Spring & Easter

ricottawholepie.jpgWhen I think of Easter, I think of pies. Not chocolate bunnies, marshmallow peeps, or colorful Easter eggs, but delicious Italian pies, especially ricotta.

Growing up, my mom always prepared a traditional and labor intensive Easter dinner. In truth, she could have skipped the whole thing and just served her pies. In the week before Easter Sunday, our house became a dairy. The shelves in the second refrigerator in our basement sagged from countless dozens of eggs, pints of cream, pounds of butter, and tubs of ricotta cheese needed for our pie production.

Although it can be made year-round, ricotta pie (torta di ricotta) is an Italian cheesecake that is especially associated with Easter. There are many regional recipes for ricotta pie, some savory and some sweet. Savory versions usually include meats and additional cheeses, while sweet pies are typically flavored with citrus, nuts, and chocolate.

When I called my mom for her recipe last week, I learned that it was Nan's and that it had a storied past. "Nan was the first person in the family to use pineapple instead of citron in her ricotta pie. And boy were her sisters jealous!” I had no idea Nan was a baking maverick.

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egg salad1Looking for ways to use up Easter egg-hunt leftovers? Make an egg salad sandwich. Actually, make several egg salad sandwiches, one for each day this week, because today marks the start of National Egg Salad Week in the U.S. Yup. We love egg salad so much that we devote an entire week in its honor.

Our love for egg salad sandwiches runs deep, all the way to 1896. That's when one of the earliest printed recipes for a sandwich made with egg salad appeared in The Original Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, written by Fannie Merritt Farmer. Then with the introduction of sliced soft white bread in the 1930s, egg salad sandwiches became a brown-bag lunch staple as well as a common item at delis, diners, and cafeterias.

It's no surprise that the majority of egg salad sandwiches are eaten after Easter when many people are looking for tasty ways to use up Easter egg-hunt leftovers. While there are various ways to make egg salad, I favor grandma's fuss-free version: tangy, sweet, and creamy.

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roasted_turkey.jpg Easter in our house, a tiny hovel on the east side of Kansas City, Missouri, was always fraught with tension generated by my Mother.

She was not used to entertaining and on holidays we hosted my cousin, a Jesuit priest, for Sunday dinner. We usually did Turkey and Fixings’. Mama would get up in the middle of the night to put the big Tom turkey in the oven.

No wonder by dinnertime it was dry and tough. But she made pretty good gravy and it was the most requested part of the meal. “Any more gravy, Irene? My, my! That sure is fine gravy! Please, pass the gravy!”

The moistening effect on the dry turkey was just what was needed.

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macarons.jpgI love all French desserts and confections, but one of my most favorites is the macaron. Available in countless colors and flavors, macarons are very popular in France. In Paris, customers line up to buy them at many famous pastry shops, such as Dalloyau or Ladurée, which invented the double-decker sandwiched macaron in 1930. Since Paris is a bit too far for me to travel, I usually buy them at Bouchon Bakery in New York. I love all the flavors they offer even though their selection is not as wide as in France. But for me it doesn't matter, because the chocolate macaron is what I consider to be the best.

French macarons are basically meringue cookies made only of powdered sugar, egg whites, and almond flour. Getting the proportions exactly correct is key to the perfect macaron. Unlike the dense and chewy coconut macaroons, which French macarons are almost always confused with, macarons are smooth, light as air, and only slightly chewy. A smooth and flavorful filling in between two of the cookies is the icing on the cake. Pastry shops have come up with very unusual macarons and fillings, such as passion fruit and green tea, but the chocolate macaron is probably the most popular.

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