This weekend we celebrate two "rites of passage" to spring- Easter and the Red Sox home opener (facing the hated Yankees) all on one day. Now these glorious events that have always signaled the start of warmer weather, care free days and everything else that goes along with the upcoming months don't often combine into a single day, and so I wanted to commemorate this event with a special menu.
I wanted to combine the ideas of a big Easter dinner that I've always been accustomed to-into perfect game watching food as the Sox kick off their season. I also wanted to try making some things that I haven't made before to continue my 101 in 1001 challenge.
The first "course" of this menu is a "Green Monster" soup- of fresh sweet peas, and light spring flavors. I began my soup by combining chopped shallot in small sauce pan with melted butter, lots of fresh thyme, salt, pepper, a few small wedges of lemon, and, after those flavors had melded together, a cup or so of a crisp white wine. In a separate pot I quickly blanched the fresh peas in salted, boiling water, and shocked them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and preserve the beautiful green color. Once the wine mixture had finished cooking, I added the peas to my food processor, and gently added the liquid while pureeing. My first go ended up with a bit too much bitter lemon, so I evened it out with just a little honey which added a gorgeous round sweetness to the end, and a 1/2 a cup or so of fat free ricotta cheese to add a little creaminess. This did the trick. The flavor was light and a little sweet, with perfect notes of thyme and shallot, without overpowering the actual pea flavor. The only down fall here was that it was a bit thick (pictured) but easily thinned with a little wine/chicken stock reduction. I also made some fried shallot rings (simple process of thin cut, a quick toss in flour, and then a dip in hot oil) to signify World Series Rings....and to give texture-of course :-).
Now, when I'm at a game, if I'm not indulging in a beer or two, I'm looking for something refreshing to beat the heat on a hot day. Lemonade is often perfect for this. So I decided to emulate this sensation by creating a Gremolata to compliment the other portions of the meal, as well as tribute that great summertime past time. I started by making a light simple syrup of a half cup sugar to a cup of water, and added in the stem and delicate top of a stick of fresh rosemary. As those were heating, and the sugar dissolving, I squeezed the juice of two lemons into a bowl, added chopped rosemary, and just a pinch of salt. Once the syrup was done I pulled out the stem, removed the top piece and added the syrup to the juice until the right mix of sweet and lemony bitter was reached. I then poured this mix into a pie plate and put in the freezer. The thing to remember about a Gremolata is to stir it frequently while it sets so you end up with ice crystals, and not ice cubes.
First course complete, I turned my attention to my next tribute to the events-"Loaded Bases Polenta". Lamb is often served as an Easter entree, and I cannot think of a protein more suited to the spring. I was hoping to find a good cut of lamb loin at my local butcher, but sadly had to setting for chops instead. Normally I love these little guys, but with the application I was hoping for an easier carve. However, I pressed on, and began my first ever batch of Polenta. As it was my first time making it, and I had my work cut out for me the rest of the day- I elected to use instant Polenta- ready in three minutes. I am fully aware that I cheated, and for that I apologize. I will accept detention if necessary. Moving on. The directions on the side of the package, which I combined with some wisdom from Giada D'Laurentis, called for 2 cups of Polenta to 8 cups of water. Hmm seemed like a lot of Polenta, but....who am I mess with directions? I started the task. Boiling water, add Polenta, stir-IMMEDIATELY- for three minutes. Check...sort of. I don't think I'm a very proficient stir er as I got lumps....not TOO many-but enough to annoy me. Fine. so I did what I could to press them out as I continued to stir. Then from Giada's instruction, I added a little cream, salt and pepper. Fantastic. I then poured the mixture out into my greased cookie sheet, and let it set. I would later cut little "bases" from this mold.
As the Polenta set into a nice, firm base, I began marinating my lamb chops. I roughly chopped Rosemary, Parsley, red onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Combined with a little olive oil, and rubbed into the meat of the chops. I covered them and put them in the fridge to marinate. Then I got to work on an Arugula Pesto by combining two cloves of garlic, walnuts, lemon zest and a little juice, Arugula, salt and pepper, and Olive Oil in my food processor and blending till smooth, bright green, and well...delicious. The pesto had a full, rich flavor of pepper, and lemon with a creamy backdrop from the oil and the walnuts.
With this complete, I grilled my now marinated lamb chops, and then sliced them as thin as I could. I assembled my "Loaded Bases Polenta" as the Polenta with a spread of Arugula Pesto, topped with slices of lamb. Flavor wise, the Arugula and the Lamb shined. The pesto had a little spiciness to it, and the lamb had such great Mediterranean flavors with the herbs, and yet they didn't over power the flavor of the meat itself. The polenta, however, surprised me. I had anticipated it to be a little crumblier, but it formed a really dense base which was just an un anticipated texture. Additionally, I did not season it well enough so it was rather bland. Lesson learned with Polenta- STIR and season properly. Otherwise though this was a really fun dish, and one that I could definitely imagine on an Easter table...if my family at all enjoyed lamb :-)
Finally I turned my attention to my final tribute to Easter- Red Sox style- with mock hot dogs. My family has a long tradition of ham on both Christmas and Easter, so I wanted to be sure to add in a tribute to that, as well- well what WOULD Fenway be without Fenway Franks?? Since there was no way I was going to make an entire ham, I selected a ham steak at the grocery store, as well as a wheel of brie, and mini sub rolls. I created a quick cooking sauce of maple syrup, the juice of half an orange, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, and a teaspoon (if that) of dijon mustard. The flavors combined into a great mix of sweet and savory, full of great fresh herbs, with just the background hint of orange. Since the ham was already smoked, I knew that any length of time marinading wouldn't impart too much flavor, so I popped the ham, with the sauce into a 350 degree oven, and cooked it til it was heated through. Once it was hot, I placed the wheel of brie into the oven, and heated for about 10 minutes, or until it was soft in the middle. I split one of the sub rolls, toasted for just a minute or two, and then spread the inside with the brie, layered slices of the ham, and then topped it with just a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley. These little sandwiches were sooooo delicious!!! The ham had such awesome flavor from the sauce, fresh, sweet, without being overly so, the flavor of the herbs pleasantly present. The brie was the perfect compliment- briney and creamy, it was really lovely with the ham flavors. The best part about this one- is that for those of you planning to have ham for Easter- this is a perfect leftover idea :-)
Finally, I spooned out some of the Gremolata and was really in love with it. Lemony and light, with just a hint of rosemary. It was incredibly refreshing while still entertaining the palate.
Easter and Opening Day only come once a year, and together on one day- even rarer. Why not celebrate the start of the new seasons the right way? Paying tribute to the Red Sox without losing the formal nature of the Easter holiday?
Enjoy- and GO SOX!