Kitchen Shrink: Celebrate spring with the foods of April’s festivals
Food is the cornerstone of seasonal celebrations expressed in its preparation, rituals and communal consumption enjoyed among family and beloved friends. Here’s a sampling of spring fever festivals at home and around the globe, and the traditional dishes that tap into our taste buds and holiday memories.
Hot Cross Bunnies
This year Easter collides with Passover week, offering foods that symbolize fertility, reawakening and rebirth of nature through the amazing story of resurrection. Treats that pull us into the holiday spirit are Easter bunnies and iconic marshmallow Peeps, all manners of eggs, including hand-painted hard-boiled ones, and hot-cross buns decorated with vanilla frosting crosses.
These were originally cakes baked by Anglo ancestors to honor the spring goddess Eostre. When Christianity flourished, the church replaced these with sweet buns and blessed them with crosses emblazoned in the dough.
Baked ham is a traditional Easter Sunday dish anchored to early Christian times when the pig was both a symbol of good luck and a convenience that could be slaughtered in the fall and cured until spring for Easter’s celebratory meal.
Passover or Pesach centers around the retelling — and through symbolic foods and imagination — reliving the Hebrew slaves’ historic jailbreak from the fleshpots of Egypt. The household must be free of chometz – taboo foods including leavening agents, flour, breads, grains and legumes.
Sephardic Jews, whose ancestors came from Spain via Turkey, Persia and the Middle East, are permitted to eat rice and other no-nos in the Ashkenazi (Jews from Eastern European parts) home. Let me assure you that no one feels deprived during Passover as fresh fruits and veggies are allowed, along with kosher fish, meat and fowl, and yes, macaroons.
On the two Seder nights ritual foods are arranged on the Seder plate. In keeping with the spirit of poetry month, here’s a little ditty to help prepare the symbolic centerpiece:
“Let’s arrange the Seder plate everything in order: haroseth, shank bone, parsley, egg and in the center morror.”
The most scrumptious is the haroseth, a mixture of fruits and nuts that resembles the mortar the Hebrews used to build the Egyptian pyramids.
National pastime fare has come a long way from the days of Jack Norworth’s ditty “peanuts and Cracker Jack.” Nouveau ballpark cuisine now runs the gamut from coconut prawns and crab cakes to veggie burgers and fish tacos. Fans can whet their whistles with microbrews and Napa Valley Chardonnay, Italian frozen lemonades and designer H2Os. Baseball food purists can still stuff their faces with traditional hot dogs, but now they’re dressed with a smorgasbord of gourmet toppings and assorted condiments on bakery-crafted buns.
La Dolce Vita
Turin, Italy in springtime is transformed into a whimsical chocolate wonderland as the city plays host to the fun and outrageous festival of CioccolaTo, an annual chocolate carnival. Hundreds of chocolate-meisters throughout Europe participate in this two-week chocolate orgy of tastings, showing chocolate flicks, teaching classes, including chocolate making, decorating and tempering techniques, providing interactive workshops for kids, and participating in Iron Chef-esque chocolate competitions. Chocolate masterpieces are on display from haute couture gowns to landmarks like the leaning tower of Pisa made exclusively from the antioxidant, aphrodisiac that is beloved throughout the globe.
* The answer to last week’s April Fools’ food hoax contest: Eat Your Words, the edible newspaper segment. For more spring festival recipes visit www.FreeRangeClub.
Whip up a batch of these multi-tasking macaroon morsels that are Passover-friendly, incorporate chocolate from Italian carnival, can be shaped like eggs for divine Easter delicacies, and melt in your mouth like a poem.
14 ounces sweet, shredded coconut
4 large egg whites
10 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup toasted, sliced almonds
1/3 cup cocoa powder
Method: Preheat oven to 325º F. In a mixing bowl, combine coconut, milk, powder and extract. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form. Combine the mixtures, and fold in almonds.
Drop the batter onto parchment-lined cookie sheets using an ice cream scooper. Bake 30 minutes or until golden.