An Easter Lunch: How To Make More Time For Prosecco
So unbelievably, despite the fact that it's been snowing and colder than a nun's conundrum here in Yorkshire, Easter is almost upon us. At this point, can I say that in order to find an expression that would suitably express quite how freezing it has been, I consulted the Urban Dictionary who advised this was a far lesser offensive term than the original one. Even I have my boundaries. Anyway, nun conundrums aside, suffice to say it's been pretty damned cold. The daffodils outside our house on the other side of the A166 keep popping up for air and then popping back down again as winds colder than Siberia have whipped through our village. I'm always completely poorly prepared for weather of this sort, which is ridiculous seeing as I've been living in the UK for most of my life and am well aware of seasonal discrepancies. What's more, as I write this, the forecasters are predicting yet another snow bombardment over the Bank Holiday weekend. Madness.
Easter is traditionally a family time. Years ago, when the children were very little, we introduced my Kerman family tradition of mini egg hunting in the garden early on Easter Sunday morning. When I say early, I'm talking about when they woke up, which could be anywhere between 4.30 am and 7.00 am if they fancied a lie in. I've always felt sorry for our neighbours back in those days who were awoken before dawn to shouts of 'it's mine, get off it!' before they'd even had a cup of tea. What this tradition meant was that the Easter Bunny had to hide the eggs in unexpected and inspiring places in the garden the night before, ready for the egg hunt. From the very first year of commencing this custom, we realised that we'd made a terrible error.
The night before is, of course, a Saturday. The times that I've forced Joe into the garden in rain and hail to delicately place mini eggs on fence posts whilst under the influence of five gin and tonics and a bottle of Vina Sol are countless. This also meant that his egg hiding locations were slightly skewed and it wasn't uncommon to find Creme Eggs in the borders as late as six months after the egg hunt date. As the children got older, we made an executive decision that the Easter Bunny possessed powers that enabled him to enter the house and hide the eggs in the living room. This was much more acceptable from a Saturday night point of view and involved far less thought. This was all fine until the kids decided that they were scared of the Easter Bunny and refused to go to sleep for fear of a ten foot rabbit resembling Frank from Donny Darko teleporting himself into the lounge.
In our family, I'm sorry to say that the concept of Easter is far more chocolate than Church. This isn't because I didn't have any religious input into my upbringing. We lived directly opposite the St Andrews United Reform Church and every Sunday morning, my parents would hoist us out of bed and send us yawning across the road for Sunday School so that they could have an extra two hours in bed. Before I knew it, I was attending Concorse (the equivalent of Senior Sunday School) and Ichthus (this involved A LOT of Bible reading). I had no idea how this had happened. From my parents utilising a free and easy childcare option to my siblings and myself being versed in high evangelism, by the time I reached my mid teens I realised that my faith lay mostly in The Case Is Altered on Eastcote High Street and I waved goodbye to Ichthus with not a backward glance.
On the plus side, my parents managed many years of lie in's which is probably why my Mum still looks so good at the age of 73. Any religious belief that remained within me post this time quickly dissipated when my Dad died unexpectedly of cancer at the ridiculous age of 61 and I was advised by a well meaning friend that 'God needed him more than we did'. Game over. I like to think that if there was, in fact, any sort of spiritual afterlife, my Dad would be looking down from above having a lie in, a cup of tea and quite possibly a Benson & Hedges Gold in retaliation.
Anyway, very excitingly my sister, Annabel, and her family are visiting our house from Singapore for the first time in three years and my plans for al fresco dining (possibly a little adventurous for March seeing as I live in Yorkshire) have been scuppered thanks to the inclement weather. My sister has three children under the age of ten, so including my Mum there will be a grand total of eleven of us on Easter Sunday so planning is required. Anyone who has children will be well aware that there is no joy in sitting at a dining table with the younger members of the family. Anyone who says that they prefer to eat with their kids is, quite frankly, lying through their teeth. Until they reach their teens, you may as well be sitting at the table with Road Runner as unless they are fully equipped with an iPad or your mobile phone, they'll be itching to get down from the moment they're seated.
From my experience with three children in a large group eating style environment, static buffet is the best option. This means that they will only pick what they want to eat and you won't be distracted by their lack of vegetable choosing. Personally, when I'm doing a social lunch, I want to chat, enjoy the food I've spent time preparing and have a glass of wine. I don't want to be coercing my kids to eat six carrot batons and a broccoli floret because Mumsnet says they should be. Life is far too short for such unnecessary distractions.
So what will I be cooking this year for our extended family gathering? Anyone who has been on our full day workshops will know that I'm a huge fan of Middle Eastern cuisine. Aside from the fact that it uses loads of spices and herbs which makes it far tastier than a normal roast, it's also mainly served at room temperature which is perfect for allowing you plenty of time to relax and chat rather than standing over a stove. Completely logical. My sister is pescatarian and there's plenty of options within this style of cooking that suit her too. Best of all, my friend Pandora has given me a huge organic leg of lamb that came from one of her very own lambs. Luckily, Pandora isn't coming for lunch as she's completely incapable of eating her own food after raising them in cardboard boxes and hand feeding them milk bottles.
