Gradually add milk, stirring, until all is added and mixture is smooth. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until sides begin to bubble. Remove from heat and add seasonings.
Pour over potatoes, mix and serve. Or, add potatoes to pot to keep warm until serving. If reheating, don’t bring to a boil.
Serves 6 to 8