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Easter Dinner Ideas

Easter is just a few short days away and many of you have your menus all ready. But for those of you still looking for ideas, here are a few from blog posts in the past. Click on the name of the dish below the photo to take you to the recipe.

Ricotta Broccoli Rape Torta – This is a dish my son makes as an appetizer for Easter, using broccoli rape. No, that spelling is not a mistake, it is rape in Italian, while most Americans spell it broccoli rabe or raab. Any way you spell it, it’s delicious, and a lighter alternative to the heavier, meat-laden pizza piena.

Braided Easter Bread – This bread, studded with hard boiled eggs, is braided with soppressata, olives and cheese, and would be perfect with drinks before dinner.

Grilled Leg of Lamb – Marinated and cooked on the grill, this lamb recipe from Julia Child, is tender and full of flavor.

Honey Baked Ham with roasted grapes – This recipe will make you forget those prepared hams purchased from franchise ham shops – and it’s so easy to make too.

 Neapolitan Pastiera – This traditional Southern Italian dessert is made with ricotta and wheat berries.

Colomba Pasquale – It wouldn’t be Easter in most Italian households without this Easter dove, which you can make at home too.

Coconut covered lamb cake – A childhood favorite, I continue the tradition with the same cake mold my mother used more than sixty years ago.

chocolate lamb cake – Why not give equal time to the black sheep? This cake, decorated with crushed cookie crumbs, will please the chocolate lovers in your family.

coconut cream Easter eggs – These are a weakness of mine, which is why I can’t make them more than once every few years. Otherwise, I’d end up eating dozens of them.

Perfect hard boiled eggs – And if you don’t make any of the above recipes, you’ll probably make hard-boiled eggs at some point. If you’ve ever struggled with peeling them, here’s a primer that will help you avoid frustration.

Buona Pasqua a tutti!




Ham and Brie Mac ‘N Cheese

OK, so you can only serve ham sandwiches and bean soup so many times before you have mutiny on your hands. So what’s a gal to do with all that leftover ham from Easter after the kids have taken some home? 

Well, how about combining it with that brie that’s lingering in the fridge from a party two weeks ago — too ripe to serve raw, but great for cooking. And maybe use up those caramelized onions you intended for the flatbread that got burned and tossed out when you stepped away from the oven for a few minutes?
Put them all together with a bag of artisanal pasta that’s been sitting in your pantry for a couple of months, and you’ve got a stellar mac ‘n cheese.
The pasta — chubby, twisted strands in an embrace — was appropriately called “fidanzati” — or “betrothed.”
 I couldn’t resist.
After making a béchamel sauce, I added the cheese, then tossed the sauce with the ham, the onions and the rest of the ingredients. Keep that cheese sauce very loose — about the consistency of a thin crepe batter, not a pancake batter, because the pasta always absorbs so much of the sauce after it cooks in the oven a bit. Otherwise, you could be left with a very dry mac ‘n cheese.
I sprinkled the pasta with a mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan cheese and herbs, then baked it in a hot oven for about 10 minutes to crisp the top a bit.
 Serve it to friends and family, who undoubtedly, will be grateful not to be eating another ham sandwich again.
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Ham and Brie Mac ‘N Cheese
1 pound pasta, cooked
about 2 cups leftover cooked ham, cubed
1 onion, sliced and caramelized in 1 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 cup milk (I used skim)
1 cup chicken broth (optional – you could use more milk instead)
about 6 ounces good melting cheese, cut into chunks (I used brie since I had it leftover, but fontina or cheddar would work too and if you have more or less than 6 ounces, it won’t matter much. If using brie, remove the rind first)
salt, pepper to taste
1/4 t. dry mustard
several gratings of nutmeg
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour, cooking over low heat for a minute or two. Add the milk slowly, whisking all the while to eliminate any lumps from the flour. Slowly add the chicken broth, and stir, then add the brie and the seasonings, and cook until the brie melts. Turn off the flame and add the parmesan cheese. If it seems to thick, add more milk or chicken broth.
Mix the pasta, the ham and the caramelized onion with the cheese sauce and the parsley. Spoon everything into a buttered casserole dish and sprinkle the crumb topping over all. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes.

crumb topping:
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 T. butter, melted
1/4 t. dried basil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the bread crumbs and basil. Toss for a minute or two, then turn off the heat and add the parmesan cheese. Sprinkle on top of the pasta.

Bean and Ham Soup

Had your fill of ham and cheese sandwiches or omelets from all that leftover Easter ham?

Still have that hambone left? Well then make some soup.

This ham and bean soup made a soul-warming, satisfying and economical dinner during yesterday’s dreary, drizzly weather here in Central New Jersey, with plenty left for the freezer. It looks like today’s weather is no better, so this soup will still be season-appropriate.

A lot of recipes tell you to soak the beans overnight, but I find they’re still rock hard the next day. Just save yourself the trouble and start out with the dried beans and boil them per the instructions below. They’ll soften during the cooking. Just don’t add salt until the end.

Bean and Ham soup

I leave a fair amount of meat on the hambone when I’m trimming the ham, knowing I’m going to be using it for soup. I also add little bits of leftover ham, maybe 1/2 cup to 1 cup or so. Hopefully, you’ve been saving the rinds of Parmesan cheese when you get near the end of a piece. They add great flavor to a soup. Pull one out of the freezer and drop it in the pot with the other ingredients.

