Easter is early this year so the milk fed Spring lamb will be even more juicy and succulent. It needs nothing more than a few flakes of sea salt before being popped into a moderate oven to roast to melting tenderness. Search for the first little sprigs of fresh mint to make a sauce to accompany it for Easter Sunday lunch.
For pudding, I canâ€™t think of anything more delicious than a simple rhubarb tart made with the fresh pink stalks of new seasonâ€™s rhubarb. Use the â€œbreak-all-the-rules pastryâ€ and make by the creaming method, 225g(8oz) butter, Â 55g (2oz) castor sugar, 2 eggs, 340g (12 oz) white flourÂ – this makes 750g (1Â¾ lb) pastry
Lamb sweetbreads are also in season. If you havenâ€™t cooked or tasted them before, pick up courage, order some from your local butcher, they are a rare treat that you will find on the menu of top restaurants nonetheless they are amazingly inexpensive to buy partly because so few people know what to do with them. Take advantage now, like lamb shanks and ham hocks, the price will go up before too long. Â Wild garlic is also in season now so try the combination of sweetbreads with wild garlic.
This is also the very best time of the year to enjoy lambâ€™s liver and kidneys â€“tender and mild, cooked in minutes, packed with vitamins, minerals and of course iron. When did we stop loving liver? Could it be partly because it is cheap and so is undervalued? Remember kids learn many of their food preferences from their parents who influence them inadvertently. Having said that, at least one of my daughters canâ€™t be persuaded that it is super delicious.
If youâ€™ve been off sugar for LentÂ – bet you feel very virtuous and possible a heck of a lot more energetic so I shouldnâ€™t be trying to tempt you but who could resist Pamela Blackâ€™s Easter Chocolate cake full of speckled eggs â€“ a spectacular centre piece for the Easter Table.
Salad of Warm Sweetbreads with Potato Crisps, Anchovies and Wild Garlic
Sweetbreads are definitely a forgotten treat. The salty tang of the anchovies in this recipe gives another dimension and adds lots of complementary flavour without compromising the sweetness of the sweetbreads.
4 lamb or 2 veal sweetbreads
1 small carrot
2 celery stalks
25g (1oz/1/4 stick) butter
600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) homemade chicken stock)
a selection of salad leaves (little gem, oakleaf, sorrel, watercress and wild garlic leaves and flowers)
plain flour, well-seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper
beaten organic egg
butter and oil for sautÃ©ing
For the Dressing
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1â„4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper
homemade potato crisps (see recipe)
wild garlic flowers (or chive flowers depending on the season)
To prepare sweetbreads.
Put the sweetbreads into a bowl, cover with cold water and let them soak for 3 hours. Discard the water and cut away any discoloured parts from the sweetbreads.
Dice the carrot, onion and celery and sweat them in butter; add the bouquet garni. Then add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.
Poach the sweetbreads gently in the simmering stock for 3â€“5 minutes or until they feel firm to the touch. Cool, then remove the gelatinous membranes and any fatty bits carefully.Â Press between 2 plates and top with a weight not more than 1kg (2lb) or they will be squashed.
Prepare the salad.
Wash and dry the lettuces and salad leaves and whisk together the ingredients for the dressing.
Slice the sweetbreads into escalopes, dip in well-seasoned flour and then in beaten egg. SautÃ© in a little foaming butter and oil in a heavy pan until golden on both sides.
Toss the salad leaves in the dressing, divide between 4 plates and lay the hot sweetbreads and then potato crisps on top of the salad. Sprinkle with chopped anchovy and wild garlic flowers or chive flowers and serve immediately.
Homemade Potato Crisps or â€œGame Chipsâ€
Making chips at home is definitely worthwhile â€“ a few potatoes produce
a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips â€“ but mind your fingers! When these are served with roast pheasant they are called game chips.
450g (1lb) large, even-sized potatoes
extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying
Wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry well.
In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180ÂºC/350ÂºF. Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat until they are all cooked.
If they are not to be served immediately, they may be stored in a tin box and reheated in a low oven just before serving.