Anyway, here's my perfect Easter Day menu. I don't like to be traditional and this is a combination of recipes that I've used at least a dozen times. This menu feeds eight people easily with some left over. All of these recipes are from the book Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (available via Amazon) and all can be prepared in advance so there's no stress involved on the day. Which means that you can sit back and open the Prosecco.
And to nibble whilst you wait? This hummus recipe is all mine. Whack two tins of drained chickpeas or butter beans into the food processor, add three big tablespoons of tahini, two cloves of garlic, two teaspoons of ground cumin, a tablespoon of lemon juice, half a teaspoon of salt and pepper and a pinch of paprika. Drizzle oil in whilst the motor is going until it reaches the right consistency. Serve with toasted pitta and vegetables whilst your guests are waiting for the main event. Yum.
Large leg of lamb (approx 3kg), scored
2 teaspoon black peppercorns,
Half teaspoon of cardamon pods
Half teaspoon of fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 star anise
Half a cinnamon stick
Half a grated nutmeg
Quarter of a teaspoon of ground ginger
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon of sumac
25g fresh ginger grated, 3 garlic cloves crushed, 40g chopped coriander, stems and leaves, 60 ml lemon juice, 60ml groundnut oil
Put the first eight spice ingredients in a pan and dry roast for a minute or two. Add nutmeg, ginger and paprika, toss for a few seconds then transfer to a spice grinder. Process to a powder. Transfer to a medium bowl and add all remaining ingredients, apart from the lamb. Place lamb in a large roasting dish and rub marinade into lamb. Chill overnight. In the morning, preheat oven to 150 degrees (fan). Put the lamb in a large roasting pan into the oven fatty side up and roast for about 4.5 hours. After 30 minutes, add a cup of boiling water to the pan and baste every hour or so. Add more water if necessary, making sure it doesn't dry out. For the last three hours, cover the lamb with foil to prevent spices from burning. Remove from oven when done and leave to rest for ten minutes before carving. Serve with pitta bread, chopped onion, chopped parsley, fresh cucumber, fresh tomato and sumac. Make a paste for the pittas by mixing together 120g chopped tinned tomatoes, 20g tomato paste, 20g harissa, one tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper. Serve it all together. Delish.
2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 red onion, thinly sliced
200g pitted Medjool dates, sliced sideways
60g unsalted butter
4 small pittas, torn roughly into small pieces
150g chopped unsalted almonds
4 teaspoons of sumac
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
300g baby spinach leaves
4 tablespoons lemon juice
Put the vinegar, red onion and dates into a small bowl with a pinch of salt and mix well. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, drain residual vinegar and discard. Meanwhile, heat the butter and a tablespoon of olive oil and fry the pitta and almonds on a medium heat for 4-6 minutes until golden brown. Remove and set aside to cool, mixing in the sumac, chilli flakes and a large pinch of salt. When you are ready to serve, mix the spinach leaves with the pitta mix in a large bowl. Add dates and red onion mix, a tablespoon of olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Taste and serve. You can pull all this together last minute.
8 sweet potatoes, cut into half and then into three
5 tablespoon olive oil
Balsamic glaze (you can buy this in the supermarket ready made)
Large bunch of spring onions, sliced on the angle
2 red chilli, thinly sliced
8 fresh figs cut into quarters
150g goats cheese, crumbled
Preheat oven at 220 degrees (fan). Mix the potatoes with five tablespoons of olive oil, salt and black pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet and cook skin side down for about 30 minutes until soft but not mushy. Once cool, arrange on a serving platter (I use long slate tiles from Topps Tiles). Heat the remaining oil in a small pan and fry the spring onions and chilli for 4-5 minutes, stirring, then spoon over the sweet potatoes. Dot the figs around the wedges and drizzle over the balsamic glaze. Serve at room temperature with the crumbled cheese. This is the most impressive of salads and created with the minimum effort.
Walnut & Fruit Crumble Cream (slightly bastardised recipe for quickness)
2 boxes of frozen summer fruits
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
80g wholemeal flour
80g plain flour
100g unsalted butter, cut into 2cm cubes and chilled
100g soft brown sugar
200g chopped walnuts
300g double cream
200g Greek yoghurt
200g mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1 ground star anise
Put the frozen fruits into a heavy pan, add a dash of water and the caster sugar and boil until thickened. Set aside to cool. Mix the flours, butter, brown sugar and walnuts with your fingers to make a crumble mixture (I also use my food processor for this), spread on a baking tray and cook at 170 degrees (fan) for 15 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside to cool and then crumble. For the cream, whisk the final ingredients in a large mixing bowl (it shouldn't take more than 30 seconds as it's already quite thick). To assemble, spoon in layers, either in a large glass bowl or in individual glass bowls. Start with cream, then compote, then crumble, then repeat, finishing with a sprinkle of crumble. Chill for a few hours before serving.
I love cooking and trying out new recipes, but I'm particularly keen on ones that make my life easier and leave plenty of time to enjoy the company of my guests. After all, it's not often that we have a family get together so when we do, I don't want to be slaving away in the kitchen over steaming pans and baking trays (my personal worst nightmare as I never clean them) whilst everyone else is having fun. The Easter break is a brilliant excuse to spend time together and relax and Ottolenghi has totally got the food side of it nailed. Happy Easter and enjoy!