When I was a young child, my father’s aunt, Giuseppina, visited from Rome, stopping at our house for a few days as she made the rounds of her American relatives. In many ways, this was an unsatisfactory, undeveloped visit. Giuseppina was elderly and spoke no English. I was shy around unfamiliar people and spoke no Italian. In fact, no one in our home spoke Italian (although my father – who grew up with Italian parents – could translate some) and communication during those few days was superficial, made mostly through smiles and nods. A lot would remain unknown and unknowable between us all.
And yet communication wasn’t completely frustrating; in fact, the few foreign words spoken around the house that week were rather enticing. One morning at breakfast, Giuseppina lifted a glass of orange juice and said a few words as if in a toast before drinking. This sounded important, a pronouncement of sorts. We looked to my father who translated, “Orange juice is golden in the morning, silver in the afternoon, and bronze in the evening.”
“What does that mean?” I wondered as my parents nodded at each other and Giuseppina.
My mother answered, “Think about it.”
And so I did.
And I still do. Those words, uttered in singsong Italian and then roughly translated into English have stuck, have become at times a guiding principle: Whether daylight or dusk hours, humid or frigid temperatures, in spring or fall seasons, there is a time and place for every food to taste its best.
This year’s Easter dinner paid tribute to that principle. We took inspiration from the Italian-themed recipes of May’s issue of Bon Appetit and the spring fruits and vegetables beginning to appear in the markets, threw in a little local ham and seafood for good measure, and came up with a spring feast of our own. Preparations were kept simple and as a result, the fresh ingredients shone.
For the pasta course, fresh linguine substituted for the tagliatelle, and slivers of meat from an organically raised, uncured, smoked ham stood in for the prosciutto. Orange and ham is a wonderful pairing, and to really highlight the juice and zest in the cream sauce, I glazed the ham with some blood orange marmalade (thinned with balsamic vinegar) before heating it through in the oven.
This salad stole the show. With all the artichokes I have eaten over the years, I had never eaten an artichoke raw. After eating this salad, I think baby artichokes should never be eaten any other way. The usually supporting actor celery makes a solid co-star. My husband spent a good hour composing this salad, slicing both vegetables to uniform thicknesses on the mandoline, and his work is a reminder that good salads deserve time and attention too. It’s not always about throwing raw greens into a bowl. The lemon dressing and parsley finishing touches left us all feeing refreshed.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the lemony raw vegetable salad works well with seafood, but you may be surprised to learn that aggressive ham and subtle crabmeat make good friends on the plate. But really, it’s a variation on the classic interplay of sweet-salty. If you keep the crabcakes tiny, and portions of everything else small too, you can sample all and appreciate the flavor range from bold to bright to delicate as well as the sum of the parts. And you won’t be too full for a simple fruit dessert after.
Rhubarb is food of the gods. If you think you like it baked with strawberries, you will love it baked, as here, with raspberries. The crust used for the free form tart is buttery, barely sweet, and a little nutty tasting with the addition of some whole wheat flour. The sprinkle of sparkle sugar before baking adds glisten and crunch.
With the exception of the crab cakes (my recipe below), the recipes we used on Sunday can be found by following this link to Bon Appetit online and searching the recipe titles as printed in the photo captions. Please note that BA just underwent an editorial shakeup, and the new editor, Adam Rapaport (formerly of GQ), has added his style stamp to both layout and overall direction. In his first letter to readers as editor, he pledges that, despite the changes, “food matters” to the new team, a reassurance that this isn’t simply a style over substance change.
For the most part, the new BA team’s commitment to the idea that “food matters” shows, from the photography to the recipe collection to the instructional details. I have a couple of hesitations – recipes could have been better proofread for accuracy for example (add the last half of the orange zest when tossing the pasta together with the cheese) – but I’m willing to give them time to develop.
The Simplest Crabcakes…
…are the best crabcakes. I don’t add bell pepper or onion or even salt and pepper. Why mask the sweetness of the shellfish?
- 1 pound fresh Jonah crab (or whatever is available in your area), picked over for shells and cartilage
- 4 slices of white sandwich bread, grated into rough crumbs by hand or in the food processor
- 1/4 cup good quality mayonnaise
- 2 beaten eggs
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- panko crumbs or cornmeal for dusting
Mix together the crab and bread crumbs in a large bowl. Add the mayo, beaten eggs, and the Worcestershire sauce. Gently fold together all the ingredients using your hands or a rubber scraper until ingredients are evenly distributed.
Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment and sprinkle with panko or cornmeal to cover. Form the crab mixture into large or small patties. Lay these on the crumbs. Sprinkle more crumbs or cornmeal over the tops and let the cakes sit in the fridge for an hour or so before frying.
When ready to cook, heat some vegetable oil together with a couple tablespoons of butter in a large skillet (cooking fat should be about 1/8 – 1/4-inch deep. Fry the crab cakes in batches over medium to medium high heat, flipping once, until golden brown on both sides. Keep cooked crabcakes warm in a low oven while the rest of the cakes are cooking. When all are done, serve immediately.
©2011 Jane A. Ward