Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter dinner

Ham is traditional for Easter where I grew up, but one spring I remember a friend of mine asking if gentiles served ham for Easter dinner as an impromptu religious test. I find that I usually serve lamb on Easter, not because I keep kosher -- far from it -- but rather because lamb has a fun aura of ecclesiastical correctness.

The other problem with ham is logistical: if you buy a fresh ham so you can have the fun of cooking it yourself, you have a lot of damn ham. Dave and I were given a country ham (ham preserved in what must be an equal weight of salt, for those of you unfamiliar with it) for Christmas many years ago. It was delicious. It was also about the size of a toddler, and by March we were desperate. They don't go bad, and you only want about an ounce at a time because it's so salty. So they last, and last, and last.

We have been very conservative ham buyers since then.

Lamb is tricky in its own right, though. I tend to like lamb very thoroughly cooked, and I horrify sensible friends by eating steak tartare. It's the membranes running through the meat that turn me off. So here's how I cook it:

The day before you plan to eat it, soak and cook some white beans. I go for cannellini, but navy beans work fine too. Buy a lamb roast -- I've used leg, shoulder, and shank, depending on how many people I'm cooking for -- and season it.

The next morning, chop some odori (an onion, a smallish celery rib, and a clove or two of garlic) and line the bottom of a baking dish with them. Add the lamb, some white wine, and a bottle of strained tomatoes. Cover this tightly and leave it in a slow oven for four hours. At that point, check that the lamb isn't drying out, add more wine if necessary, and add the beans. Re-cover the dish and pop it back in the oven. Give it another two hours; it can hold for longer if you need it to.

Serve this with a green salad, adding if possible some nice fresh dandelion leaves from your yard to give it an astringent feel.


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