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Easter menu features recipes from Italy, Spain, France

| Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Italian Easter Pie
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Italian Easter Pie
Italian Easter Pie
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Italian Easter Pie
Spanish “Potatoes of Importance”
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Spanish “Potatoes of Importance”
Spanish “Potatoes of Importance”
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Spanish “Potatoes of Importance”
Warm Brussels Sprout Slaw With Mustard Dressing
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Warm Brussels Sprout Slaw With Mustard Dressing
Warm Brussels Sprout Slaw With Mustard Dressing
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Warm Brussels Sprout Slaw With Mustard Dressing
Roman Braised Lamb in Lemon-Egg Sauce
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Roman Braised Lamb in Lemon-Egg Sauce
Spanish Easter Cakes
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Spanish Easter Cakes
Spanish Easter Cakes
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Spanish Easter Cakes
Spanish Easter Cakes
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Spanish Easter Cakes
An Easter meal prepared by Olga Watkins.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
An Easter meal prepared by Olga Watkins.
Asparagus With Leeks
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Asparagus With Leeks
Asparagus and leeks made by Olga in Highland Park Monday, March 18, 2013.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Asparagus and leeks made by Olga in Highland Park Monday, March 18, 2013.

Many areas of the world share some similar Easter, Passover and spring-related customs and feast ingredients, including lamb and eggs. Lots and lots of eggs.

This Mediterranean Easter menu includes Italian Easter Pie, Roman Braised Lamb With Egg and Lemon Sauce, Spanish “Potatoes of Importance” and Spanish Easter Cakes, plus two seasonal vegetable dishes from France — Asparagus With Leeks and Warm Brussels Sprouts Slaw. Most of these menu items require the kind of time that one would typically reserve only for special-occasion meals. All of these dishes are well worth it.

Olga Watkins is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

Italian Easter Pie

This pie is the perfect way to celebrate the end of Lent, a time of fasting during which many abstain from eating meat. It contains many layers of meat and cheese, as well as several eggs.

Italian Easter Pie recipes vary from region to region, town to town and family to family. Some recipes call for pie crust, others for yeast-based dough. Some call for ham and artichokes, while others require spinach or kale — or no greens at all. Most include ricotta cheese.

This recipe is a definite showstopper to be served as a first-course appetizer.

This should be prepared one to two days ahead of time, chilled in the refrigerator and then served at room temperature.

For the dough:

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

2 12 cups warm water

1 teaspoon salt

5 12 to 6 cups flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the filling:

1 pound fresh baby spinach

14 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 pound hot or sweet Italian sausage, cooked and crumbled

34 cup parmesan cheese, shredded, divided

34 cup Romano cheese, shredded, divided

3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg white, beaten

2 pounds ricotta cheese

23 pound fresh mozzarella pearls or chopped mozzarella

For assembly:

Flour for rolling dough

Olive oil

14 pound thinly sliced prosciutto

14 pound thinly sliced sweet sopressata

8 slices provolone cheese

14 pound thinly sliced sweet capicolla

6 large eggs, beaten

14 pound thinly sliced mortadella with pistachios

1 large egg yolk, plus 2 teaspoons water, beaten

To prepare the dough: In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and stir gently until the yeast is completely dissolved. Let the yeast and water sit in a warm spot in your kitchen for about 10 minutes. Add the salt and the flour a little at a time and stir with a wooden spoon until you have to use your hands to continue mixing. The dough should be silky soft and not sticky or too dry. Add more flour until the dough reaches the consistency of pizza dough, then knead it in the bowl for 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer the dough into another large bowl that has been lightly greased with olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic and set it in a warm place. Allow the dough to rise until it doubles in size, for about 1 hour.

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling.

To prepare the filling: Saute the fresh spinach on low heat in a large saute pan in the 14 cup of olive oil until it has all wilted. Add a few pinches of salt and some fresh pepper to the spinach while it cooks. Transfer it to a fine strainer to drain the liquid, stirring it in the strainer occasionally so more liquid runs off the spinach.

After the spinach cools and drains, transfer it to a mixing bowl. Add the cooked and crumbled hot sausage, 14 cup of parmesan, 14 cup of Romano and 13 of the 3 beaten eggs and egg white mixture and stir.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine the remaining 23 of the 3 beaten eggs and egg white with the ricotta, mozzarella, 12 cup of parmesan and 12 cup of Romano cheese and stir.

To assemble: Heat oven to 350 degrees. When the dough has risen, divide it in half. Turn the first half out onto a floured surface and use a rolling pin to roll it out into a circle that is 13 inches to 15 inches in diameter and 13-inch to 12-inch thick. I used a 10-inch-by-3-inch springform pan for mine. A 9-inch-by-3-inch or 10-inch-by-3-inch round cake pan will also work.

