April 16, 2014

Dress up spring veggies for Easter dinner

With a little creativity, carrots, peas and broccoli can be menu stars.

If Thanksgiving is all about the sides, Easter is all about the main. While we agonize over styles of stuffings, whole or smooth cranberry sauces, sweet potatoes with or without marshmallows, and so many other Turkey Day dilemmas, we tend to just cobble together a what-have-you assortment of sides to accompany the beloved Easter ham or lamb.

Take carrots: Though they often make it into the Easter feast lineup, I’ve never understood why. Maybe it’s a nod to the Easter bunny.

Typically, we prepare them much as we prepare sweet potatoes (their distant orange cousins) at Thanksgiving – by glazing them and otherwise shoveling on extra sugar. I’m guessing that this is a reaction to the carrot’s bright color, which reminds us of a kid’s toy. It’s orange. It’s fun. On the plate, carrots are more like a candy than a vegetable.

Still, I like carrots and I think I’ve figured out a way here to redeem them. The trick is not to be waylaid by their color, but to take advantage of their length and texture. Long, sturdy carrot peels are reminiscent of individual strands of fettuccine. Fine. Let’s prepare them as we would, say, a dish of fettuccine Alfredo – by dressing them with a creamy sauce.

Not coincidentally, it’s a strategy that also allows the carrot’s natural sugars – which are plenty sweet all by themselves – to shine.

You'll want to start with big, long, fat carrots (affectionately referred to by some grocers as “horse carrots”). Just peel off and discard the outermost layer, then continue peeling on all sides until you’ve reached the woody core. I find it easiest to start at the middle of the carrot and peel down the bottom half, then flip it over and peel the top half. This technique allows you to do the job faster than if you peeled the entire length of the carrot from top to bottom. The cores are too thin and hard to peel. You can munch on them yourself or reserve them for a future stock.

The sauce for this “fettuccine” is quite simple. It’s based on Neufchatel, the French cream cheese, which miraculously provides us with the creaminess we crave even though it possesses one-third less fat than most other types of cream cheese – and much less fat than heavy cream, the ingredient that usually puts the cream in creamy pasta.

We counter-balance the carrot’s natural sweetness with lemon, both the zest and juice, though lime would work just as well. The walnuts add crunch, nutty taste and some nutrition, but any nut will do: pistachios, almonds, cashews. Just pick your fave.

The carrot fettuccine strands cook up very quickly – inside of 5 minutes – so you'll want to prep them ahead of time, and measure out all the rest of the ingredients as well.

Once the fettuccine is cooked, you need to move it out of the pan and onto everyone’s plate before the strands go soft. Happily, cooking this dish is simple enough to do at the last minute. And who knows, you may even be able to get your kids to dig into these carrots.

Now for peas. Nobody loves them straight up, but give them a simple sauté with butter and a trio of seeds – caraway, coriander and mustard – and suddenly they are a dish worth getting excited about.

For a fresh take on salad, we created a broccoli slaw seasoned with Dijon mustard, as well as the zests and juices of a lemon and an orange. Chopped dried apricots add a sweet touch while toasted pine nuts offer a savory crunch.

Finally, we have a vegetable patty made from the main ingredients of ratatouille. Finished with fresh oregano, feta cheese and a drizzle of balsamic glaze, this is a side that can hold its own at the Easter table.

And if you love lamb but don’t want to cook an entire leg, here’s a suggestion from the Washington Post: boneless leg of lamb steaks. The best are evenly cut slabs similar to beef steaks, but any cut of boneless leg of lamb will work.

Just season the lamb and grill it. Serve it with any of the sides here or with the leeks and potatoes included in the recipe. It’s a much faster meal to prepare than a whole leg of lamb with roasted potatoes.


Butter-spiced skillet peas

Start to finish: 15 minutes

Serves 4


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

10 ounces sweet peas


Kosher salt and black pepper

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the caraway seeds, coriander, mustard and paprika. Cook, stirring frequently, until toasty smelling, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the peas and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, or until just tender. Season with salt and black pepper.

Per serving: 110 calories; 50 calories from fat (45 percent of total); 6 g fat (3.5 g sat.; 0 g trans); 15 mg chol.; 10 g carb.; 4 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 4 g protein; 120 mg sodium.


Citrus-pine nut broccoli slaw

Start to finish: 15 minutes

Serves 8


Zest and juice of 1 orange

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon white balsamic or sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 heads broccoli, very finely chopped (about 6 cups)

1/4 cup finely chopped dried apricots

3 scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts


In a medium bowl, mix together the zests and juices of the orange and lemon. Whisk in the vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil. Add the broccoli, apricots and scallions and mix well. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the pine nuts.

