There’s something very special about Easter Sunday lunch, it feels like a celebration of Spring. I’ve just got a beautiful leg of Spring lamb from my butcher once a year treat – sweet, succulent and juicy.
Spring lambs are born before Christmas and are at their best at 3-4 months old weighing approximately 9-10kgs. Usually one needs to order ahead from your local butcher to be sure of some precious young lamb like this. It has quite a different flavour and texture to the hogget we’ve been enjoying up to recently.
Spring lamb needs very little embellishment, just a few flakes of sea salt rubbed into the skin before roasting. Spikes of garlic, sprigs of rosemary and spices like cumin or coriander which greatly enhance the flavour of the hogget we’ve being enjoying up to recently overpower the delicate young lamb.
For starter it’ll be new season asparagus on toast with Hollandaise Sauce. This year was there was some new seasons Irish asparagus on sale in the beginning of April – the earliest I have it – usually we have to wait until the end of the month or the beginning of May to savour the first tender spears. This year one West cork grower harvested the first of his outdoor asparagus at the end of March – spooky or what – yet another example of accelerated global warming. I’m not complaining – I know one can get imported asparagus almost year round but nothing compares to the exquisite flavour of fresh Irish asparagus.
We usually have a rhubarb tart for pudding on Easter Sunday after the feast of roast lamb and fresh mint sauce. Its’ at its best at the moment tender, pink with crinkly leaves. We’ve got a really good old-fashioned variety in Ballymaloe that has been passed down through the generations but its widely available in local shops and farmers markets as well.
This year I’m going to make my favourite rhubarb tart, everyone should know about this pastry its made by the creaming method so even if you are convinced that you have ‘hot hands’ and can’t make pastry, this recipe will make you into a ‘domestic goddess’
I’ll serve the rhubarb tart with some softly whipped cream and a sprinkling of dark brown sugar melting over the top – how delicious does that sound!
After a generous slice (or maybe two) we’ll all go for a long walk in the blue bell wood overlooking Lough Ine – can you image a lovlier way to celebrate Easter Sunday.
Asparagus on Toast with Hollandaise Sauce
In season: late spring
This is a simple and gorgeous way to serve fresh Irish asparagus during its short season. We feast on it in every possible way for those precious weeks, roast, chargrilled, in soups, frittatas; quiches don’t forget to dip some freshly cooked spears in a soft boiled egg for a simple luxury. This was my father-in-law’s favourite way to eat Irish asparagus during its short season.
16-20 spears fresh green asparagus
Hollandaise sauce, (see recipe)
4 slices of homemade white yeast bread
sprigs of chervil
Hold each spear of asparagus over your index finger down near the root end, it will snap at the point where it begins to get tough. Some people like to peel the asparagus but we rarely do. Cook in about 2.5cm (1inch) of boiling salted water in an oval cast iron casserole. Cook for 4 or 8 minutes or until a knife tip will pierce the root end easily. Meanwhile make the toast, spread with butter and remove crusts. Place a piece of toast on a hot plate, put the asparagus on top and spoon a little Hollandaise sauce over. Garnish with a sprig of chervil and serve immediately.
Serves 4-6, depending on what it is to be served with
Hollandaise is the mother of all the warm emulsion sauces. The version we use here is easy to make and quite delicious with fish. Like Mayonnaise it takes less than 5 minutes to make and transforms any fish into a feast. Once the sauce is made it must be kept warm: the temperature should not go above 70-80C/180F or the sauce will curdle. A thermos flask can provide a simple solution on a small scale, otherwise put the Hollandaise Sauce into a delph or plastic bowl in a saucepan of hot but not simmering water. Hollandaise Sauce cannot be reheated absolutely successfully so it’s best to make just the quantity you need. If however you have a little left over, use it to enrich other sauces or mashed potato.
2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic
125 g (5ozs) butter cut into dice
1 dessertspoon) cold water
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx.
Put the egg yolks in a heavy stainless saucepan on a low heat or in a bowl over hot water. Add water and whisk thoroughly. Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time. As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece. The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly scrambling, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water if necessary. Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made. Finally add the lemon juice to taste. If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low. Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to coating consistency.
It is important to remember that if you are making Hollandaise Sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage. If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand it is also too hot for the sauce.
Another good tip if you are making Hollandaise Sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if becomes too hot.
Keep the sauce warm until service either in a Pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water (do not have gas jet on). A thermos flask is also a good option.
Roast Spring Lamb with Roast Spring Onions & Mint Sauce
1 leg of Spring lamb – 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
mint sauce (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 180°C/350°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 50-100°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 to bubble until the flavour is rich enough. Correct the seasoning and serve hot with the lamb, roast spring vegetables and lots of crusty roast potatoes.
Fresh Mint Sauce
Traditional Mint Sauce made with tender young shoots of fresh mint takes only minutes to make. It’s the perfect accompaniment to Spring lamb but for those who are expecting a bright green jelly, the slightly dull colour and watery texture comes as a surprise. That’s how it is meant to be, try it.
Makes 175ml/6 fl ozs approx.
25g (1oz) finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons sugar
110ml (4fl oz) boiling water
25ml (1fl oz) white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
Put the sugar and freshly-chopped mint into a sauce boat. Add the boiling water and vinegar or lemon juice. Allow to infuse for 5-10 minutes before serving.
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.
Easter Rhubarb Tart
This is such a terrific pastry. If I’m in a mad rush I make it in a food processor – it’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. Make some little Easter chicks and bunnies to decorate the top.
225g (8 oz) butter
55g (2 oz) caster sugar
2 eggs free-range and organic if possible
350g (12 oz) flour
680g (1 1/2lb) red rhubarb
250 – 275g (8 – 10 oz) sugar approximately
1 beaten free-range organic egg with a little milk, to glaze
1 x 23cm (9 inch) tin with 4cm (1 ½ 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 (1/8 inch) thick and line a round tin measuring 20.5 x 30.5cm (8 x 11.5 inches).
Slice the rhubarb into 1 cm (1/2 inch) rounds, fill the tart and sprinkle with the sugar.
Roll the remaining pastry, cover the rhubarb and seal the edges. Decorate with pastry leaves. Paint with egg wash and bake in a preheated oven 180ºC/350ºF/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.
Easter bunnies are made in minutes and are delicious to nibble with a cup of tea. If there are kids around get them to decorate the bunnies.
175g (6 ozs) white flour or spelt flour
110g (4 ozs) butter
50g (2 ozs) castor sugar
110g (4oz) chocolate, melted carefully in a bowl over hot water but not boiling water.
Easter Bunny Cutters
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350ºF/Gas Mark 4
Put the flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to 1/4 inch (7mm) thick. Use a Easter bunny cutter. Transfer carefully to a baking tray. Bake in the preheated oven until pale brown, 8-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the biscuits. Remove and cool on a rack. Dredge with icing sugar or decorate with a little melted chocolate.
Note: Watch these biscuits really carefully in the oven. Because of the high sugar content they burn easily. They should be a pale golden – darker will be more bitter.
However if they are too pale they will be undercooked and doughy. Cool on a wire rack.