Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Saturday, April 5, 2014

It's Easter! Let Us Eat, Drink, And Be Merry: A Rack of Lamb, Some Smashed Potatoes, and a Hunk of Green Beans with Porcinis

Marc Chagall, Easter (1968)
Easter is coming and I am really conflicted.

Not because I'm an atheistic ex-Catholic who left the church of Rome years ago (and all other belief systems that involve omniscient, omnipotent invisible Cranks who get their rocks off by seeing how much havoc Their little jokes wreak).

My own fallout with Great Almighty Powers That Be began as a result of the Archdiocese of N.Y. rejecting my petition to be an altar girl at St. Lucy's.

That I would have been the first altar girl in the history of the New York Archdiocese seemed irrelevant to me at the time.

The important thing was that I was brutally rebuffed by several levels of the Church hierarchy (as a 10 year old girl with great aspirations growing up in East Harlem, "No!" was a word I took to mean, "Try harder" not "Stop, you annoying pipsqueak!"). Needless to say, it took many rounds to knock me out; when they finally did, I vowed never to step into that ring again.

Exit devout Saint-worshipping Catholic school girl. Enter, cynical iconoclastic Atheist who took every opportunity to ask, during our never-ending catechism classes, why Jesus didn't have a girlfriend.

I was a Mary Magdelene freak. You know, the proverbial whore with a heart of gold who quit doing tricks to wash Christ's feet. I chose her name for my confirmation.

Lori Ann Mary Magdelene Gomez.

There's a future Pulitzer Prize-winning name, if ever I saw one.
I figured MM and the Lamb of God were probably getting jiggy with it. He was a man after all, even if He was a god incarnate. Some time between turning the water to wine and curing lepers, I assumed the poor man needed to release some tension and let his hair down. It's not easy being the son of God. The father-son talks alone would be enough to raise your cortisol levels!

But I digress... yes, my conflict is not caused by the age old question of the existence of God or the legitimacy of Jesus the Nazarene as His only son; I don't care about any of that. If there is a Father, a Son, and A Holy Spirit? Grand! It's a great job. I wish Them well.

Nope, my real dilemma is what to serve for the Easter spread.

While some might think it odd or hypocritical that I still celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, I say that I am enlightened and open-minded besides I'll never let a little thing like religious dogma get in the way of a good foodfest.

Yes, I just flat out love to cook and Easter gives me as good a reason as any to celebrate the rites of Spring. I could say, I suppose, that I'm celebrating the rebirth of the Goddess or some such other fib; and, though that may garner me many fans here in Baghdad by the Bay where the only openly accepted Catholics are Our Lady of Perpetual Indulgence, paganism doesn't excite me either even with its promise of drunken orgies (or is that only in the movies?). 

I'm not Marxist but I think all organized religions are nothing more than opiate for the masses and I prefer my opiates to be of the fermented phenolic variety enjoyed in the sanctity of my home ( or the other places of worship, the Three Star Michelin variety, a truly holy trinity to us, the worshippers of the Divine Dish).

Even Marc Chagall commemorated Easter. So why shouldn't I? And he was a son of Abraham! (Art critic Robert Hughes referred to Chagall as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century". )

Besides, I love all the rituals of the Church. Truly I do.

They coincide with the best food of the season's harvests many times. 
Not by accident either. Good old Emperor Constantine was a wily old son of a bachelor, and knew that people would be willingly conquered so long as you didn't take away their good times and let them get their groove on once every equinox and solstice, or so. As he sought to consolidate his power and convert his entire empire to Christianity, he savvily absorbed the culture of the pagans around him, morphing their ritual celebrations into the Catholic holiday calendar. Hence the Nicene Creed of the Ecumenical Council called by the good Emperor to make Catholicism a bit more "user-friendly" for the besieged masses. 

Constantine, though, was a fair guy and likely owed some Jewish mafioso types beaucoup bucks - that gold-plated solidi that was the coin of the realm was tough to come by back in the day - so he decreed that Easter should never be celebrated before Passover. In exchange for that nod to Judaism, he banned Jews from having Christian slaves. It was hell being a Christian back then, until the big C made it chic and all the cool kids like him were converting, too. After Constantine became the sole ruler of the Western Roman Empire, he issued the Edict of Milan in 313 which guaranteed religious tolerance for Christians.

His mother Empress Helena, who was a Christian and later canonized by the Holy Roman Church, may have influenced him in this decision. After three hundred years of persecution, Christians could finally practice their faith without fear.

Of course, personally speaking, the whole nailing a carpenter to the cross thing, having him die and then marinate in a tomb for three days, seems a bit morbid, but, I must admit, it cleverly employs a sense of collective indebtedness. I mean, if the son of God is wiling to take one for the team, and sacrifice himself, the church elders figure that at some level you will, too. Catholicism definitely lays a heavy guilt trip on you. What's a little fish on Fridays during Lent after all the savior went through? Right. Enough said.

I vastly prefer dwelling on Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs myself, come April, but I never let philosophy or religion get in the way of a good meal. Hedonism is my religion, and I will shamelessly adopt any holiday as my own, if delectable comestibles are involved.

Which brings me to Easter dinner...

Lamb is the tradition at Casa Gomez. Lamb is a symbol of rebirth in various religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It was commonly used in ancient cultures as a sacrifice to the gods, and is prominently featured in Biblical texts.

For those of you interested in technicalities, a lamb is a sheep less than a year old, and is typically brought to market between the ages of six and eight months. “Spring lamb” is a traditional moniker indicating lamb born in the early Spring months, but, these days, it is available year-round. Younger lamb has a milder flavor and more tender texture, so it may be more palatable to those not accustomed to or fond of game meats.