Grease the pan lightly with olive oil and line it with the first circle of dough. Make sure the dough is pressed into the bottom and sides of the pan and covers the sides completely with about 12 inch of overhang.

Fill the dough in the pan by first adding a layer of the ricotta cheese mixture, about 1 to 1 14 cups, spread it evenly across the dough. Add a thin layer of prosciutto on top of the cheese mixture. Make sure it covers the entire surface of the cheese all the way to the sides of the pan.

Add another layer of the cheese mixture, 1 to 1 14 cups, spread evenly to all sides. Add a layer of sopressata, covering the entire surface and touching all sides. Add a layer of provolone cheese in the same manner. Add the spinach and sausage mixture in an even layer.

Next, carefully add a layer of capicolla on top of the 6 beaten ggs, covering the entire surface of the spinach and eggs. Add half of the remaining cheese mixture on top of the capicolla in an even layer. Add a layer of mortadella, then add the remaining cheese mixture.

Roll out the remaining dough into a 10-11 inch circle. Cap the pie with the dough and trim the edge. Set the trimmings aside. Press the ends of the bottom and top crust together and pinch them into a scalloped edge, making sure the ends are sealed. Roll out the trimmings and cut the design of your choice into the dough. A cross is the most common design. You may prefer to make the shape of a spring flower or other design.

Place the cut dough on the top of the pie. Brush the entire surface with the beaten egg yolk and water. Bake in the center of the oven for 75 minutes; turn halfway around once or twice to avoid an uneven color when the item is cooked.

Allow the pie to cool at room temperature for about 1 hour before transferring it to the refrigerator. Chill the pie overnight, then remove it from the refrigerator 2 hours before serving. Slice it into thin slices and serve at room temperature.

Makes 16 servings.

Roman Braised Lamb in Lemon-Egg Sauce

This is a simple braised lamb that is finished on the stove top on the smallest possible flame with a mixture of beaten egg yolks, lemon juice and herbs that gives the dish a velvety smooth sauce.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 12 to 4 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 2-inch cubes, any thick sections of fat trimmed

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 medium-size white onion, diced to 14-inch

3 pieces prosciutto, finely diced

1 12 cups dry white wine

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups hot water

5 large egg yolks

Juice of 1 medium-size lemon

14 cup chopped, fresh parsley

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Melt the butter and heat the oil together in a heavy, deep saucepan or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chunks of lamb in small batches, adding a pinch of salt and pepper to each piece and brown on all sides. As the lamb is browned, remove it from the pan and transfer it to a bowl.

Add the onion and prosciutto to the hot oil. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir with a wooden spoon until the onions are soft. Add the wine and stir, scraping the bits of lamb off of the bottom of the pan. Add the flour and stir the mixture until it is incorporated into the wine and onions. Add the lamb back into the pan and any juice that has collected in the bowl and stir. Add the hot water and stir again.

Turn the heat down to simmer and cover the pan. Simmer the lamb for 1 12 hours. Remove the lid and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Transfer the pot of lamb to the lowest possible heat on your stove top.

After another 15 minutes, in a separate bowl, gently whisk the egg yolks while gradually adding the lemon juice, parsley and oregano to the bowl. Slowly pour the egg mixture over the contents of the pan, then gently stir using a wooden spoon. It is important that you use the lowest heat possible so as to avoid curdling the eggs. After the egg mixture is added, simmer the stew on the lowest possible setting on your stove top for another 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Spanish ‘Potatoes of Importance'

Thick-sliced potatoes coated in flour and fried in olive oil are simmered in chicken broth, onions and garlic. This recipe requires about 1 hour, start to finish. If you plan to serve this with the lamb, you can prepare and cook it while the lamb is simmering.

2 cups, plus 14 cup, extra-virgin olive oil, more if needed

3 cups flour for coating potatoes, plus 14 cup

2 small yellow onions, diced to 14 inch

4 medium-size cloves garlic, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

6 to 8 threads saffron

4 cups chicken broth

8 medium-size Russet potatoes, peeled, rinsed and sliced into 13-inch to 12-inch slices

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

In a large, deep saute pan, heat the 2 cups of oil on medium heat. Add more olive oil if the level of the oil isn't deep enough to submerge the sliced potatoes for frying.

Place the 3 cups of flour in a wide, shallow bowl or on a plate.

In a separate, heavy, deep stock pot or Dutch oven, saute the onions and garlic in the 14 cup of olive oil on medium heat until the onions are soft. Take care not to brown the onions or garlic. When the onions are soft, stir in 14 cup of flour and add a few pinches of salt and pepper. Add the saffron and chicken broth and allow the mixture to heat.

While the broth mixture is heating, turn the oil in the other pan up to medium-high.