Per serving: 100 calories; 60 calories from fat (60 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (0.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg chol.; 9 g carb.; 2 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 3 g protein; 180 mg sodium.


Ratatouille cakes

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Serves 8


3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 small red onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 medium red bell pepper, cored and diced

1 small eggplant, grated

1 small zucchini, grated

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 egg, lightly beaten

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese or goat cheese

2 tablespoons balsamic glaze

2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped


In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high. Add the onion, garlic and bell pepper and cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Set aside.

Place the eggplant and zucchini in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze over the sink to remove as much liquid as possible. Add to the onion mixture. Add the the tomato paste, egg, salt, black pepper, thyme and breadcrumbs. Set aside.

Wipe out the skillet, then heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high. Working in batches, drop the vegetable mixture by the tablespoonful into the pan, flattening them with the back of a spoon. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until cooked through and golden brown. Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle with the cheese. Drizzle the balsamic glaze over the top and sprinkle with the oregano.

Per serving: 130 calories; 60 calories from fat (46 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 13 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 3 g protein; 310 mg sodium.


Grilled lamb with leeks and potatoes

Serves 5 or 6

Make ahead: The seasoned lamb needs to rest for at least 20 minutes at room temperature and up to 8 hours in the refrigerator.


For the lamb:

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/4 pounds boneless butterflied leg of lamb or boneless lamb steak, preferably about 1-inch thick

1 tablespoon olive oil

For the leeks and potatoes:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large leek (12 ounces), white and light-green parts, cut in half lengthwise, each half thinly sliced crosswise, rinsed well

1 1/2 pounds peeled all-purpose potatoes, cut into 3- to 4-inch chunks

3/4 cup homemade or no-salt-added chicken broth

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper


For the lamb: Whisk together the cumin, oregano, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Place the lamb on a plate or a sheet of aluminum foil. Sprinkle the seasoning blend evenly over the lamb; sprinkle on the oil and rub or brush to evenly coat the meat on both sides. Let the lamb rest at room temperature for at least 20 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 8 hours.

Prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (400 to 450 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal; when the coals are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 3 or 4 seconds. Have a spray water bottle at hand for taming any flames.

Place the lamb on the hot grill. Close the lid and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn the lamb over and brown on the second side. After 5 minutes on the second side, start checking the internal temperature; an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat should read 145 degrees (medium-rare to medium). Wait for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, prepare the leeks and potatoes: Heat the oil in a large, shallow nonstick braising pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the leeks. Reduce the heat to medium; cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the leeks start to soften.

Add the potato chunks and broth, then season lightly with salt and pepper, stirring to combine. Increase the heat to medium-high to bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium; cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring gently once or twice, until the potatoes are just fork-tender. Uncover and cook until the broth has almost evaporated; taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Cut the lamb into thin slices; serve with the potatoes and leeks.

Per serving (based on 6): 280 calories, 22 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar


Lemony carrot “fettuccine”

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Serves 4


1/2 cup chopped walnuts

2 pounds large carrots, peeled, stem ends discarded

1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, divided

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Salt and ground black pepper

2 ounces Neufchatel (low-fat cream cheese)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives


Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a shallow baking dish, spread the walnuts in an even layer and bake on the oven’s middle shelf for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they smell fragrant. Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile, using a swivel blade or a Y-shaped vegetable peeler, peel the carrots into long fettuccine-like strands, discarding the core (or saving it for a snack or a stock).

In a large skillet, combine 1 cup of the chicken broth with the lemon zest, a hefty pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper. Whisk the mixture until the lemon is well distributed.

Cut up the cheese into small pieces and add it to the skillet along with the carrots.

Cover the skillet tightly and bring the broth to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the carrots, covered, for 3 minutes. Remove the lid, and stir the carrots gently with tongs to make sure the cheese is well distributed.

Cover and simmer, adding the additional broth if the mixture seems dry, for another 1 to 2 minutes, or just until the carrots are tender.

Stir in the lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper. Divide the carrot “fettuccine” between 4 serving plates, then top each portion with a quarter of the walnuts and the chives.

Per serving: 200 calories; 120 calories from fat (60 percent of total); 13 g fat (3 g sat.; 0 g trans); 10 mg chol.; 18 g carb.; 6 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 7 g protein; 330 mg sodium.

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