Okay, I’ve stocked up on Easter eggs, bought extra flour for the hot-cross buns, ordered the lamb and checked on the wine so, all in all, I’m ready and rocking! I forgot to buy matzos, remembered the beetroot but I have a long suffering husband who’s good about last minute stuff & puts up with my distractedness. I can see no reason why I can’t have matzos at Easter even though Easter is a Christian celebration commemorating Christ’s crucifixion and his subsequent resurrection. As is the case with all
faiths, there are different schools of thought within Christianity & Christians have always argued bitterly about a plethora of unimportant details like the exact dates despite the fact that nobody really knows the right dates, anyway. The issue certainly won’t be resolved in our lifetime so it’s probably a good idea to concentrate on the food since Easter is one of the most important feasts on the Christian calendar. Good Friday is the holiest day and in many parts of the world, the day is spent fasting and is a time for sober reflection and deep sorrow. For those of you who don’t know, this coming weekend is Easter weekend and when it comes to food, fish is traditionally eaten and even in non-religious homes fish is on the menu at this time.
EASTER FISH PIE
This is a British recipe that can be incorporated into any kind of feast – from the simplest to the most grandiose.
- 400 g skinless white fish fillet
- 400 g skinless smoked haddock fillet
- 1 kg floury potatoes, peeled & cut into small chunks
- 4 eggs
- 600ml full cream milk
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 50 g Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 50 g carrots, peeled & sliced very finely
- 1 stalk celery, peeled & sliced very finely
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1 lemon, zest only
- 100 g butter
- 50 g plain flour
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 50 g extra mature British cheddar, grated.
- Heat oven to 200 C and if you have fan oven 180 C.
- Stir fry the celery, the carrots & half the parsley in a little butter for about 5 minutes.
- Poach the fish by putting it in a deep saucepan pan and pouring over 500 ml of the milk.
- Stud each onion quarter with a clove, add to the milk and the bay leaves.
- Bring the milk just to the boil (you’ll notice a few small bubbles), then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Lift the fish onto a plate and strain the milk into a jug to cool; flake the fish into large pieces in the baking dish & stir in the carrots, celery & parsley mixture.
- Bring another small saucepan to the boil over gentle heat and then lower the eggs in with a slotted spoon, bring the water back to a gentle boil, with just a few bubbles rising to the surface; cook, then drain and cool in a bowl of cold water; peel, slice into quarters and arrange on top of the fish and scatter over the rest of the chopped parsley.
- Make the sauce by melting half the butter in a pan, stirring in the flour and cook for 1 minute over moderate heat.
- Take off the heat, pour in a little of the cold poaching milk and whisk until blended, adding the milk gradually & mix well until you have a smooth sauce.
- Return to the heat, bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring continually, until it coats the back of a spoon, then remove from the heat, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg &n lemon zest, then pour over the fish; assemble and bake.
- Boil the potatoes until cooked, drain, season and mash with the remaining butter and milk.
- Top the pie with this, starting at the outside of the dish and working your way in – push the mash right to the edges to seal; fluff the top with a fork, sprinkle with cheese and bake for 30 minutes; you can make this a day in advance, refrigerate and bake for 40 minutes.
Few Christians stay away from church at Easter; even those who are of Jewish origin (they traditionally celebrated the resurrection immediately after the Passover festival that falls on the eve of the full moon which is the 14th day of Nisan & the 1st month of the Jewish year but will fall on different days. Christians of Gentile origin, however, commemorate the resurrection on the first day of the week, Sunday, so by their method Easter occurs on the same day of the week, but from year to year falls on different dates. The Sunday celebration seems more practical because the family can spend time together & that’s pretty important in these times. Constantine I, the Roman emperor who convened the Council of Nicaea in 325, ruled that Easter should be celebrated throughout the Christian world on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox and if the full moon should occur on a Sunday and thereby coincide with the Passover festival, Easter should be commemorated on the Sunday following because he was adamant that coincidence of the feasts of Easter and Passover had to be avoided at all costs. All dates were calculated at Alexandria, then the principal astronomical center of the world. Because accurate calculation of the date was an impossible task due to their lack of historical, calendric and astronomical knowledge, they shouldn’t have wasted their time. The chief calendric problem was a gradually increasing discrepancy between the true astronomical year and the Julian calendar then in use. For today, we thought it would be fun to look at Easter lamb in the style of Alexandria today.
