The movable feast of Easter

March 27, 2013 

People have been celebrating the defeat of winter and the rebirth of spring for a long time. Perhaps it is one of the oldest holidays.

In the year 325 the First Counsel of Nicaea decided that the Christian holiday of Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox. So our Easter holiday is a moveable feast, meaning it is not a fixed date on the calendar.

Many of the symbols of the holiday, such as rabbits and eggs are a signs of fertility and some think that our Easter egg also is a symbol of Jesus's empty tomb.

In years long past, eggs were not eaten during Lent and the eggs that were collected during that time were boiled to preserve them and were a prized food when Lent ended -- so our Easter egg had its humble beginnings.

Besides Easter eggs, hot cross buns, a sweet that also was passed down from the Anglo-Saxons are a popular food in some places.

Roasted lamb, a mainstay on Easter tables, comes to us from the Jewish Passover when the roasted sacrificial lamb was eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs on that holiday.

Our roasted ham doesn't have any religious significance, but is instead only a practicality; hams were once cured only in the fall and were ready to eat in the spring.

Whatever the origins, Easter is a fine holiday to get the family together and enjoy a special feast. This meal doesn't have

to break the bank to be good, although if your purse is full, lamb chops over a wood fire can be spectacular.

Eggs are quite affordable and can be enjoyed in many ways, just remember they are quite delicate and overcooking ruins them. A large ham can be expensive, but it also can make up several meals. Leftover roasted ham sandwiches can be a show stopper.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS, GRITS AND GREEN SALAD

2 lamb chops per person

3-4 large cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary

3 sprigs of rosemary

1-2 pinch Sea salt

Fresh ground black pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

Hickory, live oak or pecan wood for the fire

Combine the garlic, thyme, teaspoon of rosemary, black pepper and olive oil in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the chops and the marinade to a sealable plastic bag and refrigerate for at least one hour. Remove the chops from the mixture, shake off excess and allow to come to room temperature. Place the leftover marinade in a bowl and set aside. Build a fire with the wood and when it is at its hottest grill the chops for 2 minutes then turn and grill for 3 minutes more. As the chops are grilling dip the remaining rosemary sprigs in the marinade and baste carefully as the oil may cause the fire to flare up. When they are done remove from the fire and rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

GRITS AND SALAD

Prepare the grits according to package directions, replacing half of the suggested water with cream. When just a few minutes from being done add a pinch of red pepper flakes, 3/4 cup grated cheese (Gruyere or a sharp cheddar) and a tablespoon or so of chopped basil. Stir to incorporate and when the grits are done pour into oiled molds (small round ramekins). When firm remove the grit cakes from the mold and plate alongside the lamb chops. Garnish with a salad made of ripe cherry tomatoes, baby spinach and grated carrot.

EASTER FRITTATA

6 farm fresh eggs purchased at your local farmer's market

1 pie crust

1/4 cup grated Emmental cheese (or other good melting cheese)

1/2 cup chopped ham

2 cups uncooked fresh spinach leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

1 crushed clove of garlic.

2 large shrimp for garnish

Olive oil, butter as needed

Bake the pie crust according to package directions, remove and set aside, but do not turn the oven off. Add a little oil to a deep pot, add the garlic and sauté over medium heat until the oil is scented, remove and discard the garlic. Add the spinach and toss until welted, remove and set aside. Combine the eggs, cheese, ham and spinach, season to your taste and pour into the pie crust. Return to the oven and bake until firm. Perhaps 20 minutes. Quickly sauté the shrimp in a little butter and use as a garnish.

BAKED HAM SANDWICH

Ingredients for 1 sandwich

1, 2-inch square, 1/2-inch-thick slice ham

1 slice Swiss cheese

1 ring pineapple

Pistolette bun, sliced in half

1 diced clove garlic

1 pinch red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 large basil leaves, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

1 cup best quality mayonnaise

Sauté the garlic in olive oil until tender, allow the oil to cool, then add the lemon juice, basil leaves, red pepper flakes and mayonnaise to a blender and incorporate quickly. In the same pan you sautéed the garlic sear the pineapple rings until slightly browned, remove and set aside, then brown the ham in the same pan. Top the Pistolette with ham, pineapple and cheese. Bake at 325 until the cheese is melted, the garnish with the spicy mayonnaise.

If you dip the loaded Pistolette in an egg wash and sauté until browned you will have an upscale Monte Cristo sandwich.

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