For this cook, the pleasure of making especially good dishes for the Easter festival will forever exceed those needy numbers that dictate the frenetic Christmas menu. After all, there are four whole days that span this bright weekend, making it a veritable boon to the creative cook. Although Easter can be an erratic festival, calendar-wise, it remains for me a springtime celebration and, thankfully, this year, is a very nice indeed mid April.
Apart from breakfast hot-cross buns (although a couple of runny-yolk boiled eggs and soldiers is my particular preference), endless children’s chocolate eggs and, at some stage, a traditional urge to roast a leg of Paschal lamb, there really aren’t any hard-and-fast rules.
And, if staying with friends, I always use Easter as a time for a touch of creativity in a borrowed kitchen. The following recipes are for those who, most definitely, enjoy cooking and pleasing-as well as showing off just a little bit, too. What may surprise you, however, is that I learned to make both of these unusually delicious dishes in the early 1970s. As far as I’m concerned, they stand up as proudly today as they did 40 years ago.
Cold ham mousse with Cumberland sauce
Serves 6, as a first course
250g cooked ham, finely minced
125g cooked salt tongue, very
Plenty of freshly ground white
3 leaves gelatine, soaked in cold water for 5 minutes, until soft
150ml hot ham stock, if you have it, or another well-flavoured stock
2 egg whites
300ml double cream
Place the ham and tongue in a roomy bowl and loosely mix together with the pepper using a large spoon. Remove the gelatine from the water, add to the hot stock in a small pan over a low heat and allow it to melt. Stir into the ham and tongue mixture and leave to slightly stiffen in the fridge; just for an hour, or so, no more.
Using two separate bowls, whip the egg whites in one of them until snowy but not too stiff, and in the other, beat the cream until loose, but not peaked. Now, briefly break up the stiffened meat mixture with the same whisk, then deftly fold the egg whites into it, swiftly followed by the beaten cream.
Once these lightening ingredients have both been fully incorporated (there should be no trace of streaks of either egg white or cream), pile the mixture into a deep dish and cover with clingfilm. Place in the fridge to firm up for at least four hours-or even overnight, if you wish to get ahead.
Once set, spoon out on to small plates and serve with hot, buttered toast, a little watercress and the following.
Half jar redcurrant jelly
1 large knob of fresh ginger,
peeled and grated
2tspn English mustard powder
Thinly pare the rind of one of the oranges and the single lemon, cut into very thin strips, blanch quickly in boiling water then drain in a sieve and rinse under cold running water. Dry on kitchen paper and reserve. Squeeze the juice from the two oranges and the lemon and put into a stainless-steel saucepan.
Add the port, redcurrant jelly and ginger, bring to a simmer and allow to cook for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve and then pour back into the same (cleaned) pan. Mix the mustard and arrowroot together with 2tbspn water until smooth. Add to the port/jelly liquid and mix together. Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes until shiny and lightly thickened.
Stir in the reserved orange and lemon rind, pour into a pretty bowl and chill thoroughly in the fridge until ready to serve with the mousse.
Smoked haddock roulade
Serves 6, for a light and savoury luncheon dish
1 small onion, peeled and
2 bay leaves
A few peppercorns
300g smoked haddock fillet,
bones removed with tweezers
Freshly grated nutmeg
A scant tbspn anchovy essence
3 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and
3 eggs, separated
1tbspn chopped parsley
2tbspn freshly grated Parmesan
6-8tbspn whipping cream
1-2tbspn extra grated Parmesan
You will need a (preferably) non-stick Swiss-roll tin measuring 30cm by 20cm and a buttered sheet of greaseproof paper cut to fit the base.
Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C/ 400˚F/gas mark 6. Using a sauce-pan, gently heat together the milk, onion, bay, cloves, peppercorns and a little salt. Simmer for a few minutes, cover and allow the flavours to mingle for about 20 minutes. Strain into a larger pan and poach the haddock in the milk for several minutes. Lift out the fish, skin it and flake on to a plate. Put on one side.
In another pan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Make a roux and gently cook the butter and flour together for a minute or two until a pale straw colour, then incorporate the strained milk into the roux and vigorously whisk together until smooth. On the lowest possible heat, allow the sauce to cook, regularly stirring with a wooden spoon, for about 10 minutes. Stir in the nutmeg and anchovy essence.
Take 3tbspn of the sauce and mix together with the flaked fish in a bowl. Now, add the grated hard-boiled eggs to the remaining sauce together with the parsley and keep warm,
covered, over a pan of barely simmering water. Next, thoroughly stir the three egg yolks into the flaked fish and sauce mixture. Beat the whites until firm and then stir one tablespoon into the fish mixture so as to loosen it slightly. Fold in the rest, carefully, with a metal spoon, until all is amalgamated. Pour into the prepared tin and level the surface with a palette knife.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes until slightly puffed up, pale golden and set.
Remove from the oven and turn the temperature up to 220˚C/425˚F/gas mark 7.
Place a large sheet of greaseproof paper on a work surface and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Cut around the edge of the tin, so as to loosen the roulade, then carefully tip it out, inverting it from the tin so that it lands fair and square on to the cheese. Leave to cool and settle for about 10 minutes, then spread with the reserved warm egg and parsley sauce and carefully roll up; a few cracks may form as you do this but will not affect the final result.
Allow the completed roulade to cool for a further 10 minutes, then cut it into six, thick slices and arrange each one into individual gratin dishes (failing this, use a large shallow dish to generously accommodate all the slices).
To finish the dish/dishes, spoon over the cream, sprinkle with the extra Parmesan and return to the oven for about five minutes. When lightly gilded, a little puffed-up and bubbling, serve forthwith, perhaps accompanied by a simply dressed lettuce salad.
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