• Stir It Up: Celebrating Easter with spring classics
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     | April 11,2014
     
    Photo by Carin Krasner

    You can celebrate Easter, or simply celebrate spring, with a dish of asparagus in a zesty light yogurt sauce. The photo and recipe are from “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy.”

    Nothing says “spring” like asparagus — except lamb. So it’s no wonder that lamb and asparagus are classic elements of that quintessential spring meal: Easter dinner.

    Asparagus has a decidedly secular history, well documented by Rebecca Rupp in “How Carrots Won the Trojan War: Curious (but True) Stories of Common Vegetables.” In a delightful chapter, “Asparagus Seduces the King of France,” Rupp also explores, as the subtitle explains, “Sanskrit Sex, Persian Poets, Mr. Ramsbottom’s Fatal Mistake, An Abbe’s Apoplexy and Madame Pompadour’s Underwear” — all referring to sometimes naughty tales involving our favorite springtime vegetable.

    Suffice to say that asparagus — since ancient times considered a kind of “vegetable Viagra” for its alleged aphrodisiac qualities — is also prized for its elegance on the plate and its herbaceous taste and luscious texture. As one of the first vegetable harvests of the year, asparagus also has a hopeful quality and therefore makes its appearance on the Easter table.

    Lamb, on the other hand, is rooted in both pagan traditions and the Bible. In Exodus, Moses told the Jews to smear their doors with lamb’s blood, thereby alerting the angel of death to “pass over” Jewish homes while the angel went about killing firstborn Egyptian males. The tie to Christianity was established when Christ was anointed as “the lamb of God” in the Gospels. The oldest Christian blessing of lambs appears in the seventh century. Several hundred years later, Rome adopted the blessing, and roast lamb became the main course of the pope’s Easter dinner.

    Whether you will be celebrating Easter, or simply celebrating spring, a meal of lamb and asparagus will bring joy to those at your table. Renowned chef Wolfgang Puck offers a low-fat asparagus course in the new “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy,” while the late, great Richard Olney printed this recipe for lamb in “Lulu’s Provencale Kitchen.”



    Asparagus With Citrus-Mustard-Yogurt Sauce

    Yield: 4 servings

    2 pounds jumbo asparagus, tough stalk ends snapped off

    2 cups fresh orange juice, strained of pulp

    ½ cup fresh lemon juice

    2 tablespoons grainy mustard

    ½ teaspoon kosher salt

    ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

    1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

    Fresh chives, some finely chopped, some left whole, for garnish



    In a pot large and wide enough to submerge the asparagus horizontally, bring salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until tender but still slightly crisp, 3 to 5 minutes from the time the water returns to a boil.

    Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice cubes and water. Drain asparagus and gently submerge in ice water to stop cooking. Drain well, transfer to a platter, cover with plastic and refrigerate.

    Refill the bowl with ice. In a medium saucepan, combine the juices and bring to a brisk simmer over medium heat. Cook until reduced to ½ cup, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl set inside the bowl filled with ice and stir occasionally until thoroughly cooled. Whisk in the mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk in the yogurt until well blended. Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Whisk before serving.

    Divide the asparagus equally among four chilled serving plates. Spoon a little of the sauce over each serving and garnish with chives. Pass the extra sauce at the table.

    (Recipe from “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy”; Grand Central Life & Style, 2014)



    Leg of Lamb Stuffed With Tapenade

    For the tapenade:

    ½ pound large kalamata olives, pitted

    6 flat anchovy fillets, drained

    3 tablespoons capers, drained

    2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

    Small pinch cayenne

    1 teaspoon tender young savory or rosemary leaves, chopped

    4 tablespoons olive oil



    For the lamb:

    1 (5- to 6-pound) boneless leg of lamb

    2 teaspoons olive oil

    Salt and pepper



    Make the tapenade: Puree all ingredients in a food processor until a coarse paste forms.

    Make the lamb: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. On a clean work surface, open the lamb up as flat as you can. Slather with the tapenade, and tie the lamb back together with white cotton string. (Some of the tapenade may ooze out of the lamb.) Rub lamb with the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

    Place lamb in roasting pan and roast for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center reads at least 145 degrees. (This is the USDA recommendation; if you prefer very rare lamb, you’re on your own.) Remove from oven and set on a warm platter, covered, and allow to rest at least 5 minutes before carving.

    (Recipe from “Lulu’s Provencal Table” by Richard Olney; HarperCollins, 1994)



    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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