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An Easter Family Feast

by Lou Seibert Pappas

For an Easter family holiday dinner or any festive spring guest dinner, this menu takes advantage of the bounty of the season. Plus many of the dishes can be made in advance. Start off with goat cheese and tomato pesto appetizers and enjoy a first course of chilled cucumber soup. Follow with leg of lamb, a bright orange carrot-potato whip, and a pastry-wrapped spinach log. If time is short, omit the latter and substitute freshly shelled new peas. A sprightly green salad featuring arugula and endive with toasted nuts makes a refreshing interlude. Conclude with a sumptuous strawberry tart and whipped cream for dessert.

For beverages, you can commence with champagne, such as Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut, or a dry white wine that can also accompany the first course. With the lamb, a pinot noir or merlot is a superb choice. For candidates, consider a Chilean Donosco 1997 Merlot, a Benton Lane 1996 Pinot Noir, a Rex Hill Willamette Valley 1995 Pinot Noir, or an Acacia Carneros 1996 Pinot Noir.

Crudities with Goat Cheese with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
Makes 16 servings.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto:
1 cup (2 oz.) sun-dried tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
2 tablespoons chopped garlic chives or green onion tops
1/4 cup packed fresh basil
2 tablespoons pistachios or pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
24 thin slices baguette
Olive oil
8 ounce log soft mild goat cheese

For the pesto, simmer the tomatoes in 1/3 cup water for 3 minutes; then cool to room temperature. In a food processor, place the tomatoes, garlic, parsley, garlic chives, basil, and nuts. Process until finely minced. Add the oil and cheese and process until mixed in.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet, brush with oil, and toast in a 325°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Place on a platter or in a basket. Place the cheese on a plate and let warm to room temperature. Microwave the pesto about 1 minute to warm through and spoon on the cheese. Let guests spread their own appetizer on toasted baguette slices.

Cold Cucumber Soup with Dill

Makes 8 servings.

1 large English cucumber
2 tablespoons butter
3 green onions, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill
3 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons cold water
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup light-style sour cream
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons chopped chives

Peel the cucumbers, halve, scrape out any extra-large seeds, and dice. Puree in a blender or food processor. In a large saucepot, melt the butter, add the onions, and sauté until limp. Add the cucumber puree, stock, vinegar, and dill. Bring to a boil and stir in the cornstarch paste. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Remove from heat and let cool. Puree in a blender or food processor with yogurt and sour cream and season with pepper. Chill thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in large-bowled wine goblets or soup bowls, with chives sprinkle on top.

Roast Lamb with Garlic Nuggets

Makes about 8 to 10 servings.

4 to 5-pound leg of lamb, boned, rolled and tied, if desired
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 large heads garlic
2 teaspoons butter or olive oil
3 lemons
Few sprigs rosemary

Season the lamb with salt and pepper and rub oregano over the cut surfaces. Insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part. Place on a rack in a roasting pan and roast in a 425°F oven for 25 minutes or until browned. Reduce the temperature to 325°F and continue roasting until the meat thermometer registers 140°F for medium rare meat, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours for bone-in meat. Place on a carving board and let rest for 15 minutes for the juices to set up.

Meanwhile, separate the garlic heads into cloves but do not peel. Place in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil and let simmer 5 minutes. Drain and repeat this process twice. Drain thoroughly and let cool. Slip off the skins. Sauté the garlic cloves in butter for 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Place in a little bowl beside the roast lamb. Cut lemons in half zigzag style and arrange on the board with rosemary springs. Carve meat and accompany each serving with 2 or 3 browned garlic cloves.

Carrot and Potato Puree
Makes 8 servings.

8 large carrots, peeled and diced
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons whipped cream or milk, or as needed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

In a large saucepan cook the carrots and potatoes in boiling salted water, covered, until very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. Place in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process with butter, cream, or milk, and seasonings. If necessary, add a little more cream or milk to achieve the desired fluffy consistency.

Filo-Wrapped Spinach Roulade
Makes 8 servings.

4 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 large bunches spinach, trimmed and finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
8 ounces feta cheese, diced
2 eggs, beaten
5 sheets filo dough

Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and sauté the yellow and green onions until limp. Add the spinach and heat just until wilted; let cool and drain off any moisture. Place in a large bowl the spinach and onions, parsley, salt, pepper, tarragon, cheese, and eggs, and mix lightly. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Lay out 1 sheet of filo (keep the remaining sheets covered with plastic wrap so they don't dry out) and brush lightly with melted butter. Cover with a second sheet, butter lightly, and repeat the layering with remaining sheets, lightly buttering each one. Spoon the spinach mixture in a log shape along a long side, leaving a 1-inch strip uncovered along the edge and at the sides. Fold in 1-inch sides of filo and roll up the dough like a jelly roll, encasing the spinach. Place seam side down on a lightly buttered baking pan. Lightly brush the top of the filo roll with melted butter. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, or until crisp and browned. Cut into 8 slices and serve warm.

Toasted Hazelnut and Endive Salad
Makes 8 servings.

1 bunch arugula
1 head Belgian endive, separated into leaves and sliced
1 head butter lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
6 tablespoons olive or canola oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 shallots, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 cup chopped toasted, skinned hazelnuts or walnuts

Place in a salad bowl the arugula, endive, and lettuce. Stir or whisk together
the oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, shallots or green onions, and tarragon. Pour over the greens and mix lightly. Scatter over the nuts.

Strawberry Marzipan Tart
Makes 10 servings.

11-inch prebaked fluted tart shell
1/2 cup almond paste
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 egg white
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 quart strawberries, hulled, or 3 cups strawberries, hulled, and 2 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup pureed apricot preserves
Sweetened whipped cream

Prepare the pastry shell. Beat together until blended the almond paste, powdered sugar, butter, egg white, and almond extract. Spread over the cooled pastry shell. Just before serving, arrange the berries in a pretty design on the filling, or encircle the berries with a ring of kiwi. Heat the apricot puree until it melts and drizzle over the fruit. Chill. If desired, serve with sweetened whipped cream.

Tart shell. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place in a mixing bowl 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup (4 ounces) butter, and 2 tablespoons powdered sugar. Mix until crumbly. Pat into the bottom and on the sides of a fluted 11-inch flan pan. Refrigerate 15 minutes to firm up, or freeze 5 minutes. Bake in the oven for 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack before filling. Makes one 11-inch shell.

Note. When berries are out of season, fresh pineapple, diced, makes a refreshing stand-in.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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