Change things up this year for Easter dinner

Published 11:59 pm Friday, April 10, 2009

People generally do a ham or a leg of lamb for Easter. I have a confession to make. Last year I told you I was going to do a leg of lamb but I found it so expensive that I backed out. This year things are still tight for most of us, but I decided I could do lamb chops (no visitors coming so I don’t need so much meat) and it would not be as expensive. Any meat or fish wrapped in pastry looks elegant. You do not have to make your own puff pastry. You can buy it at any store. This along with some nice spring vegetables is a wonderful Easter feast. Dessert should be simple but something with berries to welcome the new season.

This is my menu for this Easter, and I am sticking with it this year. (I have already purchased the lamb.)

Lamb and mint are a traditional pair. Mint pesto served in place of the expected mint sauce is a refreshing change.

Lamb en Croûte with Mint Pesto

Serves 6

Mint Pesto

1 cup fresh mint leaves

1 garlic clove

¼ cup olive oil

½ teaspoon , salt or to taste

12 loin chops, 1 inch thick (I did not buy so many)

1 (17-ounce) package frozen puff pastry, defrosted

1 egg yolk, beaten

fresh mint, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

To make the pesto, place the mint, garlic, oil and salt in the bowl of a food processor and puree.

Cut the lamb tenderloins from the bones and trim all fat. (Save the bones and meat scraps for soup.)

Roll out the puff pastry into a rectangle 1/8-inch thick. Trim the edges so they are straight, and reserve the scraps.

Cut the pastry into 12 rectangles, each large enough to enclose a lamb medallion.

Place 1 piece of lamb at the bottom half of each rectangle and top with a heaping tablespoon of pesto.

Fold dough over to enclose the lamb, and crimp the edges tightly.

Cut out 24 mint-leaf shapes from the scraps of dough. Affix 2 “leaves” with beaten egg to the top of each dough package.

Brush each package with beaten egg and place on a baking sheet.

Bake until the meat is done and the pastry is golden brown, about 10 minutes— about 10 minutes for rare meat, 15 minutes for medium rare. If you want your meat well done, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees after 5 minutes and cook for 15 minutes more.

Garnish with mint leaves.

Asparagus with Horseradish Butter

This horseradish adds a kick to the asparagus. Halving the stalks saves time in the oven.

2 bunches asparagus (about 2 lb), trimmed and halved lengthwise

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 ½ Tbsp unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ Tbsp drained bottled horseradish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with rack in middle. Toss asparagus with oil and ¼ tsp each of salt and pepper in a 4-sided sheet pan. Roast until just tender, about 10 minutes. Mash together butter, horseradish, and 1/8 tsp salt. Toss asparagus with horseradish butter.

Golden Potatoes with Caper Brown Butter Crumbs

Serves 8

3 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, halved, and sliced ¼ inch thick

1 stick unsalted butter

¼ cup drained capers, chopped

2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (preferable from a baguette)

Put a 4-sided sheet pan in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cover potatoes with 2 inches water in a 5-6 qt pot and add 1 Tbsp salt. Simmer until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes well.

While potatoes simmer, heat butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, swirling pan occasionally, until browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in capers. Keep warm, covered.

Toss potatoes with 3 Tbsp caper butter, then spread out in hot sheet pan. Stir remaining caper butter into bread crumbs and scatter over potatoes. Roast, turning potatoes once or twice, until potatoes are tender and crumbs are golden about 20 minutes. Season with salt.

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Port Glaze

Here ripe strawberries are the central attraction. I bought mine at a local farmer’s market. I have set out some Earliglow berries this spring and hope to have my own berries next year. You can buy the mascarpone cheese in the cheese section of the grocery store. It is a sweet Italian cheese.

For tart shell:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

3 Tbsp granulated sugar

Rounded ¼ tsp salt

7 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

1 large egg yolk

½ tsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp fresh lemon juice

3 Tbsp cold water

For filling:

1 ½ lb strawberries (about 1 ½ qt), trimmed and halved lengthwise

1/3 cup granulated sugar

¾ cup ruby Port

1 lb. mascarpone (about 2 cups)

¼ cup confectioners sugar

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

½ tsp grated lemon zest

¾ tsp pure vanilla extract

Equipment: a 10-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom; pie weights or dried beans

Make tart shell: Blend together flour, sugar, salt and butter in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Beat together yolk, vanilla, lemon juice, and water with a fork, then drizzle over flour mixture and stir with a fork (or pulse) until mixture comes together.

Gently knead with floured hands on a lightly floured surface until a dough forms, then gently knead 4 or 5 times. Press into a 5-inch disk. Place in center of tart pan and cover with plastic wrap. Using your fingers and bottom of a flat-bottomed measuring cup, spread and push dough to evenly cover bottom and side of pan. Prick bottom of tart shell all over with a fork and freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375° F with rack in middle. Line tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake until side is set and edge is pale golden all over. Carefully remove foil and weights and continue to bake until shell is deep golden brown all over, about 20 minutes more. Cool in pan, about 45 minutes.

Make filling while tart shell cools:

Stir together strawberries and granulated sugar in a bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Strain in a sieve set over a small saucepan, reserving berries. Add Port to liquid in saucepan and boil until reduced to about ¼ cup, 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk together mascarpone, confectioners sugar, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until stiff.

Assemble tart:

Spread mascarpone mixture evenly in cooled tart shell, then top with strawberries. Drizzle Port glaze all over tart.

Tart shell can be made 1 day ahead and kept at room temperature.

Happy Easter!