Festive Foods: Dishes to help celebrate the spring holidays

  • Chive Butter Balls and Leaves.

  • left to right Soda Bread, Arugula Salad and Chive Butter Balls and Leaves.

  • Arugula Salad and Maple Mustard Dressing.

  • left to right Soda Bread, Arugula Salad and Chive Butter Balls and Leaves.

  • Arugula Salad and Maple Mustard Dressing.

  • left to right Soda Bread, Arugula Salad and Chive Butter Balls and Leaves.

  • Chive Butter Balls and Leaves are shown above. Chive butter is good with soda bread, also shown here, or any other non-sweet bread. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • left to right Soda Bread, Arugula Salad and Chive Butter Balls and Leaves.

  • left to right Soda Bread, and Chive Butter Balls and Leaves.

  • Arugula Salad and Maple Mustard Dressing Gazette staff/Carol Lollis

  • left to right Soda Bread, Arugula Salad and Chive Butter Balls and Leaves.

For the Gazette
Sunday, March 11, 2018

March and April are froth with festivity as a horde of holidays splashes color and cheer into still-chilly days.

Biggies include St Patrick’s Day with everything green on March 17, Passover beginning March 30 this year, and pastel-pretty Easter on April 1.

Other March holidays include St David’s Day, the national day of Wales and bright with daffodils, on March 1, and St Joseph’s Day, celebrated by Italians, on March 19. Red is the color of the day for the Italian community of Gloucester, which doesn’t want to be outdone by the green of St Patrick’s just two days before.

The year’s other big annual holiday cluster is Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. They follow the autumn harvest, and in different ways, they celebrate it. Similarly, the spring holidays link to the agricultural year. Already the maple harvest is underway. At the North Hadley Sugar Shack Marie Murphy says they began tapping the trees super-early on Jan. 25, and boiling sap into syrup started in mid-February.

Buckets appeared on trees in Leverett and Amherst on Feb. 16, and on Hilltown trees by the end of the month.

In gardens thyme, sage and dormant clumps of chives have toughed out winter, and are ready to get going again. Hens are ready to go, too. Daylight inspires them to lay eggs. During winter they don’t get enough of it, so they slow down. In March longer days spur them on, so there are more eggs — and potentially more chicks.

Animals such as cows, sheep and goats also have their babies, and that means they have more milk to feed them.

Though these first spring products can’t match the harvest abundance that fuels Thanksgiving and other end-of-year holidays, they are essential ingredients for spring feasts. At Passover an egg — called baytzab — on the ceremonial Seder plate symbolizes offerings at the Temple. At Easter eggs manifest new life and the promise of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Over the centuries cooks have mixed eggs with the season’s plentiful milk and cream to make dishes for spring festivities. These includes classics such as zeppole — custard-filled doughnuts — for St Joseph’s Day, and pashka, a sweetened curd cheese confection, for Orthodox Easter in Russia.

Pashka is served with kulich and almond and raisin bread. The almonds and raisins make the ordinary bread dough special for the holidays. Other countries have similarly enriched Easter breads. Polish babka has butter, sugar and often raisins: Greek lambropsomo is topped with red-dyed eggs; Spanish hornazo is filled with sausage slices and hard-boiled eggs, while hot-cross buns, brought to America by immigrants from England, are speckled with raisins and fragrant with nutmeg and cinnamon.

Main dishes for spring holidays often feature spring lamb. Ham, which traditionally would have been cured months before and saved for the celebration, is a common alternative. In Ireland, it rivals corned beef, another cured meat, as the St Patrick’s Day choice.

Traditional vegetables are invariably the potatoes, carrots and other root crops that appear with corned beef for St Patrick’s Day and other seasonal meals. But in warmer climates the earliest leaves play a role. In France, for example, children hunting Easter eggs are encouraged to bring home dandelion leaves for a salad for Easter lunch. In her book “The Passover Table,” Susan Friedland, notes “Asparagus is the very definition of spring and the most seasonally appropriate as well as delicious vegetable to serve at Passover.”

