Cookery Feature - Easter Gathering

Even though international events mean that celebrations are touched with sadness this year, Easter is always a great time to get together around the table with family and friends if at all possible - and there is something very comforting about sharing traditional food and favourite recipes.
A very late Easter brings more choice of local foods to enjoy for a special meal, as the season is more advanced. I generally prefer to wait until later in the season to buy lamb for roasting - when the joints are bigger, more flavoursome (and better value) - but if you’re cooking for a small number this might be the year to push out the boat. Irish spring lamb would certainly be a treat centrepiece for any meal, and there will be more early vegetables than usual to enjoy with it as well. For a larger gathering, new season lamb may not be a practical choice, as it will still be small and priced accordingly, but good butchers will have hogget (one year old) which would be ideal where a bigger joint is needed to serve a hungry family, and perfect for the tried and trusted main course below. These recipes combine to make a traditional menu of old favourites that are not too demanding on the cook - and it’s not just for Easter of course.

Achill Island organic smoked salmon with Kelly's black pudding, red onion marmalade and crème fraiche, with warm boxty
A lovely starter from Frankie Mallon, of the popular Westport restaurant An Port Mór, who contributed the recipe to the Kelly’s of Newport book, The Proof is in the Pudding (€15 from Mayo Books). Boxty is made in-house at An Port Mor (and can be made at home of course, see below), but it is also produced by a number of businesses including Dromod Boxty  and widely available to buy.

4 pieces of boxty (recipe below)
400g smoked salmon
400g black pudding
400g of red onion marmalade
100ml crème fraiche
50g chopped chives
mixed salad leaves
Place the boxty in the centre of a serving dish. Pan fry the black pudding for 2 minutes on each side and place on top of the boxty.
Place the smoked salmon on the black pudding. Warm the red onion marmalade in a small pan and place a tablespoon on top of the smoked salmon.
Mix the crème fraiche with the chopped chives and spoon on top of the red onion marmalade. Dress the salad leaves with a little vinaigrette and arrange around the plate and serve.

A potato speciality of North-West Ireland, there are several varieties - boxty bread or cakes (‘boxty on the griddle’), boxty pancakes (‘boxty on the pan’) and boxty dumplings. This recipe for ‘boxty on the pan’ is from my cookbook, The Best of Irish Breads & Baking. The quantities are just a starting point as, like so many traditional Irish dishes, the recipe is endlessly variable - the milk and flour can be adjusted depending on how thin you like your pancake and cooked mashed potato can also be included, but enough milk must always be added to form a dropping consistency. This quantity will make more than enough for the smoked salmon starter above but any left over can be used another time - delicious with free range rashers for breakfast.

Makes about 4 pancakes, depending on the size of pan used.

l lb/450g potatoes
About ¼ pint/150ml milk
2-3 oz/50-75g flour
Salt to taste.
Peel and chop the potatoes, then process in a blender or food processor until the potato is thoroughly liquidised. Add flour and enough milk to give a dropping consistency. Season to taste with salt.
Heat a little butter or dripping on a griddle or cast-iron frying pan. Pour about a quarter of the mixture onto the pan - if the consistency is correct it will spread evenly over the pan. Cook over moderate heat for about 5 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the cake.

Roast Leg of Lamb with Honey Orange Glaze, Redcurrant & Mint Dressing and Boulangère Potatoes
Based on a popular Bord Bia recipe, this easy roast would be ideal for a family gathering over Easter and is also perfect for Sunday lunch at any time of year. To serve a large number it would not be new season lamb of course, but hogget (last season’s lamb), which can be bought from good butchers and may be available online (from Achill Mountain Lamb, for example). Shoulder of lamb, which is especially tender and sweet-flavoured and makes a lovely roast, could be used instead for a smaller group of about 6 people.
Serves 8-10

1 good-sized leg of lamb, trimmed
3 cloves garlic, sliced
Few sprigs of rosemary
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 head of garlic
2 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with some salt
Rind of 1 orange
2 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp olive oil
Glass of white wine (or cider)
Redcurrant & Mint Dressing
4 tbsp redcurrant jelly
Juice of 1 orange
Dash of port or red wine (optional)
Few sprigs of mint

Preheat the oven at 200°C (400°F) Gas Mark 6.
Make about 10 incisions in the lamb with a sharp knife. Push a sliver of garlic and a sprig of rosemary into each hole. Place the lamb in a roasting tray with some chopped onions and a head of garlic cut in half. Mix together the crushed garlic, orange rind, honey and olive oil. Spread the mixture over the lamb. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Then add the glass of wine (or cider) and a glass of water (this will stop the honey from burning). Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C (350°F) Gas Mark 4 and continue the cooking for another hour for pink lamb. Rest for 15 minutes before serving.
When the lamb is cooked, remove it from the roasting tray and strain the juices; keep the garlic to serve with the lamb. To the juices, add another dash of wine and a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly. Boil it up to make a jus, finish with a knob of butter and taste for seasoning.
To make the dressing, gently heat the redcurrant jelly, orange juice, wine (if using) and mint. Add a little lemon juice if you think it is too sweet. Serve warm with the sliced lamb.
Boulangère Potatoes are very good with the roast lamb and can be cooked in the oven at the same time. Simply layer some thinly sliced potatoes in a baking dish with thinly sliced onions which have first been sautéed in a knob of butter. Add seasoning and a few more knobs of butter as you do the layers. Finish off with some chicken stock and a sprinkling of grated cheese. Bake for 40-50 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the topping is golden and crispy.

Tangy Lemon Tart (Tarte au Citron)
This recipe from ‘Meals For All Seasons’ makes a lovely dinner party dessert at any time of year but, with its golden colour and zingy flavour, it is perfect for Easter or any springtime gathering. Although rich, this is an easy version as the shell does not need to be pre-baked before filling and the filling is simple to make. Like other tarts, it is best eaten on the day of making, but it can be prepared ahead and gently re-warmed.
Serves 8-10

7oz/200g plain flour
Pinch of salt
4oz/l00g butter, preferably unsalted, at room temperature
2 level tablespoons caster sugar
1 small egg, lightly beaten
A little very cold water, if necessary
2 large, juicy lemons
2 large eggs or 4 yolks
4 oz/l00g caster sugar
2 oz/50g ground almonds
4 oz/l00g butter, preferably unsalted, well softened
¼ pint/150 ml double cream
Icing sugar for dusting.

Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl or processor, cut in the butter and rub in/process to make a mixture like fine breadcrumbs. Using a fork if making by hand, work in the sugar, the lightly beaten egg and, if necessary, a little very cold water to make a smooth dough.
Roll into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill for an hour before use, if possible.
When ready to cook, roll fairly thinly and use to line a 10"/25 cm loose-bottomed tin. Prick the base lightly with a fork and leave in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
Preheat a very moderate oven, 325°F, 170°C, Gas mark 3.
Grate the zest from one of the lemons; squeeze the juice from both and strain. Using an electric mixer if possible, whisk together the eggs and sugar until very light and fluffy, add the ground almonds, the softened butter, the cream, lemon juice and zest.
Whisk together gently until the mixture is smooth and creamy, but take care not to overbeat as it may curdle. Pour into the pastry case and bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, or until the filling is set and a light golden brown.
Serve warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar.
If you have some berries from last summer left in the freezer this is the ideal time to use them up, as a berry compote pairs nicely with this - along with some chilled and slightly sweetened whipped cream on the side.
And to round off your meal? What else but some gorgeous Irish handmade chocolates (one of the newer speciality producers is Praliné, in Athlone) or an Irish Easter egg with your coffee.

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