March is a lovely, refreshing time of year – nature seems to be waking up around us as we get ready to welcome the Spring.
Easter is also just round the corner and you are probably thinking about special meals and treats for your family. I have a troubled history with Easter to be honest – the Czech tradition is that boys visit girls’ houses, recite a little Easter poem and whack the girls with a stick. We poor girls are then expected to reward this behaviour with chocolates and painted eggs!
Since growing out of this exercise, however, I have come to love what Easter represents (in both Christian and pre-Christian tradition); the concept of renewal. Unlike winter festivities, which take our minds off the cold and dark outside, Easter is a time to celebrate the changing weather and the fruit it bears (quite literally). Spend some time outdoors with the family, cook up some of the fabulous foods appearing and generally have a great time.
Try some of these seasonal foods:
- Oranges – a ‘detoxing’ juice to kick-start a metabolism still sluggish from the winter: juice four oranges, 1 cm of ginger root (peeled) and four sprigs of mint (whole)
- Mussels – try a simple, but delicious recipe (see below)
- 1kg of mussels, cleaned (discard the mussels that do not open when tapped, they are dead)
- 70g pancetta cubes
- 300ml dry white wine
- Small bunch of parsley (also in season and at it’s best), leaves removed and chopped, stalks finely sliced
- 1 onion, finely sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
Fry the pancetta cubes in a hot pot until golden brown. Turn the heat down and place the onions into the pot with a little salt. Fry until they are translucent and soft. Add garlic and the parsley stalks and fry for one minute. Turn the heat up until everything is sizzling. Pour the wine into the pan and let it bubble for a few seconds. Throw the mussels into the pan and cover with a lid. Shake the pot every now and then, but do not remove the lid. Check after 5 minutes (you want all the mussels to have opened – a few will always remain closed, discard these). Remove the mussels from the pot and arrange in a bowl, but keep the liquid and reduce by keeping it on the boil. You can add a dash of double cream for extra indulgence. Stir in the parsley leaves and then pour over the mussels. Serve immediately with baguette.
For a full Easter lunch menu, try these:
As a starter, why not try quail eggs? Richer and more flavoursome than chicken’s eggs, kids also tend to love them for their size. Pop a few room temperature eggs (so they don’t crack) into boiling water and lift out after two minutes. Peel carefully and serve on a bed of salad and with some edible flowers (if you can find some), and celery salt or spicy paprika mixed with some sea salt.
Celery salt goes extremely well with quail eggs – to make your own, pick all the leaves from celery, pop them into a moderately hot oven (170C) for 8 minutes, until crispy. Pound them in a pestle and mortar with flaked sea salt. By the time you are done mixing, the salt and celery will be finely ground.
Pistachio-Encrusted Rack of Lamb, Roasted Balsamic Tomatoes, Pomme and Spinach Puree and port Jus
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 1 onion, cubed
- 250ml port
- 250ml beef/ chicken stock
- Blackcurrant preserve
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a pan and fry the onion and thyme and fry until translucent
- Add the wine and boil until reduced by two thirds and add the stock
- Boil until syrupy, strain and season with salt, pepper and the preserve
- Half 200g of cherry tomatoes, pop into a roasting tray with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and season with salt and roast on 150C for 90 minutes
- For the lamb rack- mix 200g better, 2 garlic cloves, 250g pistachios, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon dried lavender in a blender and pat onto the skin of the lamb
- Roast on 200C for 35 minutes
- Boil 500g of potatoes in salted water until soft
- Drain them and mash
- Put the pan back on the hob and add butter and milk and season to taste, keep on low heat
- Stir raw spinach through the mash and cook out for a few minutes
- Serve on a warmed plate, mash in the middle of the plate, sliced lamb rack, arranged around with the tomatoes and then drizzle the jus around
This Czech cake, made in the shape of a lamb, is traditionally baked on a Green Thursday (or Maundy Thursday in the UK) and served on Easter Sunday. As a child I absolutely adored this ritual; watching my mum cook it, having the whole house filled with the most amazing smell, and desperately looking forward to having it on Sunday. To make it more fancy and luxurious, you could cover it in chocolate or a light icing. My mum used to decorate it by putting two cloves where the eyes would have been – it looked so cute!
- 500g plain flour
- 120g butter
- 120g sugar
- pinch salt
- 30g fresh yeast
- 500ml warm milk
- 4 egg yolks
- zest from half a lemon
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- butter to grease the form
- flour for lining the form
- Mix a small cupful of the milk and the yeast . Leave for a few minutes to go frothy
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C
- Beat the butter, sugar and yolks until pale and fluffy
- Add vanilla, lemon zest and salt.
- Beat in the frothy yeast mixture with the flour and as much milk to make a pliable dough. Knead this dough until smooth and glossy.
- Thoroughly grease the baking form, dust with the flour, tap the form to loosen any excess.
- Place in the dough in a cake tin, only half full (lamb shaped if you can find it) and allow to rise until it reaches the top of the form.
- Ideally, you want to get hold of a traditional ceramic form with a lid for ideal crispness!
- Bake for 40-45 minutes or until springy to the touch.