On Easter Sunday our clever hens lay beautiful coloured eggs with the children and grandchildrenâ€™s names on them. In late morning we have an Easter egg hunt in the Palais des Poulets. When the children have found their very own eggs and deposited them carefully in the basket, thereâ€™s a stampede to the garden where they run hither and thither looking for their chocolate eggs which the Easter Bunny might have hidden in the beech hedge, tucked into flowering shrubs or into a clump of daffodils. The excitement is off the radar. Later those who can bear to eat their precious eggs have boiled egg soldiers.
Later we tuck into our Spring lamb and a juicy rhubarb tart. There is lots of Wild Garlic at present so I plan to serve Wild Garlic Champ with my roast Spring lamb this year.
Our Rhubarb is later than usual this year, the first new spears are just ready now â€“ I get such a thrill picking rhubarb, it reminds me of when I was little. We used to sneak into the kitchen garden with a cup of sugar and a pen knife to trim the rhubarb stalks, then weâ€™d dip the end into sugar and eat it raw â€“ Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™d enjoy it now but I loved it then. By the way a simple rhubarb sauce is absolutely delicious with roast pork or a pork chop instead of the conventional apple sauce. The acidity cuts the richness in an appetising way. Happy Easter.
Roast Spring Lamb with Wild Garlic Champ
The flesh of young spring lamb is sweet and succulent and needs virtually no embellishment apart from a dusting of sea salt and freshly ground pepper and a little fresh Mint Sauce – made from the first tender sprigs of mint from a cold frame in the garden.
I have a standing order with my butcher from one year to the next for Spring lamb.
For me this is the quintessential taste of Easter. Spring lambs will have been born before Christmas so they are ready for the Easter market. As Easter is a movable feast they vary in age but are most delicious when they are about 3-4 months old weighing approximately 9-10kgs. They will have mainly been milk fed with a little grass. Older lamb between Easter and Christmas takes longer to cook and benefits from some additional herbs and spices, little sprigs or rosemary and garlic inserted into the lamb, or freshly roasted coriander or cumin seeds rubbed into the scored surface with some Maldon sea salt is also delicious. After Christmas, the flavour of Hogget is stronger and the flesh a little tougher so we love to braise it slowly and serve it with a bean stew or poached vegetables.
1 leg of Spring lamb â€“ about 2.7kgs
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pint (600ml) lamb or chicken stock
a little roux (see recipe)
salt and freshly ground pepper
Wild Garlic Champ (see recipe)
Remove the aitch bone from the top of the leg of lamb or ask your butcher to do it for you. This makes it so much easier to carve later, then saw off the knuckle from the end of the leg. Season the skin with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer into a roasting tin.
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C/350Â°F/regulo 4. Roast for 1-1 1/4 hours approx. for rare, 1 1/4 -1 1/2 hours for medium and 1 1/2-1 3/4 hours for well done, depending on size. When the lamb is cooked to your taste, remove the joint to a hot carving dish. Rest the lamb in a low oven at 50-100Â°C for 10 minutes before carving.
Meanwhile make the gravy. Degrease the meat juices in the roasting tin (* see note), add the stock. Bring to the boil and whisk in a little roux, just enough to thicken slightly. Taste and allow it to bubble up until the flavour is rich enough. Correct the seasoning and serve hot with the lamb, roast spring vegetables and lots of crusty roast potatoes.
4oz (110g) butter
4oz (110g) flour
Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.
How Do I Degrease the Juices?
The gravy should be made in the roasting tin because that is where the flavour is. Usually there is not a great deal of juice in the roasting pan, there will be some caramelised meat juices and lamb fat. This is precious because it is the basis of the gravy. Tilt the roasting tin so the fat collects in one corner. Spoon off as much fat as possible. Then pour icy cold stock into the roasting tin, this will cause the last few globules of fat to solidify so they can be quickly skimmed off the top with a perforated spoon. Then continue to make gravy as in the recipe.
Wild Garlic Champ
Wild Garlic Allium Ursinum is in season now and will be for another few weeks. Use copiously in salads, pesto, soups and gratin. Itâ€™s particularly delicious with Spring lamb.
A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with wild garlic and a blob of butter melting in the centre is â€˜comfortâ€™ food at its best.
1.5kg (3lb) 6-8 unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
350ml (10-12fl oz) milk
50-110g (2-4oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
85g (2-3oz) roughly chopped wild garlic leaves
Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.
Chop finely the wild garlic leaves. Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre. Wild garlic champ may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180Â°C/350Â°F/regulo 4. Cover with tin foil while it reheats so that it doesnâ€™t get a skin.
In season: spring
Add 110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g
chopped chives to the milk just as it comes to the boil. Continue as above.
There are lots of lovely cauliflowers in the green grocers at present. A bubbly cheese would be delicious and easy to serve with lamb.
1 medium sized cauliflower with green leaves
600ml (1 pint) milk with a dash of cream
a slice of onion
3-4 slices of carrot
sprig of thyme or parsley
roux (see recipe)
salt and freshly ground pepper
150g (5oz) grated cheese, e.g. cheddar or a mixture of GruyÃ©re, Parmesan and Cheddar
1/2 teaspoon mustard
Preheat the oven to 230Â°C/450Â°F/gas mark 8.
