My father’s mother, Grandma Tillie, didn’t attend my parents’ wedding. She was Jewish, raised in an Orthodox household by parents who had been born in a Romanian shtetl—and her oldest son marrying a Presbyterian from western Pennsylvania had not exactly been her idea of kosher. Naturally, her wedding-day protest weighed heavily on my father, but once my parents tied the knot and, a year later, had my sister, Lynn, Tillie’s boycott all but lifted. (I suppose if anything is powerful enough to disrupt generations of tribal tradition, a new grandchild is it.) And anyway, in spite of my mom’s non-Jewish leanings, Tillie loved her. You can’t not love my mom. She was elected homecoming queen in college, for crying out loud— most likely because she’s nice to everybody. Everybody. Even to a mother-in-law who was a no-show on her wedding day.
Tillie died two weeks before I was born, and however impressive her strides were on the religious tolerance front, I do always wonder what she would’ve made of the fifteen-pound ham that arrived on our doorstep every year, just in time for Passover.
It wasn’t for Passover, of course. It was for Easter, but, like Christmas and Hanukkah in our house, the two holidays would often blur together. The ham, which would be the anchor of my mom’s Easter table, came in a box stamped CATRINO’S MARKET and was accompanied, every year, by the same simple note: “Happy Easter! Love, Albert.” Albert was my mom’s older brother by twenty-two years. He still lived in the small Pennsylvania town where they had grown up, and he ran the now-closed store my grandfather had opened when he moved to America from Italy in 1900. Like my mother, Uncle Albert was a workaholic, hardly ever closing Catrino’s Market for vacation or travel, which meant that we only got to see him for weddings and special occasions.
But once a year, at least, we could count on Uncle Albert’s ham.
I’ve never asked my dad how he felt about the ham’s arrival—I’m guessing it’s something akin to what Woody Allen felt when Annie Hall ordered her pastrami on white bread with mayo—but I can tell you one thing for certain: No one looked forward to that delivery more than I did.
Uncle Albert died in 1997, the year I got married, so Andy never got to have the true Catrino Passover-Easter (Eastover?) Experience, which is a shame because he might be the only one who loves a ham (and the ham-inspired leftovers that follow) more than I do. So we’ve given the ritual our own spin, trotting out a ham whenever possible, but almost always alongside something on the table that also nods to our entire family religious history. (Book owners already know about our “Interfaith Sliders” made with ham and brisket.) That means for Easter Brunch, a spiral ham is at the center of the table, but it’s preceded by a bowl of matzoh ball soup and accompanied by a Wild Rice Salad that is my go-to “what-can-I-bring” dish for Passover. For dessert, there will be some sort of decadent spring-like confection but it will sit next to a flourless (read: Passover-friendly) chocolate cake.
It’s a feast that’s mix-and-match in more ways than one. Other than creating a table at which both Uncle Albert and Grandma Tillie would feel comfortable, we also want to keep the kitchen work manageable, i.e. even though celebrate everything doesn’t mean we have to cook everything. This is where the prepared food section of Whole Foods Market comes in. We can order a few big-ticket items through online ordering for either holiday — the gorgeous chef-prepared glazed spiral ham, a few batches of matzoh ball soup, dessert — then fill in the holes with some easy homemade side dishes, like that Wild Rice Salad (made with cranberries and chives), a springy green pea and asparagus salad, and a light-as-air egg-gruyere souffle. It’s a strategy I recommend whether no matter what holiday you’re celebrating.
Here’s a run-down of the menu…
So pretty, right? The spiral hams from Whole Foods Market have no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners. You order online ahead of time, then pick up at your local store.
Wild Rice Salad
1 1/2 cups wild rice
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pecans, toasted in a skillet on medium-high heat until roasty
3 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped
White balsamic vinaigrette (1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar whisked with 1/3 cup olive oil, salt and pepper)
2 tablespoons chives, finely minced
Cook wild rice as directed on package and allow to cool. Toss with remaining ingredients. Serve at room temperature. (Can be made a day ahead of time: Remove from refrigerator an hour or two before eating, and don’t add chives until right before you serve.)
Spring Asparagus-Pea Salad and Crispy Shallots
3 bunches asparagus, woody ends trimmed or shaved with a vegetable peeler
2 shallots, sliced in thin rounds
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup freshly chopped mint
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed (you can also use fresh, but I think frozen peas are so much sweeter)
Boil asparagus in a shallow skillet for four minutes, then remove to an ice bath to stop the cooking and preserve its bright green color. Once cool, remove to a platter and pat dry with paper towels.
Meanwhile, fry shallots in vegetable oil over medium heat, watching so they don’t burn, until crispy and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel.
Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
In a bowl, toss asparagus, peas, and mint with vinaigrette. Remove to a platter and top with fried shallots.
butter for greasing dish
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped onions
1 garlic clove, minced
kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
¼ cup flour
1 ¾ cup whole milk
6 large eggs, separated
½ cup gruyere, grated
¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
pinch of cream of tartar
2 tablespoons chives
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a baking dish.
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft. Add garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper, and cook another minute. Reduce the heat to low, sprinkle in the flour and stir. Slowly whisk in the milk. Cook, whisking constantly until thick and bubbling. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
Separate eggs, placing the yolks in a large bowl and the whites in a mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat yolks until combined, then fold in both cheeses and onion-mixture to the yolks.
Using an electric (or standing) mixer beat the whites on medium speed. When they foam, add the cream of tartar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form. In small batches, carefully fold egg whites into the egg-cheese mixture. Fold just until combined.
Spoon into baking dish. Bake 40 to 45 minutes until golden and puffed and not jiggly. Let cool for 15 minutes. Serve warm.
It should be a law to serve your ham with biscuits, mustard, and pickles. (See page 197, How to Celebrate Everything for my definitive biscuit recipe.)
The Dessert Spread: Berry Chantilly Cake, Whole Food Market’s most popular baked good, is a raspberry-simple-syrup infused vanilla cake with mascarpone icing and fresh fruit (in-store pick-up only); Chocolate Mousse Cake (below) for the Seder set; and, of course, the piece de resistance: Marshmallow Peeps™.
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Whole Foods Market for IZEA. Order their chef-prepared Passover and Easter dishes online then pick up at your local store. (Berry Chantilly Cake is in-store order only.) Parts of this post have been excerpted from my last book, How to Celebrate Everything. Photographs by Doug Schneider for Dinner: A Love Story.