Eggs etcetera

The lamb's in the oven, the kids are hyper on chocolate ... Now the grown-ups need an extra Easter treat, says Mark Hix
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Indy Lifestyle Online

You should have your spring lamb ready for tomorrow. If not, it's probably too late for me to be telling you what to cook for your Easter lunch. But there's still time to think about pudding or that chocolate fix that Easter wouldn't be Easter without. Then I've added a couple of interesting savouries that aren't exactly traditional, but have Eastery connections (bunnies and eggs), for anyone to try over the next few days if you are feeling a bit extrovert and edgy.

You should have your spring lamb ready for tomorrow. If not, it's probably too late for me to be telling you what to cook for your Easter lunch. But there's still time to think about pudding or that chocolate fix that Easter wouldn't be Easter without. Then I've added a couple of interesting savouries that aren't exactly traditional, but have Eastery connections (bunnies and eggs), for anyone to try over the next few days if you are feeling a bit extrovert and edgy.

Easter is a time for bakers to show their skill, making breads with elaborate plaits and symbolic fish shapes topped with almonds to represent scales. Our traditional Simnel fruit cake - with a layer of marzipan in the middle and more on top, decorated with marzipan balls to represent the 12 apostles (11 if you leave out Judas) - doesn't make many appearances now, but hot cross buns are available year round. They are the only English breads to retain the cross which, after the Reformation, was cut in the rising dough to let the devil fly out.

In Spain they will celebrate with Castilian Easter bread, hornazo, flavoured with olive oil, pork fat or chorizo. Sounds like my kind of loaf. In France they may well be making special biscuits called agneau pascal (Easter lamb), made in the shape of a recumbent lamb, topped with meringue to represent the wool.

Coloured eggs are also baked in breads in countries such as Greece to represent rebirth and the blood of Christ. I like to keep foil-covered sickly chocolate eggs out of the picture, but welcome the chance to crack open a duck egg or two, or to make a rich dessert.

Far Breton

Serves 4

A far is a custardy pudding similar to a clafouti, but with a denser, almost quiche-like texture, common in Brittany. The prunes and Armagnac give it a sort of boozy, celebratory feel, perfect to round off an Easter lunch.

100ml milk
2 small eggs, beaten
35g caster sugar
35g butter, melted, plus some extra for greasing
A few drops of good quality vanilla essence
A pinch of salt
35g plain flour
90g stoned prunes, soaked in water for 4-5 hours
15g raisins, soaked in water for a couple of hours
50ml Armagnac or brandy
Icing sugar for dusting

Whisk the milk, eggs, caster sugar, flour, butter, vanilla and salt in a bowl to make a smooth batter then refrigerate for 1 hour.

Put the prunes and raisins in a pan with the soaking liquid, bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes until the fruit has softened, add the Armagnac and cook on a high heat until there is no liquid left. The Armagnac may ignite - don't worry, the alcohol is just burning off and the flame will burn out. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Butter a 20cm x 5cm deep cake tin, preferably non-stick and with a removable bottom, and place on a baking tray. If you haven't got a non-stick one then butter and lightly flour a normal one, or you could use a non-stick frying pan that's got an oven-proof handle. Give the batter a final whisk up and pour into the cake tin, then spoon in the prunes and raisins distributing them evenly.

Bake for about 1 hour until the sides have puffed up and are golden, and a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. If it's colouring too much, turn the oven down or cover with foil. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Carefully remove from the cake tin. If you haven't got a removable-bottomed tin, invert the cake on to a plate then turn it on to a serving dish. Dust with icing sugar, serve in slices with crème fraîche or more prunes in Armagnac or other boozy fruit left over from Christmas.

Chocolate mousse

Serves 4-6

The kids will be surrounded by chocolate eggs, but this is strictly for healthy adults, not least because of all the raw egg. Chocolate mousse is one of those comforting desserts that go down well anytime. The quality of the chocolate is important, so sadly you can't get away with melting down the kids' pale-brown stuff: you have to buy dark chocolate with at least 70 per cent cocoa solids for best results. You don't need anything else with this, although a few dark-chocolate shavings, or a mixture of dark and white chocolate, look good.

