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An Easter Buffet

A big table full of goodies is the natural way to feed a crowd. Here's a no-fuss menu.

April 11, 2001|THE TIMES TEST KITCHEN

Bunnies, bonnets and baskets are all part of Easter and, with the holiday's relaxed style, so are buffets.

But unlike the first three, buffets strike fear in the hearts of some. Think of all those dishes to prepare. Think of all those diners standing impatiently in line. Don't fret: We in the Times Test Kitchen have put together a menu to make your Easter fuss-free.

First, of course, is the biggest question: lamb or ham? Lamb seems so sophisticated, so very European; ham is homespun American. When it came time to choose the centerpiece of our buffet, we didn't. Why not serve both? (Those of you who are more decisive can pick one; the rest of the menu will work just fine with either.)

Ham is rich and salty, so it works best with flavors that are tangy and sweet. Rather than using a predictable jam glaze, we marinated our ham overnight with red grapefruit juice and rosemary.

Leg of lamb is a spring favorite. Because of its unusual anatomy, though, it can be tricky to carve, particularly when everyone is watching. We got around that problem by boning and butterflying the leg. This has the additional benefit of allowing it to cook more quickly.

The rest of the menu just seemed to come naturally. Any Easter meal needs stuffed eggs. For another appetizer, try this rustic goat cheese and roasted vegetable tart.

With the best of the spring vegetables in the market, deciding on side dishes is easy. Artichokes, of course, roasted with lemons and olives. And potatoes and watercress, paired in a lovely warm salad. Though the biggest part of the fig harvest comes in the heat of summer, there is a small first-flush harvest in the spring. We roasted our figs in Port and served them with mixed lettuces.

And then there are strawberries. This is the very peak of the season, particularly in Southern California, and to show the fruit at its best advantage, we turned an old family favorite into something a little bit fancy.

All of these dishes can be made ahead and then assembled with a minimum of hassle just before serving.

And hey, if anybody complains, just give them some more ham ... or lamb.

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Roasted Baby Artichokes With Lemons and Olives

Active Work Time: 30 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

The fragrance of herbes de Provence-a combination of dried herbs such as fennel, lavender, marjoram, sage, thyme and basil-reminds Rae of spring. This dish can be served hot, warm or at room temperature.

*

Juice of 2 lemons

4 pounds baby artichokes, or about 35 artichokes

3 lemons, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons herbes de Provence

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups assorted pitted olives

* Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

* Fill a large bowl with water and add the lemon juice. Peel off the outer leaves of the artichokes until you reach the tender pale green leaves in the center. Use a paring knife to cut most of the stems off each artichoke, leaving about 1 inch. Pare off the tough outer skin of the stems. Cut 1/4 inch off the tip end of each artichoke, cut them in half and place the halves in the lemon water. After you've trimmed all the artichokes, drain them, pat dry and place them in a large bowl. Add the sliced lemons.

Stir in the salt, pepper to taste and the herbes de Provence. Pour in the olive oil and combine. Spoon the artichokes into a large roasting pan. Arrange the lemon slices over the artichokes and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Stir in the olives, cover and roast until the artichokes are tender, another 20 minutes.

*

8 servings. Each serving: 197 calories; 1,221 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 11grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 24 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 11.60 grams fiber.

Sun-Dried Tomato-Stuffed Eggs

Active Work Time: 25 minutes

Total Preparation Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

These stuffed eggs from our Test Kitchen intern Mary Ellen Rae are best the day they are made. You can make them a day ahead, however, up to the point of piping the filling into the eggs; just keep everything refrigerated, and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the yolk mixture to keep it fresh. Fill the eggs just before serving.

*

12 eggs

8 sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil)

2 tablespoons capers, drained and chopped

1 large shallot, finely minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup mayonnaise

4 tablespoons thinly sliced basil, divided

Place the 12 eggs in a large saucepan. Fill with cool water. Bring the water to boil over medium heat. As soon as it boils, reduce the heat to simmer and cook the eggs 20 minutes. Fill a bowl with ice cubes and cold water and set aside.

Meanwhile, place the sun-dried tomatoes in a microwave-safe bowl and cover them with water. Microwave for 2 minutes, then let the tomatoes sit several minutes until they have softened. Drain on paper towels, then finely mince.

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