When I was a little boy, Easter was a major holiday for my family. And it wasn't just the candy that magically appeared in the baskets and shiny grass nests we hid all over the house…
I was fascinated and moved by the Holy Week stories and the rituals of the church services. But I won't pretend food wasn't a, if not the, centerpiece. We were an Easter ham family... and though ham rarely figures in my cooking these days (except for prosciutto), we are still a ham-at-Easter household.
Another part of the Easter feast that I really miss is the Pascal Lamb Cake. Let me explain…
My father’s mother was the prioress for a community of cloistered nuns. Essentially she did all the talking to the outside world... since they couldn't. And one of the ways they thanked her every year was a delicious cake... lamb-shaped… covered in coconut.
And, since she spent Easter with us… !!!!!
Since neither of us works for baking nuns, dessert has slipped out of the equation... but the ham remains.
I don't use Coca-Cola.... or pineapples... or ginger-snap crumbs... or any of the other disturbing (to me) additions to ham. I simply buy a good quality city ham… one with as little added water as possible... and bake it according to the directions on the wrapper.
About 45 minutes before it’s done, I glaze it with some mustard mixed with brown sugar. There's always a green spring vegetable... this year asparagus simply steamed, or grilled.
And then... the potatoes. Here's where the splurge happens. Though a truly wonderful cook who taught me a lot, my mother did partake in the convenience foods of the day, including packaged, scalloped potatoes. Or the other version… potatoes au gratin.
Not surprisingly, I make my own. And they couldn't be simpler or more decadently delicious. Just thinly slice enough peeled potatoes to fit in whatever baking dish you're using… butter the dish… add a layer of potatoes… sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little flour… then keep repeating that layer until you finish the potatoes. Then pour in as much milk… half-and-half… or CREAM... as needed, to just barely reach the top of the potatoes.
Cover the dish with foil and bake in a 350° oven for about an hour or until as tender as you like. (I like a little bit of firmness in mine… so you may want to cook them a bit longer.)
Now… here's my variation that takes these over the top… On each layer, I add a hefty sprinkling of grated Gruyère cheese with a tiny pinch of nutmeg… And I take the foil off for the last 15 minutes to let the cheese brown. Just before you serve, shower the potatoes with snipped chives… the green is not only beautiful, but the delicate spring onion flavor helps to cut the richness of the potatoes. Believe me, this is not a dish for daily consumption, but every now and then...
PS. Yes, you can add cooked bacon, or grated onions, or whatever your family tradition calls for... but just once try these "plain".... You may forego embellishments from now on! And this is one of those times when using REAL Gruyère is the only way to go.
Have a wonderful Easter, everyone! Celebrate Spring, renewal, rebirth... And everyone you love. And cook something delicious!!!!
Have a wonderful Easter, everyone! Celebrate Spring, renewal, rebirth...
And everyone you love.
And cook something delicious!!!!