The Simple Art Of Cooking

I was once asked to speak about the specialty foods of Easter and Passover. It is significant that both of these holidays frequently coincide, as it does this weekend, and it is no coincidence. The two holidays are about deliverance, rebirth and renewal. And for this reason eggs play a significant role in both holidays. Eggs play a prominent role in many of the recipes we cook for Easter and Passover. Culturally traditional foods are prepared for the holidays. We share these moments with family and extended family because it means so much to us.

Easter is chief among the Christian holidays and is celebrated with a festive meal at the end of Holy Week, which began on Palm Sunday. It is the anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. At Passover, Jews the world over celebrate one of their most beautiful and cherished traditions, the Passover Seder. The purpose of the Seder is to relate the history of the exodus of enslaved people from Egypt to our children. In so doing, the Haggadah, a special book is read from. This is told at the ceremonial dinner as the participants dine on the symbolic foods of the holiday.

Baskets of Easter eggs with their colorful hues, the fun of preparing them and the hunt happily draw children into the holiday.  For Sephardic Jews, Jews of the Iberian Peninsula, huevos haminados, long cooked eggs are significant for the Jewish Sabbath but also play a prominent role during Passover. The eggs are cooked in lots of water to cover at the barest simmer your stove can handle for 6 or 7 hours, topped with a mantle of onion skins This always brings a huge unbelievable WHAT! – 6 to 7 hours? They emerge a kind of tie-dye color with a delicious creamy texture, much like the poached unborn chicken egg from fresh killed poultry.

One of the joys of both holidays is that it signals the beginning of spring. On the festive Easter table one of the most popular dishes is a roast leg of lamb or a ham. At this time of the year there is a welcome abundance of asparagus and artichokes and so these foods are significant for the holiday as well –as they are on the Passover table.

 

HUEVOS HAMINADOS

Huevos haminados are eggs that cook very slowly for many hours. They emerge a beautiful reddish brown color with a rich creamy taste. This uniquely Sephardic dish is one of the most ancient dishes of the Mediterranean. It is always included in Sabbath celebrations and appears on other holiday tables such as Passover.

 

Eggs, enough for each guest for the Passover Seder

Red or brown onion skins, or both

Square of double layer of cheesecloth

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

 

1. Have the eggs at room temperature. Put them in a deep, 5 to 6 quart pot with a tight-fitting lid and fill the pot with water almost to the top.  Place the onionskins over the top, cover with a square of cheesecloth and cover the pot.  Bring to a low simmer. Lower heat to the barest simmer your range can handle, cover tightly and simmer for 6 to 7 hours, checking the water level occasionally.

 

2. Discard onionskins; Can rinse and reuse the cheesecloth. Remove the eggs carefully with a slotted spoon when done and serve warm or at room temperature sprinkled with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Note: Even with the lengthy cooking time, the eggs are tender and as tasty as a poached unborn chicken egg from freshly killed poultry. This was a treat that my mother saved for me. As one of five kids, perhaps this was the epiphany that led me to a career in food.

 

LAMB STEW, ITALIAN STYLE

Everyone loves Italian food. This recipe would do well on both the Easter and Passover table. The addition of red wine vinegar gives this stew, from the area around Spoleto, Italy, a flavorsome tang.

Serves 8 to 10

 

3 to 4 pounds leg of lamb or lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces

Flour to dredge lamb pieces

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons canola oil

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

4 to 5 carrots, thinly sliced

8 to 10 new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into large dice

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 to 3 cups low-sodium chicken or beef broth

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon lemon juice or to taste

1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley

 

1. For the stew use either lamb shank or shoulder. If using shoulder lamb the cooking would be longer than for the leg of lamb. Trim the lamb of fat and sinew and cut into pieces. Dust the lamb with flour.

 

2. Heat the combined oils in a large skillet and saute the lamb, a few pieces at a time, until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a dish as they are done. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

3. Add garlic to the same pan the lamb cooked in and saute briefly, then add the carrots and potatoes tossing to coat the mixture. Add red wine vinegar and bring to the edge of a boil, stirring to deglaze the pan drippings. Return the lamb to the skillet, add enough broth to cover the meat, and the rosemary. Bring to a boil then adjust heat to medium-low. Cover pan and simmer briskly for 30 to 35 minutes until lamb is tender, test for doneness as the shoulder will need longer cooking. Add lemon juice and stir into the sauce. Taste to adjust seasoning if necessary. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve hot.

 

APRICOT MERINGUE TORTE

This recipe is an old favorite and adaptable to almost any special occasion dessert. It can be completely prepared a day before serving.

Serves 8

 

For the meringue

6 egg whites at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup finely ground almonds

Apricot puree

4 ounces dried apricots, soaked overnight in water to cover

2 1/2-inch wide strips lemon peel

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup heavy cream, whipped

Confectioners sugar for garnish

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter 2 9-inch round cake pans and dust with flour. Line bottom of each pan with round disk of parchment paper.

 

1. In mixing bowl or bowl of electric mixer, beat egg whites at low speed until foamy, add cream of tartar, adjust speed to medium and continue to beat until soft peaks form. Add vinegar, beat just to mix then slowly beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until very stiff and shiny, about 1 minute. With large rubber spatula fold in vanilla and almonds.

 

2. Divide meringue mixture into prepared pans. Reduce oven heat to 350 and bake 35-40 minutes until just lightly colored and crisp to the touch. Torn off oven and allow meringues to dry with door ajar about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Gently invert layers onto a cake rack, and then carefully peel off paper.

 

3. Meanwhile place apricots and soaking liquid in a saucepan. Simmer gently over low heat with lemon peel, about 30-40 minutes until tender. Cool and transfer to a food processor or blender and puree until completely smooth. Transfer contents to a bowl.

 

4. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add lemon juice and bring to the edge of a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes or until a think syrup.

 

5. Whip cream and fold in 1/3 apricot puree, then sandwich between meringue layers. Can be refrigerated covered at this point. Dilute remaining apricot puree with lemon syrup and reserve to spoon over individual portions for serving. When ready to serve transfer to doily lined cake plate and dust with powdered sugar to cover completely.

 

Adapted from Silvia Lehrer’s Cooking at Cooktique, Doubleday.

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