Easter feasting: Delicious dinners (+recipes)

By Grant Allen

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Easter weekend is approaching. Here's another chance to indulge with these delicious meal ideas.

Roasted chicken with gluten-free herb stuffing and mushroom gravy. Photo / Doug Sherring
Roasted chicken with gluten-free herb stuffing and mushroom gravy. Photo / Doug Sherring

I asked various friends about foods they associated with Easter. Roast lamb, ham and stuffed birds were the most remembered. I don't recall any thing that was only eaten at this time, apart from hot cross buns and Easter eggs. However, it was usually a time for extended family get-togethers and delicious food would have been part of the mix.

Lamb is very much a European Easter tradition. I found out how expensive it was to buy there 20 years ago, when I decided to cook a typical Kiwi roast for a family I was staying with in Switzerland. Walking into the butcher, I asked for a leg. The scrawny joint I was presented with would have been laughed off the table here. It cost the equivalent of $100. The family told me they only ate lamb at Easter or Christmas.

The Jewish Passover feast of roast lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs commemorated the first Passover. As Hebrews converted to Christianity, these traditions blended and lamb became a part of the Easter table.

Ham is more an American Easter special. Pork was killed in the autumn and curing would start to take place. The first hams were ready around the time of Easter and were natural choice for post-Lent Easter celebrations.

Until relatively recently, poultry was a special-occasion meat. Perhaps it was this "high days and holidays" status that saw us make it part of Easter.

Roasted chicken with gluten-free herb stuffing and mushroom gravy

Either for 2 people or 4

If you live alone, or there is just the two of you, stuffing a poussin is a good way to satisfy the craving for a roast without having to eat leftovers for the rest of the week. A poussin is a baby fowl raised for the table and grown to a particular size.

Gluten-free herb stuffing

1 You will need to work out quantities depending on the size of the bird you are using. Finely chop white onion and soften it in a good amount of melted butter.

2 Soak equal quantities of oatmeal and fine polenta in hot water until the oatmeal absorbs the water and softens. Drain if needed. The mix should be damp but not sodden.

3 Mix in another quantity of gluten-free panko crumbs - you should use equal amounts of oatmeal, polenta and panko.(These can be found in Asian food shops and some supermarkets.) Mix this into the softened onion and butter.

4 Chop another quantity of mixed fresh herbs, especially parsley, chives, thyme, marjoram and if possible french tarragon. Go easy if you are using rosemary as it has a more dominant in flavour. Add the juice and fine zest of a lemon. Season well with ground pepper and salt.

5 Bind this together with beaten egg, 1 egg for a poussin stuffing, 2 to 3 to hold together stuffing for a medium-sized chicken.

6 Stuff this into the bird, skewer and tie the bird to keep the stuffing contained.

7 Roast in a medium oven. Don't forget to cover the base of your pan with water or chicken stock to keep the roast moist and make liquid for the gravy. When cooked, remove from the oven, drain off the liquid and allow the chicken to rest.

8 Make your gravy the usual way using the cooking liquid and some beef stock if you want a richer sauce.

9 Add some sliced dark mushrooms that you have previously cooked. Allow to thicken.

10 I served this with roasted potatoes, sliced leeks and green cabbage cooked quickly in oil. To continue the herby theme I added some torn fresh sage leaves as the greens finished cooking.

Fresh picked red cabbage

1 Finely shred half a red cabbage and rinse under cold water. Drain.

2 In a deep pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and soften 1 finely chopped red onion. Toss the drained cabbage in this until it starts to wilt.

3 Add a tablespoon of honey and 2 tablespoons of sharp vinegar (white, red wine even malt). Mix it together over a gentle heat and check the sweet and sour balance.

4 You may need to add a little more vinegar or honey, depending on your taste. Cook gently till most of the liquid has reduced. Serve warm.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Sean Armstrong (Loaf Bakery) for his recipe and time.

Check http://www.loaf.co.nz/ for stockists
https://www.facebook.com/loafbreads
Thanks to Mary Taylor, Robyn Kippenberger and Jorg Kamerman for their ideas and recipes.

* What's your favourite feast to eat for Easter? Do you have any traditions?

- Herald on Sunday

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