Our chef looks forward…

Easter Day is on the horizon and a feast must be planned and prepared. Last year’s Lamb and Chocolate Hotpot was not an unqualified success, so I thought that this year I’d revert to serving the two compulsory Easter Day ingredients in different courses. Obviously, you’ll be spending most of your waking hours in Church during Holy Week, so opportunities for getting ahead with the menu are limited. Simplicity should rule the day, along with a touch of alacrity, as you won’t want to be late for Evensong, or Vespers, or Maria Consolata, or Benediction, or the Antiques Road Show.

First, though, the music to accompany your mise en place: you will already have listened to a Bach Passion, a Stabat Mater, or some such on Good Friday, while you were eating your fish and chips. (I always try to listen to the Pusey House recording of the Palestrina Good Friday Reproaches. I forget why.) But Holy Saturday is a challenge. Usually, I cheat by playing A Capella Portuguesa’s CD Music for Holy Week at the Chapel of the Dukes of Braganza, c.1736. Even though it includes music for earlier in the week, I always find that it gets me in the mood for Sunday’s pudding: Chocolate and Lime Thing.

Start by breaking a bar of really good chocolate, high in cocoa solids, into your blender. Bring half a pint of single cream almost to the boil in a small pan, and then pour it onto the chocolate. For preference, put the lid on the machine and then give it a good zap. Add one very fresh egg and a tiny pinch of sea salt, and blend again. A few drops of vanilla essence would be a nice addition if you had any to hand. Decant the resulting delicious sludge into suitable small pots and whack into the coldest part of the fridge as soon as you can. Next, combine in a pan about three-quarters of a pint of double cream, four ounces of caster sugar, and the juice and grated zest of two limes. Bring to the boil, stirring all the while, and then keep it at a brisk simmer for exactly five minutes. Take off the heat and leave to infuse for about half an hour, and then decant into a jug through a fine sieve. Once your pots of chocolate have set properly, pour the lime cream onto the chocolate and return to the fridge. Remove them only when it is time to eat them.

Off to the Easter Vigil next, and then home to a glass of something agreeable, no more than half an Easter Egg, and a quick listen to the Et resurrexit from Bach’s B minor Mass, played as loudly as your equipment and neighbours will allow.

Come Easter Day itself, try some Roman Lamb (patrimony, and all that). Allow about half a pound of young lamb per person – shoulder or leg, the younger the better – trimmed and diced into two-inch cubes. Heat a little olive oil in a cast iron pan and brown the lamb all over, before adding a few chopped sage and rosemary leaves, a clove or two of chopped garlic, salt, and black pepper. Dust the contents of the pan with a dessert spoon or so of sieved flour and turn the lamb pieces, which will now turn a darker shade of brown. Add a quarter of a pint of white wine vinegar and boil rapidly for half a minute, before adding the same amount of water. Bring to a slow simmer, cover and cook very gently for about an hour, checking from time to time that it is not drying out. If necessary, add a tablespoon or two more water.

When the lamb is tender, add about four very finely chopped anchovy fillets to the small amount of juice which remains, and baste the lamb for a few moments before serving with, perhaps, some plainly-cooked Jersey Royals and some Broad Beans with Ham: pod your beans, blanch them for a moment or two and then slip them out of their greyish outer skins. Return them to a pan with a diced quarter-inch thick slice of Serrano Ham, some chopped garlic and parsley, a small glass of white wine, and a generous slug of olive oil. Cook at a decent simmer until the wine has evaporated and the oil bathes the beans in a shiny sauce.

For a first course, perhaps try some King Prawns in a Spiced Honey Sauce. Melt a very generous knob or two of unsalted butter in a pan, and then soften a finely chopped banana shallot for a minute or two. Next, add a tablespoon each of grated garlic and ginger. Stir, and then add a tablespoon of soy sauce, a little finely chopped red chilli, and a whole lot of runny honey – getting on for half a pint for four people. Meanwhile, quickly fry in olive oil four or five peeled king prawns per person and then add to the sauce. Serve the result with good bread, with which to mop up.

Sit down to the strains of Mozart’s Regina Cæli, K.108 – if possible in the Christopher Hogwood recording with the delicious Dame Emma Kirkby. Don’t forget the cheese before pudding: St Nectaire if you possibly can. ND