ALEXANDRIAN ROASTED LAMB
- 4 x 200 g (or 2 x 400 g) lamb rumps, trimmed
- 30 g cumin seeds, roasted
- 1½ tablespoons coriander seeds, roasted
- 2 tablespoons medium paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground chilli
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped (or grated)
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 180m extra virgin olive oil
- 1 x 800g aubergine (eggplant)
- 2½ tablespoons olive oil
- 6 Roma tomatoes peeled, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon chilli powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 150 ml coarsely chopped coriander, plus extra leaves, to serve
- Start this recipe a day before.
- For chermoula, crush cumin and coriander seeds, add paprika, chilli, garlic, ginger and lemon juice, grind to a paste, then stir in oil; place lamb in a dish, add chermoula and turn to coat well & marinate overnight in the fridge.
- Preheat oven to 190 C for the aubergines.
- For zaalouk, prick eggplant all over with a fork and bake on an oven tray for 1 hour or until very soft, cool & then peel and chop into 3cm pieces; put in a sieve over a bowl to drain.
- Heat some oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add tomatoes and garlic and cook for 15 minutes, stirring in the rest of the ingredients; check and correct the seasoning.
- Preheat oven to 220 C.
- Remove the lamb from the marinade, discarding the rest & heat a heavy-based frying pan over medium heat and add the lamb to brown, transfer this to the oven and cook for 6 – 8 minutes, then set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
- Carve each rump into 4 slices and serve with zaalouk, chickpea salad and cumin yoghurt, scattered with extra coriander.
In many Eastern European countries, Easter Saturday brings blessing baskets that are blessed by priests & thus ends the period of Lent. The beautifully decorated baskets are loaded with a sugar lamb to symbolize Christ, brightly coloured eggs for the resurrection, bread for wealth, salt for health, sausages and meat for bounty & fertility and horseradish to symbolize Christ’s suffering. On Easter Sundays families will share the blessed eggs that are sliced and eaten in relative quiet before the feast begins! Roasted ham, veal, turkey, goose and suckling pig jostles for position with boiled pork, sausages(kielbasa), pancakes, stuffed cabbage, beetroot and horseradish relish(cwikla), sweet Easter cheese made from eggs(hrudka), decorated coloured eggs and honey vodka (krupnik). A lamb sculpted from butter & white sugar or pastry will make up the centerpiece. In Poland, a special Easter soup made with smoked sausages, horseradish & hard-boiled eggs is made by using a stock that’s traditionally made from soaking oatmeal & rye bread in water (modern recipes use vinegar). On Easter Monday leftovers are turned into a hunter’s stew called bigos. The Hungarians prefer meatloaf made from pork, ham, spices and bread & in other Eastern European countries, pastries, cakes and biscuits will find their way to the table. The most famous sweet of all is the Russian (Slovenian) paskha which is a rich pyramid-shaped cheesecake studded with raisins and with the letters XB somewhere on it; it to symbolizes the resurrection of Christ. The Polish sernik, a cheesecake made with the mild lubelski cheese is a must if you’re going to be there this Easter. Kulich, a tall saffron loaf, and babka, a sweet yeast cake, biscuits, flavoured with oranges, lemons, almonds, walnuts, figs, dates, raisins, poppy seeds and candied fruit are also eaten.
- 1 kg fresh cottage cheese, squeezed to remove all the liquid
- 1 cup chopped candied peel
- 5 large egg yolks
- 250 ml confectioners’ sugar
- 250 ml heavy cream
- 150 ml ml coarsely chopped almonds
- 125 ml cup golden raisins
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 250 ml unsalted butter, whipped
- Pass the cottage cheese through a sieve or food mill and set aside.
- In the top of a double boiler, combine egg yolks with sugar.
- Add cream and heat over barely simmering water, stirring constantly, until bubbles form around the edge of the saucepan; don’t overheat or the eggs will curdle.
- Remove from heat and add cheese, almonds, raisins, peel and vanilla, mixing well & then add butter and continue stirring until the mixture cools.
- If you have a paska mould, line it with a double thickness of dampened cheesecloth and pour the mixture inside, cover with a double thickness of dampened cheesecloth; place the lid or a small plate on top and weight it down.
