Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Supper At Red Hen Farm

It has truly been a lovely and above all relaxing couple of days at my mother’s farm spent dyeing Ukrainian eggs and reading. My mother has certainly enjoyed the company and Valerie and I have had a blast playing with the horses, doing odd chores around the property, and of course cooking and eating. Easter dinner is probably my most beloved holiday meal because it heavily features spring ingredients and there is not a de facto formula for what is to be served. Easter supper is not a set in stone thing like Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas goose; one can cook a lamb or ham and serve any number of side dishes and desserts. I love Easter for its flexibility and gustatory possibilities welcoming innovation in the kitchen. This year was an Easter meal that I have never experienced before using classic elements prepared in new and interesting ways to create a really unique holiday meal. The menu consisted of a barbecued leg of lamb, spinach pancakes, frisée and mache salad, fennel gratin, and an array of desserts.

The principal dish of the meal was leg of lamb; an Easter and spring staple that is easily one of my favorite proteins to cook for its gamey flavor and incredible tenderness. My uncle Hitch brought the lamb down from a small farm in Ithaca, butchered off the bone to leave a thick hunk of meat with a deep violet color. I have had lamb at Hitch’s place a few times and the meat is always perfectly cooked through with a rose pink center and beautifully charred crust. For our Easter lamb he simply marinated the meat in olive oil and rosemary for about an hour while we heated the coals under the grill on the porch. I have never barbecued lamb, except patties for lamb burgers, and Hitch had not either so we were both winging it. My mother had collected a bunch of apple wood that had been trimmed from her trees and dried in the garage so we added it to the hot coals. We salted the meat just before cooking and slapped it on the grill for about 35 minutes, turning it a few times. The outside was charred with great woodsy aroma and the meat was rare with just a hint of rosemary flavor running throughout. It was absolutely stunning and I am embarrassed by how much I put down, especially alongside the two wonderful side dishes.

Spinach pancakes are something that I would never have thought to make or even order at a restaurant. As we began to organize the meal, my mother pulled out an old newspaper clipping about the Korean spinach pancakes that we were to have for supper. Vegetable pancakes, or hash browns when made with winter root vegetables or starches, are good eats indeed. I love summer corn fritters piping hot in the sunshine with a little melted butter and honey so who was to say that spinach pancakes would not instill the same culinary pleasure. Dorothy simply sautéed the spinach in olive oil and garlic and then drained off all the excess water. She then prepared a simple batter with buttermilk, flour, egg, baking powder, and spinach to cook on a hot griddle pan. Despite my initial shock and pessimism I thought they were really quite tasty. The spinach pancakes brought an interesting texture to the party that served as an ideal counterpoint to the lamb.

Hitch was the fennel man at Easter, making an Italian raw fennel salad for lunch and then a tasty baked fennel dish to accompany the grilled lamb leg for dinner. He boiled thick slices of fennel until fork tender and then baked them in a buttered earthenware dish topped with cream, a little flour for thickener, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The dish was absolutely scrumptious; both nutty and creamy with hints of licorice fennel flavor. All in all it was a very successful Easter supper on Red Hen Farm with plenty of tender grilled lamb, toothsome side dishes, and perfectly drinkable wines to go around. Everyone in attendance had a lovely time and I know it certainly felt great to be surrounded by such wonderful friends and family. I look forward to next year and the continued warm weather as spring finally rears its aromatic floral head. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

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