Alas, though sugar houses are busy bubbling sap into this year’s maple syrup, our asparagus is still locked within the ground. But farmers with greenhouses now raise arugula and other greens regardless of outdoor temperatures.

Here are some recipes for these and other March and April foods.


Arugula is one of the first salad greens of the year, and is widely available locally thanks to growers with greenhouses. Here its dramatic flavor is highlighted by the salad dressing team of smoky-sweet maple syrup and zingy English or Chinese mustard. Hard-boiled eggs left over from Easter find a home on this salad, and a sprinkle of chives adds a final seasonal touch.

For the dressing:

¾ teaspoon dry English or Chinese mustard powder (not French or other ready-made mustard)

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt to taste

For the salad:

About 4 cups washed arugula

1 cup shredded carrots

6 radishes, washed and thinly sliced

2 teaspoons drained capers (optional)

2-4 hard-boiled eggs, cut in halves or quarters

1 teaspoon snipped chives or other fresh herbs

To make the dressing, put the mustard into a small bowl and stir in the maple syrup until you have a smooth mixture. Add the lemon zest, about a teaspoon of lemon juice, oil and a little salt. Whisk lightly then taste. Add more salt or lemon juice if necessary.

Put the arugula and about three quarters of the carrots, radish slices and capers (if using) in the salad bowl. Toss to mix with a tablespoon of the dressing, adding more if you like.

Top with the rest of the carrots, radish slices and capers. Arrange the egg pieces on top and sprinkle with the snipped chives.


In Ireland soda bread is a year-round staple, and a must for St Patrick’s Day. Recipes vary a lot. Some include sugar or fat, usually butter or lard; a few recipes add an egg or a little oatmeal; some use a combination of soda and cream of tartar or baking powder.

All agree, however, that you should work quickly; the dough should be “slack,” that is, not too firm; it should scarcely be kneaded, and it should be scored with a deep cross.

This recipe calls for cake flour, rather than all-purpose, because its lower gluten content is similar to Irish flour and makes a more tender loaf. This recipe could be shaped into 6 to 8 scones if you prefer. Baking time will be 15 minutes at 400 degrees.

1 cup cake flour

1 cup whole wheat flour (or white all-purpose or cake flour if you prefer a white loaf)

1½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons butter or lard

About 1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a pie dish or pizza pan or line with parchment paper.

Mix together the flour or flours with the soda, salt and baking powder. Cut the butter or lard into bits and rub them in.

Make a well in the center, and stir in half a cup of buttermilk. Stir quickly to blend. Add more buttermilk about a quarter cup at a time, and with your hands mix it into the dough turning the dough over lightly to get it to hold together.

Shape it in a 2-inch thick disk and place on the prepared pan. Sift an extra teaspoon or so of flour on top then score criss-cross cuts about 5 inches long and half an inch deep across the loaf. Let it rest for 4 to 5 minutes so the cuts open out slightly. Put it in the oven and bake for about 8 minutes to firm the crust, then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for another 15 to 18 minutes, or until a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean.

Soda bread is best eaten within a day or so of being baked.


Flavored butters look pretty on any holiday table and taste delicious. Many herbs or spices can do the flavoring job. The mild oniony flavor of chives and their early appearance in gardens makes them perfect for springtime holidays. Chive butter is good with soda bread — or any other non-sweet bread — and also on vegetables such as carrots, potatoes or asparagus.

1½ sticks butter at room temperature

About 4 tablespoons finely snipped chives

Pinch salt (optional)

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)

2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley

In a bowl mash the butter with a tablespoon of the chives (best snipped with scissors than chopped with a knife), and a pinch of salt if the butter is not already salted.

Next add the Worcestershire sauce, another tablespoon of snipped chives and the parsley. Mash to distribute the herbs.

Now shape the butter into a rectangular block about 2 inches tall. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

To shape butter balls, remove the butter from the fridge, let it soften just a little then scoop it into balls with a melon baller. (You can also use a teaspoon). To perfect the shape, roll the butter lightly with cold hands, then roll in the remaining chopped chives.

