Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Around the World

The holidays are those times of the year that bring people together; family and friends and good food. Easter is a particularly festive food occasion as it's proceeded by Lent, a period of fasting. So, thanks to the inspirational suggestion given to me today I'm going to take you on a tour of some of the worlds tradional Easter Fare. Italy, Greece, Ireland and Poland

Italy
La Pasqua

In Italy pretzels were originally an Easter food. The twisted shape is supposed to represent arms crossed in prayer.

Homemade Soft Pretzels
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 Tbsp Sugar
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 pkg active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups (22 oz) all purpose flour
1 oz unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp water
Pretzel Salt

Directions:
Combine, warm water, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast ontop. Allow the yeast to bloom for 5 minutes (you will see a foam begin ontop)
Add the flour and butter and using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined.
Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Approx. 4-5 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50-55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and lightly brush with vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in a saucepan or roasting pan.

Meanwhile, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal peices. Roll out each peice into a 24 inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the pretzel. Place onto the parchment lined sheet.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30seconds each. Remove from water and return to baking sheet. Brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture, sprinkle with the pretzel salt and bake until dark golden brown. approx 12-14minutes.

Cool at least 5 minutes before serving.

The most important dish to an Italian Easter feast is Agnellino, roasted lamb.
Capretto o Agnello al Forno
Ingredients:
4.5 lbs (2kg) Leg of lamb
2oz seasoned lard, avaliable in Italian delicatessens or Prosciutto fat
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
2 sprigs rosemary
A dozen button onions, peeled.
2 lbs baby potatoes (thin skinned need not be peeled)

Directions:
Wash and pat the meat dry, put it in a roasting pan with a garlic clove.
Dot it with the lard and sprinkle with the oil, lay the rosemary on it, season with salt and pepper.
Roast in oven at 400-420 degrees F, until the meat is browned. About 1.25 hours to 1.5 hours.
If you would like roasted vegetables, add the onions, halved and the the potatoes after the meat has roasted for 15 minutes.


Greece

Red Eggs are a symbol of Greek Easter, they represent the blood of Christ and rebirth. From Ancient times the egg has been a symbol of the renewal of life and the message of the red eggs is victory over death. Commerical dyes are avaliable but here is a recipe for the traditional way of creating red eggs with a deep rich colour.

Start with a dozen medium to small eggs
Carefully clean the surface of the eggs
Make the dye with onion skins, yellow onions work wonderfully.
In a stainless saucepan, place the skins of 15 onions and 2 Tbsp of white vinegar in 4 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered for 30minutes
Strain the dye into a glass bowl, allow to cool to room temperature. (don't be fooled by the orange colour)
In a stainless saucepan, add the cooled strained dye and the eggs at room temperature. The eggs should be in a single layer and covered by the dye.
Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer.
Dyeing time will be affected by the colour of the eggs. Start checking the colour at 12-15 minutes. Do not simmer longer then 20 minutes.***
Remove eggs and cool.
When eggs are cool enough to handle, coat lightly with olive oil and polish with a paper towel
Refrigerate until time to use.
***If the egs are not red enough after 20minutes, leave them in the pot and remove from heat. When the pot has cooled place in the refrigerator and let sit until desired colour is reached.

Tsougrisma - this is a game played with red eggs and two players.

Each player holds a red egg, one taps the ed of his/her egg lightly against the end of the other players egg. The goal is to crack the opponent's egg. When one end is cracked, the winner uses the same end of his/her egg to try to crack the other end of the opponent's egg.
The player who successfully cracks the eggs of the other players is declared the winner and it is said, will have good luck during the year.
The word tsougrisma (TSOO-grees-mah) means 'clicking together' or 'clashing'

Tsoureki
There are as many recipes for this traditional Greek Easter bread as there are cooks.
It is a sweet dessert bread can include a light citrus flavour, can be dopped with nuts and can include the traditional red egg cooked with the bread.

Ingredients:
12 cups of flour
3 Tbsp of active dry yeast
1 cup of melted butter
1 cup + 1 Tbsp of sugar
6 eggs
1/2 Tbsp of mahlab (or crushed aniseed or vanilla extract)
2-3 peices of mastic, crushed with 1/4 tsp of sugar (or greated zest of 1 orange)
3/4 cup of lukewarm milk
3/4 tsp of sea salt
1 beaten egg
sesame seeds or blanched sliced almonds (optional)
dyed red eggs (optional)

Directions:
Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm milk. Add a few spoonfuls of flour to make a paste. Cover and set aside in a warm place to rise.
In a bowl, combine flour and salt, add melted butter.
Boil mahlab in a little water, strain and add the liquid to the flour.
Add the eggs, mastic, sugar and the risen yeast mixture.
On a floured surface, knead the misture well until it becomes a malleable dough, about 15-20 minutes (or 10 minutes on a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment)
Cover and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled (1 1/2-2 hours)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Punch down the dough and creat shapes:
Braids: Shape into 12 or 15 ropes, about 15inches long. Braid sets of 3 ropes to form loaves. Tuck one or more red eggs into the braids (optional)
Twists: Shape into ropes 20-24 inches long. From the middle rope, twist the rope gently. Tuck an egg into the top of the twist.
Place the loaves on a greased cookie sheet, cover, allow to proof in a warm place until doubled. Brush with a beaten egg.
Optional sprinkle with sugar, sesame seeds or blanched almond slices.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool on racks.
TIP: Tap the bottom of bread for doneness, if they sound hollow they're ready!

Stay tuned for more Easter recipes and traditions from around the world.

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