One might think the Easter meal should rhyme with veal. Instead the choice is ham or lamb.
Hearts are light - if not with religious joy, with pleasure at the coming of spring - and appetites are honed. There's no need to provide a groaning board, however. Thanksgiving and the chilly gloom of late fall are distant memories. An ideal Easter feast, to my mind, begins with fresh flowers on the table, and a springlike aperitif: kir or even champagne. (For hard liquorited, it may be rushing things to serve mint juleps, but whiskey sours are always appropriate.)
There are sound historic reasons for our fondness for ham and lamb, though neither is seasonal these days. If you plan on ham for this special occasion, seek out one with character from a specialty store or the Farm Women's Market in Bethesda. Our choice this year, however, is lamb.
One advantage of roasting a leg of lamb is that it virtually cooks itself. Slow roasting does the trick. With the oven already at work, it's sensible to cook vegetables such as potatoes and carrots in the oven too. The get a free ride. But we're going to experiment with a quicker, more energy efficient method used sometimes with beef and suggested by former restaurateur and promotion specialist Roger Martin. It calls for a blast of high heat, then leaving the lamb in the turned off oven for an hour.
To begin, let's serve a combination appetizer and salad featuring asparagus. To accompany the lamb, if a second oven is available, offer the French version of scalloped potatoes in a pristine, cheese-free recipe favored by Richard Olney. For wine, open a Bordeaux Medoc, a cabernet from California of an Italian nebbiolo. (A green vegetable may be added, but is unnecessary after the asparagus. Salad, too, may be omitted.) Back to the oven for dessert. Baked Alaska, for which the ice cream and cake may be either handmade or store-bought.
Enough, except for those to whom Easter dinner, like any holiday meal, would not be end well without a glass or port and some Stilton.
(6 servings) 2 1/2 pounds asparagus (about 30 stalks) 1/2 teaspoon curry powder Salt and freshly ground pepper 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 1/4 cup olive oil 1/2 cup salad oil Boston lettuce, green pepper rings, radish roses, chopped parsley for garniture
Wash asparagus and bend each spear until it snaps. Discard the base. Heat water in a large frying pan. Salt and steam or simmer the spears until tender but still firm, 8 to 10 minutes.
Mix curry powder, salt and pepper and vinegar in a small bowl.
Line plates with washed and dried lettuce. Arrange drained but still warm asparagus on the lettuce. Beat oils into the vinegar mixture, taste and adjust seasoning. Pour over the asparagus and add garniture.
ROGER MARTIN'S LEG OF LAMB 1 leg of lamb, 6 to 7 pounds, at room temperature 2 or 3 cloves garlic, cut into slivers Dijon-style mustard Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 to 2 tablespoons dried "Provence" herbs*, of mixture of thyme, marjoram, fennel and rosemary
At least one hour before cooking, cut slits over the surface of the leg and insert garlic slivers. Just prior to cooking, preheat oven to 550 degrees and rub a liberal coating of mustard over the surface of the meat and season with salt and pepper.
Place lamb on a rack in a baking pan and cook at 550 degrees for 30 minutes. Turn off oven, remove lamb and close oven. Dust lamb with herbs. Return to oven and do not open door again for 45 minutes (for rare) to 1 hour. Remove to a warm place and allow juices to set for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.
*A mixture of "Provence" herbs is sold in ceramic crocks or bags at many specialty stores.
PAN GRAVY FOR LAMB 3 tablespoons flour 1 1/2 cups water or chicken bouillon Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 2 tablespoons cognac 3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream 1 tablespoon butter
Spoon grease from roasting pan until only brown drippings remain. Add flour to pan. Cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, for a minute or two without burning flour. Gradually incorporate drippings, then add water. Allow to heat, scrapping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. (If brown bits have burned, ignore them.) Strain liquid into a saucepan over low heat. Taste and season as desired. If lamb is carved in the kitchen, pour in juices and add cognac and cream to taste. Off the heat, just before serving, swirl in the butter.
CAROL'S POTATOES AND CARROTS
(6 servings) 8 to 12 new potatoes, peeled 6 to 8 carrots, peeled and cut in 2 inch pieces 4 tablespoons butter Salt and freshly ground pepper Lamb drippings
Boil potatoes for 15 to 20 minutes, or until cooked but still firm to the point of a knife. Drain well. Boil or steam carrots for 10 to 12 minutes, or until cooked but still firm. (This may be done ahead.)
Melt butter in a heat-resistant bowl or baking dish in a 350-degree oven. Add potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 1 hour and 15 munutes to 1 1/2 hours. Turn potatoes from time to time and baste lightly with lamb drippings. Outside will be brown and crisp; inside will be soft as a down pillow. Add carrots for final 30 minutes of cooking.
POTATOES WITH MILK AND CREAM
(6 to 8 servings) 6 medium potatoes, peeled, sliced thin and soaked in cold water. 2 cloves garlic, split 1/4 cup melted butter Salt and freshly ground pepper 2 cups milk (about) 1/2 cup cream (about) 1/4 stick butter, cut in thin slices
Select a 9-by-13-inch heat resistant baking dish. Rub the bottom and sides hard with garlic. When it dries, pour in butter and spread evenly. Dry potato slices carefully on paper towel and line the dish, adding salt and pepper over each layer. Pour in enough milk to come nearly to the top of the potatoes. Place dish over heat atop stove and bring milk to a simmer. Pour cream over the top and add butter pieces. Place in preheated 372- or 400-degree oven and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until top is well browned and liquid has been absorbed.
QUICK BAKED ALASKA 1 pound cake 1 quart ice cream any flavor (slice a half-gallon package in half, lengthwise) 4 egg whites 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar 1/2 cup superfine sugar Confectioners' sugar
Slice the pound cake lenghtwise into three pieces. Reserve the top for another use. Spread some butter or margarine on a heat-proof platter or wooden bread board, then "glue" the bottom slice of cake to the board. Trim the ice cream slab to fit inside the cake and return to freezer. Wen ready to cook, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat the whites with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar. Wehn they form soft peaks, gradually add the superfine sugar.
Place the ice cream on the cake. Top it with the middle slice of cake and cover the whole affair with a thick layer of meringue. You may reserve some meringue and use a pastry bag and tube to decorate the cake. Sprinkle confectioners' sugar over the surface and place in the oven. Heat, using a top grill if available, until surface turns a light brown. Turn the platter to insure even browning. Serve at once. CAPTION: Picture, Easter table setting, Cathy Hardwick china by Mikasa from the Hecht Co.; Easter eggs from The Midnight Sun; Photo by Harry Naltchayan - The Washington Post; Illustration, no caption