Monday, April 11, 2011

Palm and Easter Sunday Dinner

As Easter Sunday is quickly approaching, millions of Americans are starting to think of what to cook for their traditional Easter and Palm Sunday dinner.
In the United States, ham is a traditional Easter food. In the early days, meat was slaughtered in the fall. There was no refrigeration, and the fresh pork that wasn't consumed during the winter months, before Lent was cured for spring. The curing process took a long time, and the first hams were ready around Easter. So ham was a natural choice for the celebratory Easter dinner.
I remember when I was a young girl; my Mother would cook either a Leg of Lamb or a Ham. Sometimes she would make a fresh ham with the bone, and other times I remember she would cook a baked canned ham for Easter dinner. Now, in those days which were in the late 50’s, 60’s, and the 70’s the Italian family would celebrate Easter and Palm Sunday as two separate holidays. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday before Easter which marks the beginning of Holy Week. Christian churches distribute palms on Palm Sunday to commemorate Christ's entrance into Jerusalem, when palm branches were placed in His path, before His arrest and Crucifixion on Good Friday.
On Palm Sunday we would go to church and receive the Palms and then go back home to prepare the dinner which was a large feast for many family and friends. I have many happy memories which I can recall of creating palm crosses and beautiful braided wreaths that my Mom and Grandmother’s would show me how to make. We would take these crosses and braided items and place them where we considered being a holy place in our home. Sometimes around religious photos, statutes of Mary the mother of Jesus, or other holy objects.
Then Holy Week began and it is the holiest of all the weeks in the Catholic faith. We would go to church on Wednesday, Holy Thursday and most of all we went on Good Friday. That was the last day of eating a meatless meal and the day that Jesus died on the cross at 3:00 pm. Some times I would go with my family to the Easter vigil. This took place on the Saturday night before Easter. It was so beautiful, we all held candles and it was a very solemn long ceremony that finally lead up to the resurrection of Jesus, which is (Easter).  
During Holy week, between going to church, we would do all of our Easter baking. Easter cakes, pies and many desserts. I have a wonderful recipe for a very traditional Italian Easter cake called Cruzzupe. This recipe comes from Calabria, Italy. It is made with Anise (licorice flavor) and made into a braided wreath or nest with hard boiled colored eggs placed into the dough, and then colored sprinkles are added on top of the cakes. The consistency is a cake type of dough not bread. If you are really interested in this recipe, please come back next weekend as I will post the whole recipe.

The recipe that I am including in this post is called “Baked Fresh Ham with Port Wine.” This recipe was found in the New York Times, many years ago and thought my Mother would like to prepare this as our Easter Sunday Dinner one year. And I must say it was delicious. Between the ham, wine, rosemary and sage, the aromas were incredible as well as the taste. This dish can be prepared for any day or any occasion.
So please enjoy this recipe and don’t forget to come back next weekend to get that recipe for Italian Easter cakes. I promise you will love them and make a new tradition in your family.

Baked Fresh Ham with Port Wine

Ingredients:1 12-to-14-pound fresh ham, un-smoked and un-cured
3 large garlic cloves cut into 12 slices
1 tablespoon crumbled leaf of rosemary
1 tablespoon crumbled sage
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 medium-size onions, peeled
½ cup port wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups water, if necessary.

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Place the ham, skin side up, on a flat surface and, using the tip of a very sharp knife, make 1/4-inch-deep gashes, from the butt end to the shank end, cutting through the skin at 1-inch intervals. Insert a sliver of garlic into each gash.
3. In a small mixing bowl, blend well the rosemary, sage, salt and pepper and rub the mixture on the ham.
4. Place the ham, flat side up, in a large baking dish or roasting pan and place in oven.
5. Bake, basting occasionally, for 2 ½ hours. Remove all the fat from the roasting
Pan and add the onions. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and cover with aluminum foil. Continue baking and basting for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the fat from the pan.
6. In a small mixing bowl, blend the wine, chicken stock and tomato paste. Add to the ham in the roasting pan. Re-cover ham with foil and continue baking for 1 ½ hours or until the ham is thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. If the liquid is reduced too much, add 1 or 2 cups of water.
7. Remove the ham from the roasting pan. Tilt the pan and using the spoon, skim off the fat and return the ham to the pan. Cover with foil and let the ham rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. Serve the ham sliced with the pan gravy spooned over.
Yield 12-20 people

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