4 lambâ€™s kidneys, cut each into quarters
a littleÂ extra virgin oil
1 small glass of sherry
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 teaspoonÂ redcurrant jelly
a teaspoon or two of Worcestershire sauce
a good pinch of cayenne pepper or smoked paprika
1 tablespoon English mustard
2 tablespoons cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper
coarsely chopped parsley
Cut the kidneys in half, remove the â€œplumbingâ€ and cut each one into four pieces and wash well.
Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a small frying pan, add the kidneys and cook for a minute or two, tossing them occasionally. Add the sherry, allow to bubble for a moment and follow up with a splash of wine or cider vinegar. Stir in the redcurrant jelly, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, and mustard. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.Â Add the cream and bubble for another minute or two, shaking the pan occasionally until the sauce is slightly reduced. Taste and add more cayenne and black pepper and lots of parsley if you like.
Serve on char-grilled sour dough bread with some sprigs of watercress. For a more substantial supper dish, serve with plain boiled rice and a crisp green salad. Garnish with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
Warm Salad of Lamb Kidneys, Straw Potatoes and Caramelized Shallots
This is a bit more fiddly to make but the end result with contrasting flavours and textures makes a seriously impressive starter.
4 lambs kidneys trimmed of all fat and gristle and cut into 1Â½ cm dice
20 caramelized shallots (see recipe)
1 large potato (115-175g/4-6ozs)
6 tablespoons (8 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sugar
A selection of lettuces (ie. Butterhead, Lollo Rosso, Curly Endive, Cos, Watercress, rocket etc.) – about 4 generous handfuls
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) olive oil
Prepare and cook the shallots as described in the recipe.
Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing and leave aside.Â Wash and dry the lettuces, tear into bite sized pieces and keep in a salad bowl.
Peel the potato and cut into fine julienne strips on a mandolin, in a food processor or by hand. Wash off the excess starch with cold water drain and pat dry. Preheat oil in a deep fry to 200ÂºC/400ÂºF.Â Cook the dry potatoes until golden brown and crispy. Keep them warm to serve with the salad.
Just before serving: Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, allow to get very hot. Season the kidneys with salt and pepper add to the pan and cook according to your preference. Sprinkle with chopped marjoram – don’t overcook them or they will become tough and rubbery.
While the kidneys are cooking – quickly toss the lettuces with the dressing and place on 4 plates.Â Put the warn shallots around each pile of salad, arrange the fried potato carefully on top of each shallot in a little pile. Finally sprinkle the cooked kidneys straight from the pan onto the salads.Â Serve immediately.
450g (1lb) peeled shallots
50g (2ozs) butter
125ml (4fl ozs) water
1-2 tablespoons sugar
salt and pepper
sprig of thyme or rosemary
Put the shallots, butter, water, sugar, salt, pepper and herb into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer covered until the shallots are almost tender. Remove the lid, allow the juices to evaporate.Â Watch and turn carefully as the shallots begin to caramelize.
Lambâ€™s Liver Kebabs with Crispy Bacon
Serves 6 as a starter
450g (1lb) lambs liver, cut into 4cm (1Â½ inch) cubes
freshly cracked pepper
8-12 slices of streaky bacon
fresh watercress sprigs
Cut the lambs liver into 4cm (1Â½ inch) cubes. Dip the cubes of liver in well-seasoned flour and lots of freshly cracked pepper. Shake off the excess.
Cut the bacon /rashers in half crossways , stretch with a knife, wrap around each piece of liver and secure with a cocktail stick.
Cook in a preheated oven at 250Â°C (500Â°F) for 5-6 minutes or until the bacon is crispy and the liver still a little pink in the centre.
Serve on a bed of watercress sprigs.