To make chive butter leaves, place the butter between two sheets of parchment paper or wax paper and roll it to about a quarter inch thick. Using a cookie cutter or working freehand with a pointed knife, make leaf shapes.

Slide a spatula under them and transfer to a dish for serving or use as a garnish — on steak for example, or on vegetables.


This dish — Wyau Inys Mon in Welsh — comes from the island of Anglesey in North Wales. It is a hearty dish for a chilly spring evening, and a terrific way to use hard-boiled eggs left over from Easter celebrations.

Leeks, a major ingredient, are a Welsh favorite because medieval Welsh soldiers wore them to distinguish themselves from their English enemies. Daffodils also claim this honor. Both grow in early March so both are used to celebrate St David’s Day, which honors the Welsh national saint on March 1.

About 1½ pounds potatoes (about 2 large)

Salt to taste

3-4 medium leeks

4 tablespoons butter.

6 hard boiled eggs

For the cheese topping:

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1¼ cups milk

1½ cups (about 4 ounces) grated extra-sharp Cheddar

White pepper and salt to taste

Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks, and boil then in water with ½ teaspoon of salt for 20 minutes or until they are tender. Drain them. Mash them with a tablespoon of the butter.

Meanwhile, clean the leeks by removing all the dark-green top and the coarse outer leaves. Slit the leeks for about 6 inches downward, and splay the layers under a tap of cold running water to remove any soil collected there.

Cut the white and tender green parts into half-inch discs. Cover with water, add a pinch of salt, simmer for 7 to 8 minutes or until they are tender. Drain and reserve the liquid.

Stir the leeks into the mashed potatoes, and then beat well so that the mixture looks pale green. If this mash is stiff, add a little of the reserved leek broth to soften it.

Spread this in a greased baking dish or casserole. Halve the hard-boiled eggs and settle them on top of the potato-leek mixture.

Turn the oven to 375 degrees, and make the cheese topping. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a saucepan; remove from the heat and stir in the flour until you have a smooth stiff paste. Stir in about a quarter cup of the milk, then return the pan to the heat and gradually whisk in the remaining milk until the mixture thickens. When it has boiled for a minute or two stir in the cheese except for 2 tablespoonsful.

Let the cheese melt, then taste and add salt and white pepper as needed. Pour this sauce over the potato-leek-egg mixture, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until the top is bubbly and has brown patches.


This recipe is based on one in “A Book of Middle Eastern Food” by Claudia Roden, who identifies it as a Passover cake made by Sephardic Jews. They were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 16th-century, and settled around the Mediterranean.

Oranges and almonds were introduced to Spain by medieval Arab rulers, and their use in this cake reflects the origins of the Sephardim. The cake has no flour, hence its suitability for Passover when leavened baked goods are forbidden, and flour is eschewed in case accidental leavening occurs.

1 teaspoon light-flavored oil

6 clementines or tangerines (total weight 1¼ to 1½ pounds)

6 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon orange-flower water (optional)

½ teaspoon almond extract (optional)

1¾ cups ground almonds or almond meal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

Line the base of a loose-bottomed 8 or 9-inch layer cake pan with parchment paper. Grease the sides with the oil. Also, lightly grease the parchment. Set aside.

Choose clementines or tangerines with unblemished skins. Wash them, put them in a saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour or until they are very soft. Remove from the water, cool slightly, halve the fruit, and remove and discard any seeds. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor or in a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until foamy. Beat in the orange-flower water and almond extract if you are using them. If using a food processor, add the cooked clementines two at a time and beat them in until all are blended in. If not using a processor, sieve or mash the clementines to a purée and beat it into the egg mixture a third at a time, adding the orange-flower water or almond extract as you go.

Finally, mix in the ground almonds and baking powder. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for one hour. Check it by poking a skewer into the center. Though this is a very moist cake the skewer should not emerge with semi-liquid batter on it. If necessary bake it for an extra 5 to 10 minutes until it is dryer. Cool in the pan, then carefully turn it out. For serving, sift the confectioner’s sugar on top, and have whipped cream on the side.