Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Easter Menu

The date of Easter was always a controversy in the early church and  after the split between the Roman and Byzantine churches, it became more complicated by the fact that there were two different calendars being used. That controversy continues today resulting (often) in separate dates for Easter depending on whether you are Greek Christian or Western Christian. In the Ambrosino family, it wasn't a real problem while my parents were still alive. FW and I simply alternated whose parents we would have dinner with every year even after the "Separation"- ours, not the churches. After our moms' deaths, by some unilateral decision, Easter became the province of FW. After CW came along, I began inviting my kids the week after Easter and that's how it has stayed. My grand kids have become accustomed to two Easters  to go along with the two Christmases they celebrate.They may start their own sect in the future!

While Christmas Eve is never traditionally a meat day, Easter always is, but I make sure there are always plenty of meatless dishes for CW to choose from. This year, I decided on a boneless leg of lamb as the meat course with shells stuffed with three cheeses and spinach as the pasta course. Vegetables included grilled eggplant, asparagus with parmigiana reggiano and green beans with tomatoes for the salad. I made a pizza grana for dessert and each guest took home a small loaf of Easter bread. 

 So here are those Easter breads which came out quite nicely thanks to the recipe I found on The Italian Dish, a terrific blog, by the way.The "pizza grana" pictured above is from a recipe by Mario Batali in his cookbook, Molto Italiano. It combines fresh ricotta (not the kind in plastic tubs) sugar, cinnamon, orange liquor, eggs and farro, a cereal grown in Italy and is traditionally served at Easter. We are fortunate in New York that such specialties can still be found in Italian neighborhoods, but this year I thought I'd try making them myself

 The first course of stuffed shells, I made with this (ridiculously) high priced pasta I found in Eataly.
 I certainly don't recommend doing your shopping there, but I would recommend you visit there at least once just to get a taste of what Italians are accustomed to in food quality.

The pasta is stuffed with a combination of grated parmigiana, grated mozzarella and ricotta. I added a package of cooked chopped spinach which I squeezed dry before adding, some nutmeg and an egg. I baked the stuffed shells over a layer of sauce for 30 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Sorry, no pictures- 
the kitchen got a little busy.

We cut slits all over the boneless leg of lamb and stuffed, fresh rosemary, prosciutto and slivers of garlic into them. Then we bathe it in olive oil, poured some red wine in the pan and roasted it for 30 minutes at 425 degrees then lowered the oven to 375 degrees and cooked it till an instant read thermometer read 140 degrees which is rather well done for lamb (the way we weird Italians prefer it).

The only thing CW couldn't (wouldn't) partake of.

While the lamb and shells were in tho oven,I made a salad of green beans and grape tomatoes in a balsamic vinaigrette

I also made some grilled Italian eggplant which involves cutting the eggplant thinly, then sprinkling it with coarse salt. I laid the pieces out on a rack which I placed over a sheet pan.

Next, I used another sheet pan over the salted eggplant and weighted it down for an hour to release any bitter juices. After that, I rinsed the salt and dried the eggplant.

Here's the finished eggplant grilled over the stove.(This is a wonderful treat on an outdoor charcoal grill)

We also served a dish of asparagus which I blanched then shocked in ice water. I finished them in a skillet with butter and parmigiana reggiano!

It all went very smoothly and we even had energy after dinner to walk to the neighborhood playground for a little fun. I hope everyone's Easter was as sweet.


  1. Wow Joe! Sounds like an incredible feast. I wish I could taste some of those dishes. I love those Easter breads you made, what a nice touch. Glad you had a nice day with your family.

  2. It seems you had a lovely time and enjoyed yummy dishes!Greetings from Greece,Joe!

  3. Thank you Rachel and Lenia. I love to cook elaborate meals like this. Unfortunately, I don't often get the chance.What my family needs is more holidays!

  4. When I was a kid, your parents would bring pizza gran to our house every Easter when they came to visit. I miss it, but the few times I've tried to make it just didn't turn out right. (I used a recipe from Dom Delouise's "Eat This, It'll Make You Feel Better" cookbook.

  5. I know that cook book (Your mom gave it to me) and have seen his recipe but I thought Mario Batali's was better (though more elaborate). If you like, I'll copy it for you.