250g good quality dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
50g unsalted butter, softened
9 very fresh egg whites
6 egg yolks beaten
125g caster sugar

Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring every so often until melted. Make sure you don't get any water near the chocolate. Remove from the heat and beat the butter into the chocolate with a whisk or spoon until smooth.

In a bowl that's really clean - preferably washed in boiling water to remove any grease, and dried - whisk the egg whites until frothy but not stiff, using a mixer or an electric whisk on a medium high speed. Add half the sugar to the egg white and continue whisking on a low setting until the egg whites are stiff. Add the rest of the sugar and continue beating until the egg whites stiffen up even more, then mix in the egg yolks with a metal spoon.

Carefully stir half the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture - a whisk helps - then stir the rest in with a large spoon until well mixed in. Pour into a large serving dish and leave to set for a couple of hours, or overnight.

Braised rabbit with carlings and wild garlic

Serves 4

Carlings are dried black peas, sometimes referred to as maple peas. They are traditionally eaten in the North on the fifth Sunday of Lent in a dish that rather resembles a pease pudding, made by boiling them in a cloth. I had a hell of a job getting my hands on them - you may well want to use dried peas, or split peas.

I was up in the Peaks visiting the kids and went to Stockport market where I had seen them before. The old market had unfortunately poshed up a bit and sold Puy lentils now instead. I was told Hyde market was the place to go and one of the traders told me that the pet shop was the place to get them, but even they had stopped stocking them. I went to one of the few tripe dressers left in the North, Jack Curvis, although on the way we saw some on a stand selling pulses and Asian goodies.

The carlings are traditionally cooked with cow heel, but I've matched them with rabbit for Easter. The recipe uses only the legs. Save the saddle for a salad as it's too good to braise.

8 wild rabbit legs, chopped in half at the joint
120-150g piece of smoked streaky bacon, sliced into 1cm thick slices, then cut into 1cm chunks
1tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp fresh thyme leaves
75ml white wine
2 litres chicken stock
100g black peas, carlings or maple peas soaked in plenty of cold water for 24 hours
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of wild garlic leaves

Heat the vegetable oil in a thick-bottomed frying pan. Season the rabbit legs and fry them for 3-4 minutes on a high heat until nicely browned on all sides, then remove from the pan and put to one side. Do the same with the bacon, putting it with the rabbit legs. Add the onions, garlic and thyme to the same pan and cook on a low heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring every so often until soft. Add the white wine, stirring any residue from the bottom of the pan and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Transfer to a thick-bottomed saucepan, add the bacon, chicken stock and drained peas and bring to the boil. Season lightly and simmer gently for 45 minutes with a lid on then add the rabbit legs and cook for a further 45 minutes without a lid, or until the legs are tender. You may need to add a little more water during cooking if the liquid reduces too much. It's always difficult to put times on braising so they may need another 15 minutes or so. Stir in the wild garlic leaves and remove from the heat.

This is a meal in itself and won't really need anything else, although you could serve something simple like buttered spring greens.

Fried duck egg with baby squid

Serves 4

I ate something like this at La Boqueria, the fantastic food market off the Ramblas in Barcelona. The squid they use are tiny and called chiperones. If you can't get your hands on them just use the smallest squid you can find and cut them into 2cm strips or squares.

4 duck eggs
80g butter
2tbsp olive oil
60-80g pancetta cut into 1/2cm dice
250-300g baby squid (chiperones) or small squid
1tbsp chopped parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt a knob of butter in a small non-stick frying pan on a low heat. Crack in the egg, season the white with a little sea salt and cook very gently until the white has just set. Do the same with the rest of the eggs (in a couple of pans at a time preferably) and keep them warm on plates in a very low oven.

Meanwhile in another frying pan, heat the olive oil and fry the pancetta for a minute or so, stirring well. Add the squid and cook on a high heat for a couple of minutes, season lightly, add the rest of the butter and parsley and stir well. Slide the eggs on to warmed serving plates and spoon over the squid mixture.

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