Food For Thought: An Easter Feast

Easter is the true definition of a movable feast. A four-day celebration that moves though the calendar bringing with it celebration, traditions and the sharing of culture and religion. 

Whether it has a religious significance for us or is just a time that family and friends share a meal, Easter is a break that is steeped in tradition for us all. Most of us purchase a hot cross bun from our local bakery without even a thought to its significance and many of us shy away from meat on Good Friday without too much thought of how many generations have done the same. It is truly fascinating how such symbolic acts and iconic foods become part of our norm at this time of year.
 
I always shudder as I walk into the supermarket in January and the Christmas stock is on sale to your right and hot cross buns and chocolate bunnies are stacked to your left - consumerism at its best! I refuse to eat a hot cross bun outside of the four day break, the smell of them heating in the oven and then the taste of melted butter warming the subtle spices, is a memory for me, that holds no other place than Easter. The hot cross bun was said to be officially named in 1733 and a version sold hot in the streets of London long before that. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the sale of sweet/spiced buns was banned in London and instead reserved for celebrations such as Good Friday, Christmas and funerals hence the reason we now eat them at Easter.

One of the world’s strongest images of Easter has to be the gothic processions that line the streets of Spain, a symbolic mark of respect to their belief and a dramatic event that is celebrated with an equally as dramatic feast for all. Italy also just as rich in culture, celebrate with traditional dishes that have symbolic meaning. The last day of lent, Easter Saturday is met with all that has been longed for eggs, lamb and bread! Eggs represent life, fertility and rejuvenation, the death of Jesus is represented with the sacrifice of the lamb and bread being the ‘bread of life’.
 
Maybe for some it’s an excuse for an extra long weekend but for many it represents much more. Others like myself are somewhere in between but still celebrate with family and friends alike. A weekend of reflection, celebration but most of all indulge in few traditions no one can refuse – a hot cross bun!

 

Torta di riso

6 cups full fat milk

Zest of one lemon

½ cup of sugar

2 vanilla beans – seeds removed

1 cinnamon stick

2 cups vialone nano rice

2 tablespoons honey

4 eggs – separated

1 teaspoon salt

30g almond meal

Butter for greasing
 

Candied lemons

1 cup caster sugar

1 cup water

Juice of one lemon

3 lemons sliced thinly

Bring the milk, lemon zest, sugar, cinnamon stick, vanilla seeds and pod to the boil.

Add the vialone rice and leave to simmer until all the milk as disappeared and the rice in just tender.

Leave too cool to room temperature; remove the cinnamon stick and vanilla pods.

Add the honey, egg yolks and salt.

In a separate bowl beat the eggs whites until a soft peak.

Gently fold through the rice mixture ensuring not to knock the air out of the whites.

Grease a 28cm round cake tin with butter and dust with almond meal, gently pour the rice mixture into the tin.

Bake at180 degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes or until just set in the centre.

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing and cooling on a wire rack.

For the candied lemons – bring the sugar, water and lemon juice to the boil and leave to simmer for 5 minutes.

Place the sliced lemons in a pot of cold water and bring to the boil slowly – this will remove some of the bitterness from the lemons.

Place the lemons in the sugar syrup and leave to steep for 30 minutes before placing over the top of the torta.

Serve at room temperature.

 

Lamb ragu

500g lamb neck – diced into 1cm chunks

1 onion - diced

1 carrot - diced

2 celery sticks - diced

2 cloves garlic

1 sprig rosemary

4 sprigs thyme

1 bay leaf

1 punnet cherry tomatoes (halved)

250ml white wine

125ml xxtra virgin olive oil

500ml chicken stock

10 fresh pasta lasagna sheets  

1/2 cup pine nuts - toasted

1 cup parsley – chopped

1/2 zest lemon

Heat olive oil in a heavy based frying pan and brown the lamb on all sides, remove from the pan.

Pour off any excess oil and sauté onion, carrot, celery, garlic and herbs until tender.

Add tomatoes, browned lamb and white wine. Bring the wine to the boil and reduce to half.

Add the chicken stock and leave to simmer for one hour or until the lamb is tender and the sauce is thick and reduced. Check to see if you need salt and or pepper!

Bring a large pot of water to the boil with a generous pinch of sea salt.

Cut the fresh lasagna sheets with a crimped ravioli cutter into triangular hanky shapes.

Blanch in the boiling water for 2 minutes or until just cooked depending on the thickness of your pasta.

Fold the cooked pasta through the ragu straight from the cooking water. Use a ladle of the pasta water to loosen the sauce if desired.

Serve on a large platter garnished with toasted pine buts, parsley and lemon zest.

 

Easter spinach pies

2 large bunches of spinach

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 white onion diced

1 garlic clove

250g fresh ricotta

150g artichoke hearts in brine – chopped finely

100g grated parmesan

A pich of grated mace or nutmeg

2 eggs

Sourcream shortcrust pastry

Blanch the spinach in a large pot of salty water.

Refresh in a bowl of cold water with ice, remove and leave to drain in a colander. Chop into a small dice.  

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the onion and garlic until cooked. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

In a large bowl mix the chopped spinach, ricotta, artichokes, Parmesan, mace, eggs and the chopped spinach until well combined. Leave to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Line the bottom of you desired baking tray (you can use mini muffin tins or a large traditional pie dish) with the pastry.

Spoon the spinach mixture evenly over the base and cover with a lid of pastry.

Bake in a 180-degree oven for 20 minutes or until golden the pastry is cooked through. (Cooking time will depend on the size of your pie dish).

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Photos: Jonathan van der Knaap

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