Place several slices of potatoes in the flour, coating them on both sides. After you have coated several pieces, dip them in the beaten egg, making sure that both sides are covered with egg, drain quickly and transfer to the hot oil. Do not overcrowd the pan or the temperature of the oil will dip. Cook the potatoes in batches.

Brown the potatoes on both sides, then transfer each batch to a plate lined with paper towels. After you start the second batch, place the first batch of fried potatoes in the chicken broth in a single layer. Repeat this process until all of the potatoes are fried and in the hot chicken broth in layers. After all of the fried potatoes have been added to the chicken broth, turn the heat down to simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer the potatoes for about 30 minutes or until the liquid in the pan is just below the top layer of potatoes. Serve hot.

Makes 8 servings.

Asparagus With Leeks

4 ounces bacon, prosciutto or pancetta, diced to 14 inch

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 12 pounds asparagus, cleaned, woody parts removed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 medium-size cloves fresh garlic, minced

2 large leeks, white and light-green parts only, cleaned and very thinly sliced

Juice of 12 medium-size lemon

Zest of 1 medium-size lemon

2 teaspoons orange zest

To prepare the asparagus: Heat a large saute pan on medium heat. Saute the pancetta or bacon until it is lightly caramelized and most of the fat is rendered. Add the butter to the pan. After the butter melts, add the asparagus and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook the asparagus for about 2 minutes on each side. Remove the asparagus from the pan and transfer it to a plate. Add the garlic and leeks to the pan; add a pinch of salt and pepper and saute until the leeks begin to soften. Add the asparagus back into the pan, add the lemon juice, lemon and orange zest and cover the pan for about 2 minutes. Remove the lid and turn the asparagus. Serve the asparagus immediately, covered with the leeks, pancetta and any sauce left in the pan.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Warm Brussels Sprout Slaw With Mustard Dressing

For the slaw:


2 teaspoons salt

1 12 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed


For the dressing:

12 cup, plus 14 cup extra-virgin olive oil

14 cup pure maple syrup

12 cup whole-grain Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

13 large carrot, finely shredded

Bring 2 quarts of water and the salt to a rapid boil. Add the trimmed Brussels sprouts to the boiling water and set a timer for 5 minutes. Make sure you have 2 or 3 trays of ice cubes handy. After the sprouts have cooked for 5 minutes, drain the hot water. Add the ice cubes and fill the pan with cold water. Allow the sprouts to sit in the ice water for 10 minutes, then drain the cold water. Use a food processor or a sharp knife to slice the sprouts into 14-inch slices. Pull the sliced leaves of the sprouts apart by hand and transfer back to the strainer to drain any additional liquid. You can do this a day ahead and refrigerate the sprouts until you're ready to serve.

To prepare the dressing: Combine all of the dressing ingredients, except 14 cup olive oil and the shredded carrot, in a mixing bowl and whisk. The dressing also can be mixed in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

Just before serving the slaw, heat the 14 cup olive oil in a large saute pan on medium heat. Add the sliced sprouts, the dressing and the shredded carrots to the pan. Toss in the pan until the sprouts and dressing are warm. Do not caramelize the sprouts. Season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings.

Spanish Easter Cakes

This cake is made with crushed almonds and orange peel in the batter and decorated with chocolate sauce, little chocolate Easter eggs and other candies. Some versions of this cake call for a filling of apricot jam.

For the cakes:

8 tablespoons butter, softened

1 14 cups sugar

4 large eggs

2 23 cups almonds, finely ground

34 cup flour

12 teaspoon baking powder

Zest and juice of 1 medium-size orange

12 cup water

For the decoration:

3 cups dark-chocolate chips or pieces

2 tablespoons butter

Small chocolate eggs and colorful jimmies or other candies for decorating

To prepare the cakes: Cream the 8 tablespoons of butter and sugar and set aside. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on low speed to beat the eggs, one at a time, and slowly add the ground almonds, flour, baking powder, orange zest and water. Add the butter and sugar mixture, and mix until all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 medium-size, 12-cup muffin pans. (This recipe can be baked as one 9-inch round cake or as multiple small cakes.)

Fill each muffin cup halfway. Bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes, then rotate and turn the pans and bake for another 10 minutes. Do the toothpick test to make sure the cakes are cooked in the center.

As soon as the cakes are removed from the oven, top each with a little fresh orange juice. Decorate the cakes after they have cooled and have been removed from the muffin pans.

To decorate: Melt the dark-chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons butter together. Dip the tops of the cakes into the melted chocolate. Immediately add the chocolate eggs and other decorations to the warm, melted chocolate on the cakes. When the chocolate cools, it will hold the other decorations in place. These can also be made a day or two in advance.

Makes 12 servings.

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