The famed pré-salé lamb (literally “pre-salted”) of the salt marshes of Normandy, France is prized for its taste. There the lambs graze on the seaside marshes, which imparts a particularly subtle salty flavor to the meat that is celebrated by some gourmands. There is also a Welsh Salt Marsh variety available.
New Zealand and Australian varieties of lamb are prized for their flavor, but some prefer the taste of American lamb, which is slightly milder and less gamey.
Though lamb has never been incredibly popular on American tables, its consumption has been prevalent throughout the history of civilization. Given sheep’s distinction as the most common livestock in the world, both lamb and mutton (mature sheep) are a staple of European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and some North African diets.
Here I used porcini mushrooms with the green beans. If truffles are the king of funghi, porcini is the crowned prince, and a royal Spring treat. Although, they may also been found in the Fall. Enormous and meaty, you may need to mortgage your home to buy a pound of them, but they are worth the expense. Use the stalks, too. You don't want to waste one little bit of these fungi. As a side dish, I used only two medium-sized ones. Scrape any dirt you may find off the stalks and wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp cloth -- only wash them if you absolutely must, and then never in hot water. You may substitute any wild mushroom you like, or omit them altogether. I've opted to keep the directions for the dishes very casual. It's really a much simpler meal to make than one might think. This recipe will serve 4 delicately nurtured Easter revelers or 2 hearty Crusaders. 

Pesto-crusted Rack of Lamb with Truffled Smashed Potatoes, Green Bean And Wild Mushroom Saute

Rosemary Pesto for one large rack of lamb:

This pesto has 4 rosemary stems from which I stripped the leaves & chopped before adding to the food processor,  a couple of TBS toasted sesame seeds, a handful of parsley, a touch of honey, a smidge of fresh Meyer lemon juice & a generous grating of pecorino romano.  I add the olive oil in last while the food processor is whirring away. I add in a steady stream until I like the consistency of  the pesto which I pictured here. 

You can be more traditional, obviously, & just do pinenuts, basil & parmigiano reggiano, & the streaming olive oil, but I decided to an homage to the Byzantine Empire with my pesto.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Season the lamb with salt & pepper. Cover the lamb rack in the pesto, add a few panko crumbs (or unseasoned bread crumbs) atop the pesto. Pat firmly to allow the crumbs to adhere to the meat. Place in top rack of oven. Roast for 20 minutes or until interior of lamb reaches 130 degrees in a meat thermometer. Allow the rack to rest for 15 minutes in a warm place in the kitchen. As it does, the internal temperature will continue to rise, the meat juices will settle and you will have a perfectly cooked medium-rare rack of lamb (145 degrees internal temperature).  
Once the lamb is done & resting, it's time to make the veggies.

For the green bean saute:

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound green beans (stem ends removed), halved crosswise
2 tablespoons butter plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Wild mushrooms, stems trimmed, halved
2 shallots, sliced thinly
1/3 cup of good quality, low sodium chicken (or lamb) stock

Fill a large skillet with 1/2 inch water; bring to a boil, and salt generously. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add green beans to skillet; cover, and steam until crisp-tender, 5 to 10 minutes (time will depend on size and freshness of green beans). Transfer to ice water to cool; drain and pat dry (if making ahead, cover and refrigerate up to 1 day). Wipe skillet dry. Heat to medium. Add butter & oil. Add shallots, saute' until translucent. Add mushrooms. Stir and note the changes in texture. Wild mushrooms will absorb, rather than release liquid, add as much stock as necessary. When the mushrooms are soft, add the chilled green beans to the mushroom mixture, and heat through. Serve.

Ingredients for the smashed truffled potatoes:

I like to boil the potatoes with the skin on & just cut them in half; unless they are very small new potatoes then I keep them whole. 

 I put butter & half & half in a sauce pan to heat them well until the butter is melted. I add the potatoes which I have strained by kept warm by keeping them covered with foil in a colander on the cooktop over a pot of hot water. I let them soak for a minute in the heat of the butter & cream mixture which I also added truffled salt to, btw...

I smash them with an old fashioned wire potato masher. I want a coarser, chunkier texture. You can obviously use a food mill or potato ricer if you do not like the skin & want a more refined texture. I finish off the potatoes with more butter, truffle oil, fresh ground pepper & truffle salt that I stir in with a wooden spatula.

I will end this with a little Ode to Spring that I wrote whilst still coloring Easter eggs eons ago...


Winged love 

Flitting prettily from flower to flower

in the soft fragrant air

Stop for a moment...

let us compare.

We are not so different

You and I

Both freed from Winter's guise...

Though I am but a human thing

And You

Are Nature's Spring surprise.



Kevin Letts said...

Interesting point you raised about Marc Chagall.

I guess he was "Only In It For The Money" when he accepted all those commissions to do the glass bits in cathedrals.

Happy Easter anyway, whatever that might be! ;-)

Lori Gomez said...

Hahaha Happy Bunny Day! <3

I'll be in Japan!

Kevin Letts said...

Now there's a nation that knows one or two things about food... numyum... We your loyal readers will demand some top class seafood tempura recipes upon your return!

Me, I'll be going to the BIG record fair on (Good) Friday and celebrating my birthday on (Easter) Saturday (mainly by listening to all the treasures I hopefully bring home on Friday?)

This just in -

You may now laugh and/or groan openly.

Yours with lashings of wasabi

Lori Gomez said...

Oh! Have a wonderful birthday! I promise to take notes of everything faithfully! <3 <3 <3