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Easter Lunch - Without A Scramble
by Nigella Lawson

As Easter draws near, it is impossible not to feel aware of the earlier, pagan festivities that underpin the holiday: the sense of renewal, of spring in the air. There is no better time for an easy celebratory lunch, all generations welcome.

Most important, it is easy. If I stress that, it is not merely because I am always eager to maximize pleasure by keeping the element of slaving to a minimum, but because an Easter lunch has to have a degree of sprightliness about it. It should not be an affair that demands committed, heavy-duty feasting, but a seasonal celebration of fresh, tempered abundance: enough food to keep you happy, but not so much as to dim enthusiasm for an Easter egg hunt afterward.

And so: fine-boned racks of tender lamb and the new season's vegetables, with a sharp, verdant bowl of mint salsa on the side. For dessert, you can easily pick out the eggs from the chocolate-cream top of my Easter nest cake, which I pretend to make as a concession to children, but is in fact a dessert of pretty much universal appeal.

Of course the recipes I like best are never more than an enthusiastic blueprint. I say racks of lamb, but that does not proscribe a more traditional leg. Certainly, for a tableful of hearty eaters, a leg may be easier. But I like the juicy little cutlets. They take much less time to cook, and children love them sliced into chops, to be eaten by hand (if allowed by a parent). Besides, it's easy to add more racks to accommodate more people without actually adding any cooking time; this is always a bonus.

The mint salsa I serve it with is a traditional British accompaniment (and one which the French have long scorned, which for me adds further piquancy) refashioned for a fresh edge. My mother made her mint sauce by finely chopping fresh mint with a little sugar (to bring out the flavor and keep the green bright) before mixing it with a little hot water and a few drops of vinegar. My version is based on the Italian salsa verde that beautiful mixture of fresh herbs, chopped capers and cornichons, whisked into a deep emulsion the color of a pool table's felt, with a little white wine vinegar and olive oil. The acid edge of the sauce, where it meets the cool hit of the mint, perfectly balances the mellow sweetness of lamb.

I often make the accompanying new vegetables as a meal in themselves, with the sharp, green sauce drizzled over. But with the lamb they make a beautiful, simple feast: baby turnips, baby carrots, potatoes with the smooth smallness of pebbles, finger-size zucchini and pencil-size baby leeks. These I turn until gleaming and glossy in a little olive oil, and then roast until all their sweet, budding flavor comes to the fore. (If you can't find baby leeks, substitute the tender centers of standard leeks.)

There are easy ways to amend or augment this menu. Children unlikely to be overjoyed by a panful of roast vegetables, however juicily sweet, can be accommodated with a bowlful of buttered orzo pasta. If you feel a first course is necessary or desirable, play on the attendant themes of the season by serving a plateful of peeled, hard-boiled quail's eggs, to be dipped into celery salt or smoked paprika. Or just halve them and toss them into a lightly dressed green salad, serving at the same time a dish of cooked, drained and refreshed green beans.

But whatever you do, save room for dessert. Though once you see this cake, you will see that my injunction is unnecessary. It is, I hope, the acceptable face of culinary cute: a chocolaty flourless cake that falls on cooling. The sides crack, forming the outside of the nest, and into the cake's sunken cavity you spread a soft, voluptuous mixture of whipped cream and melted chocolate. And on top of this you drop small, sugar-coated candy Easter eggs.

It's ease itself especially as you can make the cake the day before, and given that the cracks and crevices are part of its charm, you don't need to be filled with perfectionist angst. And if not complying with the traditions of this holiday, you can fill the crater instead with cream whipped with a teaspoon of vanilla, and dust the top, cappuccino-style, with some cocoa pushed through a strainer.

I've used both bittersweet and semisweet chocolate in this cake. Either way it works, either way it seduces. It has the denseness of a chocolate cake, the lightness of a mousse. Even those who customarily push dessert away, smugly claiming not to eat sweets, will be coming back for second helpings.

Recipe: Easter Egg Nest Cake
Recipe: Roasted New Vegetables
Recipe: Rack of Lamb With Mint Salsa


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