Prepare and cook the cauliflower (see recipe).
Meanwhile make the Mornay Sauce. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the onion, carrot, peppercorns and herb. Bring to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken with roux to a light coating consistency. Add most of the grated cheese (reserving enough to sprinkle over the dish) and a little mustard. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Spoon the sauce over the cauliflower and sprinkle with the remainder of the grated cheese. The dish may be prepared ahead to this point.
Put into the preheated oven or under the grill to brown. If the cauliflower cheese is allowed to get completely cold, it will take 20-25 minutes to reheat in a moderate oven. 180Â°C/350Â°F/gas mark 4. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.
How to Cook Cauliflower
1 medium-sized cauliflower with lots of fresh green leaves
Remove the outer leaves and wash both the cauliflower and the leaves well. Put not more than 1 inch (2.5cm) water in a saucepan just large enough to take the cauliflower; add a little salt. Chop the leaves into small pieces and cut the cauliflower in quarters or eighths; place the cauliflower on top of the green leaves in the saucepan, cover and simmer until cooked, 10-15 minutes approx. Test by piercing the stalk with a knife, there should be just a little resistance.
New Seasonâ€™s Rhubarb Tart
This is such a terrific pastry. If Iâ€™m in a mad rush I make it in a food processor â€“ itâ€™s a little more difficult to handle if you use it right away but works fine even if you have to patch it a bit. Itâ€™s fun to do an Easter Bunny on the tart.
225g (8 oz) butter
55g (2 oz) caster sugar
2 eggs free-range and organic if possible
350g (12 oz) flour
450g (1 lb) red rhubarb
175g (6 1/2 oz) sugar
1 beaten free-range organic egg with a little milk, to glaze
1 x 23cm (9 inch) tin with 4cm (1 Â½ inch) sides
First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together in a food mixer, add the eggs and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and add in the flour, little by little, to form a stiff dough. Flatten into a round, cover with cling film and chill for at least 1 hour, this makes the pastry much easier to handle. Otherwise just put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until just combined.
Roll out half the pastry to about 3mm(c inch) thick and line a round tin measuring 20.5 x 30.5cm (8 x 11.5 inches).
Slice the rhubarb into 1 cm (22 inch) rounds, fill the tart and sprinkle with the sugar.
Roll the remaining pastry, cover the rhubarb and seal the edges. Decorate with pastry bunnies. Paint with egg wash and bake in a preheated oven 180ÂºC/350ÂºF/gas mark 4 until the tart is golden and the rhubarb is soft (45 minutes to 1 hour). When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.
This tart can also be filled with, gooseberries and elderflower, Worcesterberries, Bramley apples, damsons, plums, blackberry and apples, peaches and raspberries, rhubarb and strawberries.
Easter Bunny Biscuits
Makes 25 approximately
These are rather fun to make for Easter – the kids can make them too.
6 oz (170g) plain white flour
4 oz (110g) butter
2 oz (55g) castor sugar
icing, raisins, tiny speckled eggs
rabbit or chick shaped biscuit cutter
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.
Mix the flour and castor sugar in a bowl, rub in the butter and continue to work until the mixture comes together in a firm dough. Roll into a quarter inch (6mm) thick sheet on a floured board.
Stamp into ‘bunny’ shapes with a cutter. Bake in the preheated moderate oven for 8 -15 minutes or until pale and golden in colour. Cool on a wire rack.
Decorate with icing, raisins or speckled tiny chocolate eggs where appropriate.
Watch these biscuits really carefully in the oven, because of the high sugar content they burn easily. They should be a pale golden colour â€“ darker will be more bitter.
Food Proof Food
450g (1lb) red rhubarb cut into 2.5cm (1in) pieces
110g (4oz) sugar
Put the rhubarb in a stainless-steel saucepan, add the sugar and cook over a low heat until soft. Taste and add more sugar if necessary.
Cauliflower Cheese Soup
Follow the master recipe for Cauliflower Cheese but instead of browning in the oven or under the grill, liquidise the lot with any left over cauliflower cooking water and enough light chicken stock, about 850ml (11/2 pints) to make a nice consistency. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve with croutons, cubes of diced cheddar cheese and parsley.
Stock up for the week at Listowel Farmers Market, Co Kerry, every Friday from 9:00am to 2:00pm. Get some of Caroline Rigneyâ€™s award winning Curraghchase Free Range Pork (087 2834754) and to accompany your roast pork, some delicious organic veggies from Manna Organic Store 066 7118501. Why not pick up a treat for Coeliacs from Maurice Hannonâ€™s gorgeous gluten free cakes and biscuits 087 6260157. www.kerryfarmersmarkets.com/ListowelFarmersMarket.html
Sophie Maill breeds traditional, rare breed chickens and also sells hybrid laying hens in various colours. She is based in Skibbereen, West Cork and sells hatching eggs, day old chicks, hens and ducks. Phone 086 0839569.