Easter, these days, seems to be all about chocolate eggs – and poor-quality ones at that. I wish that we had more of a tradition of celebrating Easter with festive food. Cooking a spring lamb is the best way to mark the occasion, so I have devoted this week's column to an Easter feast that you could serve up to friends and family.
A deep-fried egg isn't tricky to do; it can be made in advance and kept in the fridge until required and then fried at the last minute. It's like a Scotch egg without the Scotch bit.
4 good-quality hens' eggs
Flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten
30-40g fresh white breadcrumbs
A handful of small salad leaves
16-20 medium-sized prawns, cooked, peeled
For the sauce
5tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
5tbsp tomato ketchup
2tsp Worcestershire sauce
A few drops of Tabasco
1tbsp orange juice
1tbsp creamed horseradish or freshly grated horseradish
½tbsp Pernod or Ricard
½tbsp chopped dill
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Soft-boil the eggs by carefully placing them in simmering water for 4 minutes, then refresh in cold water for a few minutes.
Once cool enough to handle, peel them, ensuring you have removed all of the shell.
Have three dishes ready, one with the flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, one with the beaten egg and the third with the breadcrumbs.
Carefully pass the eggs through the flour, shaking off any excess, then the beaten egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Put to one side.
To make the sauce, put all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Preheat about 8cm of vegetable oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Arrange the salad leaves on serving plates with the prawns, leaving f a gap in the middle for the egg, then spoon the sauce over the prawns and leaves.
Deep-fry the eggs for a couple of minutes until they are golden, moving them about in the pan with a slotted spoon so that they are evenly coloured, then remove from the oil and drain on some kitchen paper. Place each egg in the centre of the leaves and serve.
Herb-crusted rack of lamb with lamb faggots
Best end of lamb is rather an expensive cut at this time of year, depending on whether your butcher is selling you spring lamb or the old season's lamb.
Serving it with these delicious faggots, however, means that you can even out your costs a bit and there is a lovely contrast in flavours between the faggot and the rack.
1 x 8 bone rack of lamb, French trimmed
1tbsp Tewkesbury or grain mustard
20g butter, melted
2tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
1tbsp chopped parsley
A few sprigs of soft thyme, with the leaves removed
For the faggots
120g lamb's liver, coarsely minced or chopped in a food processor
160g lamb breast mince with a good proportion of fat
1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1 small clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
One-third of a teaspoon of ground mace
3 leaves of sage, chopped
1tsp chopped thyme
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
60g fresh white breadcrumbs
100-120g caul fat (lamb's or pig's), optional
For the sauce
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
1tsp tomato purée
100ml red wine
250ml beef stock
To make the faggots, cook the onions on a low heat in a tablespoon of vegetable oil with the garlic, mace, sage and thyme for 4 or 5 minutes. Remove from the heat; cool. Mix the liver and minced lamb with the breadcrumbs and cooked onion mixture; season. Divide the mixture into 4 balls and refrigerate for 30-40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7.
Meanwhile, to make the sauce, melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the shallots for 2-3 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the flour and tomato purée and stir well over a low heat for a minute. Gradually add the red wine, stirring to avoid lumps forming, and then gradually add the beef stock. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 20-25 minutes, giving the occasional whisk, until the sauce has reduced by about two-thirds and thickened. Cover with a lid or clingfilm.
If you are not using caul fat, wrap each faggot in clingfilm a couple of times and steam them over a pan of simmering water in a steamer or a colander for 20 minutes, then leave to cool and remove the clingfilm.
If you are using caul fat, wash under cold water for about 10 minutes and pat dry on some kitchen paper. Lay it out on a table; cut it into 12 rough squares, enough to encase each ball a couple of times; then carefully wrap them up.
Season the lamb, heat a roasting tray on the stove top with a little vegetable oil and brown the lamb on all sides on a high heat. Put the faggots in the roasting tin with the lamb, fat side down, and roast for 10-12 minutes, basting every so often.
While the lamb is in the oven, mix the melted butter with the breadcrumbs, parsley and thyme and season. Remove the lamb from the tray, turn it over with the bones now facing down and spread the fat with the mustard. Press the breadcrumb mixture firmly on to the mustard with your fingers and return to the oven for another 8-10 minutes, keeping the lamb nice and pink.
Leave the lamb to rest for 5 minutes and keep the faggots warm. Heat up the sauce, place the faggots on warmed serving plates, then carefully cut the lamb between the bones, place 2 pieces on each plate and pour on the sauce.
Easter black badgers with green onions and wild garlic
Black badger peas, which are also known as carlin peas, maple peas or pigeon peas, are an old English pulse that date back to the Middle Ages and were traditionally eaten in the north of England around Easter time. They aren't very easy to find in supermarkets, but rather bizarrely they are quite commonly found for sale in pet shops, as they are also used for feeding pigeons, as their (alternative) name suggests.
200g black badger peas or pigeon peas, soaked in cold water overnight
Vegetable or chicken stock for cooking
6-8 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
A handful or two of wild garlic, washed and dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Simmer the peas gently in the stock for about 45-50 minutes, topping up with water if necessary until tender. You can cook these in advance and leave them in the stock until required. To serve, drain the peas, transfer them to a pan with the spring onions, wild garlic and butter and heat for a few minutes until the garlic is wilted. Season to taste; serve.
Wheat-free chocolate and Guinness cake
Makes 1 medium cake
Jo, my long-term PA, is wheat intolerant and so I have tweaked this recipe to suit her allergy; and you'd never know it didn't contain wheat. It's a lovely rich cake and because it's made with Guinness, it isn't overly sweet.
225g butter, plus extra for greasing
350g soft dark brown sugar
4 eggs, beaten
100g good-quality cocoa powder
150g dark chocolate (60 per cent cocoa), grated
225g Dove's Farm self-raising wheat-free flour
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Butter and line a 24cm x 6-8cm-deep cake tin with greaseproof paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy, then gradually add the beaten eggs.
Mix together the Guinness and cocoa in a separate mixing bowl, then add the grated chocolate. Gradually add to the cake mixture alternately with the flour, stirring between each addition until completely mixed.
Pour the cake mix into the cake tin and bake for 1-1¼ hours, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. You may need to cover the cake with foil or greaseproof paper after about 30-45 minutes to prevent the top from browning.
Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool.