Easter, whether you are religious or not, is a festival of Spring, a celebration of renewal: of the first fresh shoots, the sap rising and the greening of the land.
I adore this season of vibrant change, when your garden shakes off its dead old self and springs forth with an abundance of bloom and promise under a forget-me-not blue sky. It’s time to rejoice in the strengthening of the sun, primrose-pale in early Spring, golden as honey by late May. With this sun all sorts of gorgeous produce starts to become available: new carrots, baby fennel, morels, broad beans, pea shoots, sweet soft herbs, as well as sumptuous seafood, wild salmon, scallops, lobster and crab.
It may be common to have lamb as the heart of your Easter feast, but in my family we’ve always chosen a whole salmon, poached to pale pink perfection. I’ve suggested serving it with a light-as-air lemon sabayon (instead of the more traditional, but much heavier, mayonnaise), garlicky potatoes, with some welcome crunch coming from the radish and cucumber salad, but really you can pair a poached salmon with almost anything.
For dessert, it had to be chocolate. I made some Chocolate Swirl Meringues (great fun to do with young children, especially drizzling the chocolate and licking the wooden spoons) which, again, are really versatile and so great for a multi-generational feast. Serve them with an espresso cream and chopped pistachios for the adults, and with plain whipped cream and oodles of berries for the children. They also make a rather decadent centrepiece and useful visual aid to entice any tricky eaters to scoff their main course!
Invite as many as can fit round your table, be generous with the food and really celebrate the advent of Spring- have a wonderful weekend!
Starter – Mange tout and Quail’s Egg Panzanella
Ingredients: Half a loaf of sourdough, olive oil, 12 quail’s eggs, 200g mange tout, 500g new baby potatoes, zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1 tbsp each of lemon thyme and chives chopped, salt and pepper, 4 tbsp olive oil.
Preheat the oven to 200C and cut the bread into rough chunks- pop into a roasting dish and drizzle with 2tbsp olive oil and a good pinch of Maldon salt. Bake for 15-so mins til the sourdough is golden.
In a pot of boiling water add the potatoes and simmer for 12-15 til softened but still al dente. Drain.
Blanch the mange tout in boiling water for 2 mins then drain and rinse under cold water.
Cook the quail’s eggs in a pan of boiling water for a minute and a half if you like the eggs soft-boiled and 2 mins for a hard boil.
Make the dressing- put the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, herbs, salt and pepper into a jam jar and whisk vigorously to emulsify.
Main Course – Poached Salmon with Lemon Sabayon
Ingredients: 1 side of salmon skin-on, 10 peppercorns, 3 bay leaves, 1 lemon sliced, 4 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 fennel in quarters.
Place the salmon in a large pot or baking tray where it can lay out flat, then add the other ingredients and fill the baking tray with water so that the salmon is completely submerged. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes or so then carefully remove the salmon and place on a platter.
Garlic potatoes: par-boil 500g sliced potatoes for 8-10 mins then drain and pop into a roasting dish with 4 cloves of crushed garlic and lots of salt and pepper. Bake for 30 mins til the potatoes are golden.
Cucumber and radish salad: 1 cucumber, 12 radishes, 1 red chilli, 50g white sugar, 60ml rice vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt.
Gently heat the sugar and vinegar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool.
Use a veg peeler to to slice the cucumber lengthwise into ribbons. Slice the radishes thinly and cut the chilli into rings.Once the syrup is cool pour over the cucumber, radishes and chilli and leave for at least 30 mins for the flavours to develop.
Lemon Sabayon: 4 egg yolks, 100 ml white wine or Champagne, 1 tbsp lemon juice.
Put the yolks and alcohol into a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk continuously for 5-7 mins until pale and foamy. Stir through the lemon juice, salt and white pepper. Serve immediately.
Dessert – Chocolate Swirl Meringues with Espresso Cream
4 egg whites, 200g caster, 1/4 tsp cream of tartar,100g melted 70% chocolate, 500ml double cream, 2 tsp espresso powder, 1 tbsp caster.
Preheat the oven to 125C and put a sheet of greaseproof on a baking tray.
Melt the chocolate over pan of simmering water.
Whisk the egg whites til foamy then add the cream of tartar- keep whisking while adding the caster slowly until the whites are thick and glossy. Gently stir through the majority of the melted chocolate then drizzle the rest on top of the meringues. Bake for 1 hour then allow to cool in the oven.
Whip the cream and stir through the caster and espresso powder mixed with 1 tsp of water. Serve with crushed pistachios or with berries.
For more delicious recipes, see Jo’s blog here