An Easter Family Feast
Do you have an Easter family tradition?
Beside lamb for Easter Sunday lunch and some chocolate eggs, I can’t remember my parents made much of Easter when I was growing up in France. We did enjoy the 3-day long weekend though, and the spring holidays that it coincided with. Ahh, les vacances de Paques…
Fast forward to my arrival in Australia, and discovering that the Easter weekend spans over 4 days with Good Friday being a public holiday therefor allowing for a mini-break without the need to take out precious annual leave. Then there is the Easter Egg hunt which, while common in France, never reached the level of commitment ( or dare I say commercialism ) seen here. Before our kids were born, we seemed to adopt an “adult version” of Easter which meant a long weekend of good food and drinks with friends and Terry’s children. Living on a boat, egg hunting was reduced to hiding a couple of goodies in the cabin and pretend the Easter Bunny must have been very sneaky to A) swim across the bay and B) make it inside!
Then Marc and Anne came along. By then we were travelling on the boat quite extensively and as far as tradition goes we found it easier to adapt to whatever the locals did. We are not a religious family as such, however I have always been interested in the significance of certain celebrations, and homeschooling gave us the opportunity to teach the kids (and ourselves) how events like Easter or Christmas are observed in different cultures. Marc’s first Easter celebration was at the Waikiki Yacht Club in Hawaii, when he was 2. Yukulele and live bunnies made for a strange combination, I thought, but the spirit was there! We’ve joined in village festivities while anchored off Porto Pollo in Corsica, woken up to the sound of church bells in the remote amazonian town of Breves and found chocolate eggs delivered on deck by english yachting friends anchored nearby (in our excitement to be in Brazil, I had forgotten to provision for Easter goodies that year). I have memories of a fantastic bbq onboard shared with a french family we cruised with in the Caribbeans ( I supplied the leg of lamb saved for the occasion and they brought the chocolate cake). But it wasn’t until we stopped in Mexico and experienced the Semana Santa that Easter took on a completely different turn: with 90% of the population baptised catholics, Easter is taken very seriously and observed with much religious fervour for a whole 2 weeks. It is a time for family, family and family! Lots of food too, but in the forms of aqua fresca (fresh juices) and sweet breads. No chocolate eggs there, Cascarones instead: hollowed out chicken eggs, filled with confetti or small toys. The idea is to chase one another trying to crack the egg over someone’s head, it is rumoured to bring good fortune and be a sign of affection.
I guess, what I am getting at, is that I have so far been happy to partake in other people’s traditions and never worried about having one of our own. Since our return to Australia, every Easter has been spent quietly at home except for Sunday, when Mal and Danielle organise an annual Easter Egg Hunt and put on a phenomenal spread. This year will be no different and we are all looking forward to Sunday.
However as half the family on Terry’s side is going away for the long weekend this year, I decided to have a pre-Easter family lunch last Sunday sans the Egg Hunt, because it would have broken the tradition to have it on Easter Sunday and more importantly, our labrador Sam would have had a field day gorging on chocolate eggs no doubt resulting in a trip to the vet ( it happened last year, when he “stole” a birthday cake left to cool on the kitchen bench, a traumatic experience no one is keen to relive!)
With a guest list of 20 (including 4 little ones, as I like to call the young contingent, it sounds better than grandkids in my book), it was onto the menu planning. And that’s where tradition comes in. Apart from being a most important event on the Christian calendar, Easter in the Northern Hemisphere coincides with the return of Spring and some food items can be traced back to pagan rites to celebrate the new season: eggs ( for rebirth), lamb (symbol of sacrifice but also new spring lamb just coming onto the market…) ham ( seen as a symbol of luck ) bread and cakes ( as offerings to the goddess of fertility, Eostre).
I already happened to have a 10 pound piece of ham in the fridge I was saving for an occasion when there would be more than the 4 of us. This would be the centrepiece! It was easy to find a few lamb cutlets to serve alongside a cabbage salad laden with port soaked sultanas and grated pecorino. Eggs were a must and I found this recipe for Torta Pasqualina ( also known as Tourte de Paques in French or Easter Pie in Australia) which was combining hard boiled eggs and spinach in a puff pastry shell, an ideal way to eat your veggies, I thought.
As starters, I opted for platters to pass around while guests were sipping on drinks. And before you start thinking I was a slave to the kitchen for days, I must mention that these were a mix of homemade dishes as well as store-bought items. Starting with a cold meat platter with salt cured duck breast I made a few weeks prior, store-bought salami, chorizo, olive mortadella and chunks of rockmelon.
Platter no 2 was based on a recipe I found in the latest AGT and featured smoked trout, pickled cauliflower, bread rolls and aioli. I prepared the pickled cauli earlier in the week, the rest was available at the local supermarket ( included the Paul Newman aioli!).
Platter no 3 was always going to be a cheese one, after succumbing to temptation at the Blackwattle Deli the previous weekend. Mimolette, ashen goat cheese, Bleu d’Auvergne and Camembert…who could resist french stinky cheese? Especially paired with my sweet roasted grapes ( sorry if I sound like I am boasting, they are very nice indeed!).
Some of my guests kindly brought along side dishes so we feasted on Mediterranean baked vegetables supplied by Rosalie, and Leanne’s garlicky bean and olives salad…which complimented the lamb beautifully. Also, because I was concerned we might not have enough to eat, I baked a last minute batch of crushed potatoes. These were devoured in 5 minutes!!