- Place a bowl under the mould to catch any liquid and refrigerate 24 hours.
- Unmould onto a serving plate and decorate with almonds, glaceed cherries, candied peel and green leaves, if desired; cut into thin slices as this is very rich.
- If using a flower pot, proceed as follows; if forming into a ball, over the sink, wrap mixture in double layer of dampened cheesecloth and twist into a tight ball; place in a colander with a bowl underneath to catch any moisture, cover with a plate and weight down with heavy can & proceed as above.
- Note: For a perfectly round ball, people close the cheesecloth with butchers twine and then tie it to a rack in the rerigerator, suspending it over a bowl to catch drips.
EASTER IN SCANDINAVIA
Eggs are feature in Easter festivities in Sweden and Norway, where the emphasis is on humour, bawdiness and fun & coloured eggs, often dyed with onion skins or coffee grounds, are exchanged. A game of the rolling eggs down roofing tiles is also popular, though I can hardly imagine why. In Sweden, regionality plays a huge role in food & there are many variations. On Easter Saturday children dress up as good witches, handing out letters and cards and collecting coins, sweets and eggs. On Easter Sunday the feast is centred around a smorgasbord in Sweden or a koldtbord in Norway. There will be a variety of herrings, including sild (raw herrings in a spicy sauce made from vinegar and onions), a myriad of egg dishes, fish like gravadlax or smoked salmon with dill, roasted ham and a selection of dreamy cheeses accompanied by white, rye & crisp bread & plenty of beer and schnapps. In some households, Jansson’s Temptation (sliced potatoes baked with anchovies and cream) may be served and in Norway, lutefisk (rehydrated dried salt cod) will be on the menu.
Rich and aromatic, this potato dish is layered with smoked sprats (or anchovies) and young onions that are drenched in cream and baked; it’s usually found at a traditional smorgasbord. The dish, so legend goes, is named after Erik Jansson, a Pietist, who was unable to resist the temptation & was caught eating it by a shocked fellow monk. He was accused of failing to reject personal indulgence. The potatoes can be baked, cooled, covered and refrigerated 1 day in advance. To serve warm, reheat them uncovered in a 200 C oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 4 russet potatoes, peeled
- 1 yellow onion, chohpped
- 1 tin marinated sprat fillets, coarsely chopped, liquid reserved
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 250 ml heavy cream
- 125 ml thin cream or whole milk
- 1 to 2 tablespoons plain bread crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 180 C
- Lightly grease a baking dish and put on a baking sheet (to catch any spills).
- Cut off the rounded sides of the potatoes to make 4 large potato rectangles (it’ll be easier to cut into thin sticks).
- Put the trimmings in a small bowl of cool water to keep them from turning brown.
- Cut the rectangular potatoes into thin matchsticks, slicing either down the length of the potato or in half (closer to matchstick length) & out them in a large bowl of cool water as you work (cut the potato trimmings into smaller matchstick-size pieces and add to the larger bowl of potatoes); then drain the cut potatoes & pat dry.
- Use about one-third of them to line the bottom of the baking dish, pressing them flat.
- Sprinkle with half of the diced onion and half of the sprats & season lightly with pepper.
- Create a second layer with half of the remaining potatoes, then top with the remaining onion and sprats and a sprinkling of pepper; finish with the remaining potatoes, pressing down gently.
- Combine the heavy cream, milk and about 2 tablespoons of the reserved liquid from the can of sprats in a liquid measuring cup, stirring to combine; pour evenly over the oven dish – the liquid mustn’t fill the baking dish.
- Place the aluminium foil, shiny side down on the casserole to cover tightly (remember to grease the alminium foil).
- Bake, putting the oven dish on the baking sheet for 55 to 65 minutes & then discarding the foil.
- Sprinkle the top of the casserole with the bread crumbs; bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the crumbs are lightly browned.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
OTHER SWEDISH AND NORWEGIAN EASTER TREATS
- A lemon and almond cheesecake, made with rare new milk is considered an Easter speciality in Sweden.
- In Norway, the meal is accompanied by aquavit (alcohol distilled from potatoes flavoured with caraway) or Paskelbrygg (Easter beer, a blend of the best local beers).