Fritto cuori di carciofo  (Deep Fried Artichoke Hearts)

Fritto cuori di carciofo (deep-fried artichoke hearts).

Diane De Filipi photo

The tradition of preparing lamb on Easter has its roots in early Passover practices before the emergence of Christianity.

In Italy, it’s practically requisite that lamb in one way, shape or form be served as the main course for the Easter meal. It’s not just in Italy. Worldwide lamb has become a tradition and tops the typical Easter menu, along with kid (goat). In the U.S. lamb and ham are pretty much equal as traditional go-tos for this holiday.

Although the meal we prepare for our family and friends is a gift, we, the kitchen gurus or chefs, can give folks another gift — our actual presence at holiday gatherings. There’s no rule that says we have to be in the kitchen the entire time we are entertaining. I keep trying ways to prepare a memorable meal and still be able to play with the kids and chat with my guests. Nobody wants to miss the egg toss. One easy way to do this is to simplify the menu choices and prepare some parts of the meal in advance.

It’s my hope that the following recipes will play well on the palate and give you, the cook del giorno, the gift of time spent with those special people in your life.

From a more practical standpoint, lamb was one of the first fresh meats accessible after a lengthy winter with no livestock to slay.

No matter the reason, it is the season.

I’d not been a fan for years and finally figured out that it was operator error in most cases of bad lamb experiences. Lamb 101 tips from the American Lamb Board, who often meet in St. Helena, really helped.

Those hard, dry and/or rubbery lamb servings I had could have been avoided. Lamb is significantly lower in fat and therefore cooks much faster. It’s also a meat that is best enjoyed rare or medium rare where the results are flavorful and juicy. The cut, as is true with other meats, makes a huge difference. The better the cut, the better the result. Spend a little more to get more satisfaction. I follow this guideline when it comes to steaks and cuts of pork, so why not with lamb, right?

Finally, select the right herbs. Lamb has a slight earthy flavor profile, so the wrong herbs can disappear if they are not savory enough. The lamb can then be boring. In the reverse, choosing too many or too much of certain savory herbs will only fight with the flavor of the lamb and won’t enhance it.

Does an elegant rack of lamb still sound too intimidating? No worries. We can keep it much simpler and much less expensive. Lamb chops.

Your lamb chops should be marinated the day before. Simple roasted rosemary potatoes as one of your sides are easy and only a roasting pan needed. The dessert Bunate, like an upside down Creme Brulee, can be prepared on Saturday.

This leaves only the veggie side of deep-fried artichoke hearts to be fully prepared on Easter Day.

Buona Pasqua from my family to yours.

For additional holiday lamb recipes please visit my recipe blog, letsgocookitalian.blogspot.com.

Costolette di agnello con le herbe fresca di Pasqua

(Easter Lamb Chops with fresh herbs)

Serves 4-6.

8 to 12 lamb loin chops

3 large leaves fresh basil

3 fresh sage leaves

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 tsp. juniper berries

Sea Salt

1 tsp. black peppercorns

4 oz. dry white wine

6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 lemons

With mortar and pestle, or electric grinder, finely grind all herbs and spices. Place into a bowl, add wine and olive oil. Mix well. Pour this marinade into a large container. Add chops in a single layer and marinate in refrigerator minimum 6 hours or overnight.

Chops are best grilled over open flame, but can be prepared stove top in a heavy skillet. To prepare in a skillet, use small amount of olive oil to saute. After cooking is complete, squeeze lemons over chops evenly. Be careful not to overcook. Lamb chops should be served rare or medium rare for best results.

Serve immediately and piping hot.

Oven-roasted rosemary potatoes are traditionally served with this dish alongside fried artichoke hearts.

Fritto cuori di carciofo

(Deep-Fried Artichoke Hearts)

Serves 6-8 as side dish.

1 33 oz. jar artichoke hearts in water

1 large egg

1/2 tsp. finely minced garlic

1/2 cup flour

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs

1 tsp. dried thyme

2 Tbsp. dried parsley

2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp. freshly grated Pecorino cheese

3 pie pans set side by side

Drain artichoke hearts into a colander. Gently squeeze all liquid from each heart.

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In a pie pan, beat egg. Add garlic and pinch of salt and pepper. Mix together to ensure garlic is evenly distributed.

Place flour into second pie pan. Put breadcrumbs mixed with crumbled dried herbs, salt and pepper to taste, into third pie pan on your assembly line.

Dip each artichoke heart into, then egg, and then breadcrumbs, until all are coated. Set aside in a single layer

Heat the oil in a deep pot (deep-fryer if you have one). When oil is hot begin frying the breaded artichoke hearts. Fry until golden brown. For deep-frying I suggest you use California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It meets the qualifications to truly be “Extra Virgin” but is nicely priced for quantity use in deep-frying.

Place on paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with grated cheese while still warm and serve immediately.

Bunate

This is an old family recipe, using Fernet Branca. It’s like an upside down Creme Brulee. In those days, they didn’t have sugar burning torches.

Serves 8.

6 heaping Tbsp. sugar plus 10 heaping Tbsp. sugar

2 Tbsp. cocoa powder

5 egg yolks

5 egg whites

1½ tsp. vanilla

1 Tbsp. whiskey

1 Tbsp. vermouth

2 tsp. Fernet Branca Liqueur (substitutions just don’t work)

2 cups whole milk

8 vanilla wafers

Treat cake pan, sprinkling 6 heaping tablespoons of sugar evenly over bottom of pan. Place under broiler for a deep golden burnt sugar effect. Remove and set aside.

Separate eggs. In a bowl combine remaining sugar and cocoa. Add 5 slightly beaten yolks. Mix.

Add vanilla, liquor and liqueurs and mix thoroughly. Warm milk and dissolve vanilla wafers in milk. Pour this liquid into a strainer over the bowl of ingredients and press the soft cookies through with the back of a spoon. Mix well.

Beat egg whites until peaked and gently fold into mixture. Pour mixture into sugared cake pan and place the pan into a larger water bath (bagna maria) pan of cold water. Bake at 325 for 1 hour or until set. Chill before serving. Invert onto serving place.

Can be prepared one day in advance.

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or ila-chateau.com/cook-italian for more information.

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