Clearing dead leaves and debris off the vegetable and herb beds on one of the first truly warm afternoons of this spring, I’m amazed to find that lemon balm and mint are up in small bright bouquets hugging the ground. Chives, oregano, and parsley, too.
But then I’m amazed every spring by the same sight — those pure greens glowing against the dark soil. They remind me that it is time to plan my contribution to Easter and Passover gatherings in the days ahead. With full respect to all, these are as one rite-of-spring event in my mind.
What I make for these holidays varies from year to year only in the details. It is always a large platter of fresh young vegetables in an array of colors and textures — carrots in orange, purple, and white; small new potatoes, beets, and greens, possibly asparagus, green beans, or some miniature zucchini or broccolini, if I’ve been lucky at a local market. If there is enough early spinach and kale in the garden, I’ll use that.
I arrange each vegetable, roasted or steamed, in its own territory on the platter and garnish it all with coarse salt, grinds of pepper, and as many herbs and green onions as have sprung up by then. I drizzle it all with a delicate lemon vinaigrette.
Composing this dish allows lots of time for gazing out the window. I enjoy having no particular recipe to follow: the quantity is easily scaled up or down depending on the size of the gathering. Nor does this require a strict schedule: the vegetables can go to the table warm or at room temperature. Know that they can steal the show.
Meanwhile, the contingent out at the grill, led by Hugo, will be finishing whatever they are cooking with the smoke of grapevine cuttings saved over winter — an ode to his Italian grandmother. If the fire is balky, as it can be, and they are taking a long time, I might lightly pickle boiled eggs in red beet juice and vinegar with a few pinches of sugar to serve on a plate alongside — an ode to my grandmother. At her immense farmhouse table in rural Pennsylvania, no Easter passed without these. Another possibility, if I see the grill masters opening a second bottle of wine, is a zesty parsley-lemon salad.
There are many parsley salads. It’s an entire category that includes versions with bread, almonds, sesame, sumac, rice, romaine, bulgur, quinoa, orzo, beans, onions, chickpeas, mustard, and mushrooms. But the one I’ll make, a refreshing condiment, really, is far simpler with just lemon slices and juice, salt, pepper, and splashes of olive oil.
This salad complements rich-tasting meat or fish and, at our house, where the family project is our cookbook about good food that doesn’t break the bank, it’s a standard, alongside luxurious-seeming vegetarian potatoes gratin.
More evidence that we’ve been sprung from the dark and gray comes as I round the corner of the house where, even though I think it’s certainly too early, I hunt for wild violets to decorate the almond cake or ricotta pie we will have for dessert. But there they are.
I see a wren wresting long pieces of straw into a small birdhouse bolted to our unused front door. That’s her mate, I presume, perched vigilantly on the peak of the birdhouse roof. Slowly filling with hope, I watch her work for a long time.
Makes 4-6 servings
2 bunches parsley, about 4 cups
1 large lemon (or 2 smaller ones)
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp. honey
Salt and pepper
Chop the parsley coarsely, removing long stems as you go.
Cut a large lemon in half, crosswise, and juice one half into a small bowl. Slice the remaining half lemon very thin and quarter the rounds. (If using smaller lemons, juice one and slice the other as above.) Sprinkle the lemon slices with ¼ teaspoon salt and marinate them in the lemon juice for about 5 minutes, to soften.
Drain the lemon juice into a serving bowl and with a fork or whisk blend in the olive oil and honey until the dressing turns creamy. Stir in the parsley and lemon slices. Taste for seasoning, adding grinds of black pepper and more salt if you like, and the salad is ready — or let it sit for half an hour to further meld the flavors.
Carol Rizzoli is a co-author of The $5 Foodie: Cook Better, Spend Less, Enjoy More, with recipes online at thefivedollarfoodie.com.