Of course we also had hot cross buns and thanks to Kathy, a lovely fruits and snack platters for the kids, an aussie essential to any inter-generational meal at our place!
And the dessert I hear you ask? I had a craving for Caneles, these morsels of French deliciousness, a Bordeaux specialty rich in egg, butter and rum, perfect accompaniment to coffee. But the prize goes to Carolyn who I regard as the queen of chocolate cupcakes and jumped at the opportunity to bake for 20 and showed up with 56 (!!!!) cupcakes lovingly iced in Easter pastel colours. Who needed to hunt for Easter eggs after such a feast??
So here is to what may become our own pre-Easter tradition: a little bit of French, Italian and Australian mixed together.
This recipe is only slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s, where I used shortcrust pastry for the bottom of the pie to help make it more robust, and lighter puff pastry at the top. Silverbeet was my choice of green but you can use spinach or chard if you prefer. And don’t be shy with the fresh herbs, the more the better for flavour! This is a very heavy, filling pie, full of green goodness and keeps well for a few days ( in the fridge! )
Serves 8 as a main, 12-15 as part of a buffet
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 kg silverbeet, stalks removed and roughly chopped, leaves cut into 1cm slices
3 sticks celery, trimmed and finely sliced
A generous handful of parsley leaves, roughly chopped
A generous handful of dill, roughly chopped
A generous handful of basil, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
100g strong cheddar, grated
Salt and pepper
2 sheets of shortcrust pastry
1 sheet of puff pastry
Some plain flour for dusting
- Put a large sauce pan/casserole dish on medium heat. Add the oil and onion and cook for 10 minutes until soft and golden, stirring occasionally to prevent sicking.Add the silverbeet chalks and celery, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the leaves and cook for another 5 minutes until the leaves are wilted, and the stalks and celery have softened. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool a little.
- Place a colander over a large bowl and pour in the contents of the pan. Drain and squeeze out the juice by pressing onto the solids as much as possible ( you want it quite dry ). Do not discard the juice, it makes for a nice vegetable broth.
- Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large bowl, add the herbs, spices, cheeses, 3 eggs, 1/2 tsp of salt and some pepper. Mix well and set aside.
- In the meantime, roll out one sheet of shortcrust pastry into a 30cm square that’s 2.5mm thick. Transfer to 30cm diameter spring form cake tin that is 6cm high. Press the pastry down and up the sides of the tin. it will not come all the way up. Divide the other sheet of shortcrust into 4 equal size strips and roll each one to the correct size to cover the sides of the tin. press into the edges of the tin and trim off most of the overhang. Roll the sheet of puff pastry to a 30 cm square and set aside.
- Tip the silverbeet mixture into the cake tin and use a spoon to create 5 egg-sized holes. Break an egg into each hole then lay the puff pastry lid on top. trim the edges, then pinch the lid and base together to make sure it is sealed properly.Whisk the remaining egg, brush it over the lid, then prick a few times with a fork.
- Bake for 45 minutes in a pre-heated 180C oven, until cooked and golden brown.
- Leave to cool for 30 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.
I have been experimenting with fermented and pickled food lately, mainly as a fun project but also to find new ways to eat healthy and if you believe the latest trend, pickled is the new black in terms of superfood.
This recipe is taken from last year’s issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller, where the sweet and tangy cauliflower is served with smoked trout rolls. Making the pickles is easy, cutting the bread rolls is child’s play. What the magazine doesn’t mention, is how long it takes to skin, debone and flake the flesh of the smoked trout. You have been warned!
1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
500 ml apple cider vinegar
140g caster sugar
1 tbsp sea salt flakes
1 tsp grated ginger
1 red child (optional)
- Blanch cauliflower and fennel until tender but still crisp ( 1-2 minutes ). Drain, rinse briefly under cold water to cool slightly and shake off excess water. Place in a bowlwith white onion.
- Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add mustard seeds and stir until seeds pop (10-20 seconds). Add vinegar, sugar, salt and 200ml of water and bring to a simmer. Add sultanas, ginger, child then pour the mixture over cauliflower. Place in a sterilised jar, seal and store in a cool dark place or refrigerate for 3 days before using. Pickles will keep up to 3 months.
- Serve alongside bread rolls, cut in half, spread with aioli and topped with smoked trout.
Sweet Roasted grapes
One day I found a whole bag of white grapes languishing in the bottom of the fridge. Obviously past their prime, I didn’t want to waste them so ended up roasted them alongside some chicken. The end result was so delicious, I now look forward to have “old” grapes so that I can roast them! This recipe is our latest favourite: we serve the syrupy fruits with cheese for appetisers but also like them over yoghurt in the morning or even vanilla ice cream for dessert!
2 tbsp butter (salted is OK)
500g seedless grapes
3/4 cup walnuts
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
A squeeze of lemon juice
- Grease an ovenproof skillet with the butter. Add the grapes and the walnuts. Sprinkle with the sugar.
- Roast about 25mn in a pre-heated 220C oven. Stir occasionally to stop nuts from burning.
- Transfer the grapes to a bowl using a slotted spoon.Simmer the juices with the honey on the stove until thick and syrupy, 5 minutes or so. Take off the heat, squeeze lemon juice and a pinch of pepper. Pour the syrup over the grapes.