1 pound dried small white beans
2 T. olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup diced celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 ham bone, plus extra bits of ham, if desired
10 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
pepper, to taste
1 rind of Parmesan cheese (optional)

Put the beans in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook for 15 minutes on high heat to get rid of any scum. Drain.

In another pot, saute onions, celery, garlic and carrots until soft. Add the rest of the ingredients, including the beans, but don’t add the salt. DON’T add salt to a pot of dried beans or it will take forever to them to soften. Cook over low to medium heat for at least two hours. Remove the rind, the bay leaf and add salt.

Remove the bone and any meat that hasn’t already flaked off. Put the meat back in the soup. You can eat the soup as is, or blend part of it with a stick blender to get a creamier texture.

Olive and Ham Bread

“Le Matte,” the group of Italian women I’ve told you about, who meet each week to chit-chat in Italian, met at my home last week. Over the years, these gatherings have morphed from a simple coffee and cake gathering to an event with an intimidating array of savory and sweet treats. Recently, we’ve tried to limit the foods to two savory and two sweet items. Otherwise, the hostess has to spend too much time in preparation, a deterrent for many who might otherwise offer their homes for the meetings. It seems to be working, along with another new twist started in the last few months. We now team up with a partner and share the work. That makes it much easier and more fun too.

Last week I teamed up with my friend Anna, who hails from the Trentino region, and who also happens to be a great cook. (Well, actually most of the women in this group are terrific cooks.) I made the sweet things -a pastiera and lemon tiramisu – recipes I’ve already posted. Anna offered to make the savory foods and chose two different breads including this olive and ham loaf. It has a really tender crumb and it’s packed chockful with flavorful ingredients. After the group had dispersed, she left me a couple of slices which we ate for dinner that night, alongside some sauteed vegetables and couscous. But it’s also great all by itself if you’re having friends over for dinner and want a little something to serve beforehand with drinks.

One of the ingredients Anna uses in the recipe is mimolette cheese, something I had never heard of before. It’s a cow’s milk cheese that has a greyish crust and an orange-colored interior, and sort of resembles a cantaloupe. Anna said if you can’t find it, you can substitute a good quality aged cheddar cheese instead.

Mimolette cheese

Olive and Ham Bread

For the ham, ask the person at the deli counter to cut you a thick slice of baked ham, then dice it into small bits.

5 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
3 T. mixture of fresh herbs, minced: Italian parsley, basil leaves and chives
3 T. strong French mustard
salt, pepper

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup rye flour
1 T. baking powder

1 1/4 sticks melted butter
1 cup grated mimolette cheese or sharp aged cheddar cheese
1 7-ounce piece of baked ham
1 cup pitted green olives

Preheat oven to 360 degrees.
Butter a 5 x 9 inch loaf pan and coat lightly with flour.
Beat the eggs with a fork, then add the milk, herbs, mustard, salt and pepper to taste.

Sift the flour and the baking powder in a bowl; Add the melted butter, the grated cheese, the olives, the egg/milk mixture and the ham.

Blend the ingredients with a wooden spoon and transfer to the loaf pan. Bake for one hour. The cake is done when a sharp blade inserted in the center comes out dry. Wait 15 minutes before unmolding on a cake rack.

Prosciutto Log Appetizer

This recipe comes to you from my friend Titti, an enthusiastic member of a group I belong to called “Le Matte del Lunedi,” or “The crazy ladies of Monday.” We meet each week to chit-chat in Italian, drink espresso (and sometimes prosecco, I won’t kid ya’) and eat wonderful food prepared by that week’s hostess. It makes you
want to learn Italian just to be part of the group and eat the scrumptious food. Titti is always ready to help out anyone who needs an extra hand and frequently arrives with a special treat to help the hostess, as in the case, the prosciutto log.

The group is comprised of accomplished women who hail from nearly all parts of Italy. Titti is from the Liguria region, others from Lombardy, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Lazio, Campagna, and more. The discussion can range from family to politics, but almost always touches on the subject of food. With so many good cooks from so many regions of Italy, the food at the weekly meetings is always special. Once a year, we invite the husbands for an annual picnic where the ladies (and men) really pull out all the stops, culinarily-speaking. It’s an event no one wants to miss. I’ll be sharing more of the ladies’ recipes in the blog in the coming months. With New Year’s approaching, you might want to include Titti’s prosciutto log on your menu.

The recipe calls for prosciutto cotto, which translates to cooked ham. The cured prosciutto most of you know and love is called prosciutto crudo, or raw ham. Don’t use that in this recipe. Look in a specialty food shop for prosciutto cotto. If you can’t find real prosciutto cotto from Italy, used boiled ham instead, not smoked ham like a Virginia ham. Another substitute that is very close to prosciutto cotto is something that my local market sells called “French ham.” It’s as delicate in flavor as prosciutto cotto, but you’ll want to trim the fat and gelatin around the edges first. At many supermarkets, you’ll find something called “parmacotto,” but that’s not quite right for this recipe, since it normally contains a lot of other flavorings.

Prosciutto Log

1 pound prosciutto cotto, sliced
2 sticks softened butter
2 tsps. cognac
freshly ground black pepper
20 green olives, cut into small pieces

In a food processor, place the prosciutto cotto, butter, cognac and black pepper. Pulse until everything is smooth and well blended. Add the green olive bits and mix in with a spoon. Roll into a log shape and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Chill for a few hours before serving. Serve with bread rounds. To make a prettier presentation, trim the slices with a scallop-shaped cookie cutter, and decorate the plate with fennel fronds, as Titti did.