Pamela Blackâ€™s Easter Speckled Egg Cake
Classic Vanilla Victoria SpongeÂ
225g (8oz/2 sticks) butter
225g (8oz/1 cup) caster/organic caster sugar
225g (8oz/2 cup) plain flour (sieved)
1 teaspoon baking powder (sieved)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) milk (optional)
225g (8oz) butter
450g (1lb) icing sugar (sieved)
50g (2oz) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons hot water
3 tablespoons of Butterscotch Sauce (see below)
150g (5oz) dark chocolate Vermicelli sprinkles
200g (7oz) speckled chocolate candy eggs
Chocolate Caraque (see recipe)
fluffy yellow chicks
2 x 20cm (8 inch) round sandwich tins
First make the sponges.
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C/350Â°F/Gas Mark 4.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Â Add the eggs and vanilla extract a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Â Fold in the sieved flour and baking powder carefully and add a little milk if required to give a dropping consistency.
Spoon into prepared tins and spread evenly.
Cook in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
Next make the buttercream.
Beat the butter until soft. Â Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder slowly. Â Finally add the vanilla extract and hot water – mixing all thoroughly. Once cooled, add 3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) of butterscotch sauce to the buttercream and mix thoroughly.
Taking a 10cm (4 inch) round cutter, cut a disc from the centre of one of the two sponges (keep aside and use for a mini cake).
To assemble the cake.
Spread 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) of the buttercream over the base of the remaining sponge. Â Place the cut sponge on top and cover all the surface completely with remaining icing. Â Allow to chill for 1 hour.
Place the cake on a parchment lined baking sheet and quickly press the chocolate sprinkles and chocolate caraque into the sides, over the top and into the hollow of the cake – it should now resemble a birds nest.
Fill the centre with speckled eggs and decorate with fluffy chicks.
Butterscotch Sauce Recipe
Keeps for months and is delicious drizzled over ice-cream, crÃªpes, yoghurt…..
110g (4oz) butter
175g (6oz) dark soft brown, Muscovado sugar
225ml (8fl oz) cream
Â½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Put the butter and sugar into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt gently on a low heat. Simmer for about 5 minutes, remove from the heat and gradually stir in the cream and the vanilla extract. Put back on the heat and stir for 2 or 3 minutes until the sauce is absolutely smooth.Â Allow to cool.
Melt 150g (5oz) of chocolate in a Pyrex bowl over simmering water (not boiling) and stir until smooth. Pour the chocolate onto a flat baking sheet, and tap the tin gently to spread.Â Allow to cool. Once cool, using a cheese slice, or the blade of a chopping knife, pull the blade across the chocolate creating â€œcurlsâ€ as you go.
Seakale is rarely found in shops, itâ€™s a sublime vegetable, every bit as precious and rare as new seasonâ€™s asparagus but available during the â€œhungry gapâ€ in April when the winter vegetables are almost over but the summer vegetables are still barely seedlings. Weâ€™ll have a limited amount for sale at the Ballymaloe Cookery School Organic Farm and Garden stall at Midletonâ€™s farmers market from next week. Order ahead 021 4646785 to be sure to get some.
The Galway Food Festival, is in full swing over the Easter Bank Holiday Weekend, 2-6 April.Â Building on last yearâ€™s huge success thereâ€™s a jam packed programme ofÂ open-air markets, foraging trip, food trails, talks, tours, tastings, demonstrations, workshops, lots of fun for all the familyâ€¦See www.galwayfoodfestival.com .
At Ballymaloe Cookery School we have a series Â availability on our upcoming Special Interest courses in Aprilâ€¦ for those of you who might want to go into the food tourism business Start Your Own Guest House, Monday April 20th to Friday April 24th, or how about an afternoon class- CafÃ© Sandwiches and Salads (April 13th), or Teashop Cakes and Biscuits (April 14th), or 10 Great Brunch Recipes (April 17th) see www.cookingisfun.ie
CafÃ© Sandwiches and Salads, Teashop Cakes and Biscuits, 10 Great Brunch Recipesâ€¦ We have a series of half-day special interest courses coming up in April at The Ballymaloe Cookery School. For those who are considering going into the food tourism business, there is an intensive one week Start Your Own Guesthouse course from Monday April 20th to Friday April 24th. See www.cookingisfun.ie.