Ham is an Easter favorite.
Perhaps the poplarity harkens to the not-too-distant past when hams smoked and salted in the fall became ready for the dinner table in the spring, just in time for Easter celebrations.
Whatever the reason, you can find plenty of hams at your local grocery store.
In the United States, we most often serve a baked ham at Easter, smeared with a sweet glaze and decorated with cherries and pineapple, but there is nothing wrong with serving a thin-sliced country ham, or even a dish such as a casserole that has ham as a main component.
Europeans also do some wonderful things with ham, most often involving cured or smoked ham.
The Germans make Black Forest ham, which is hands-down my favorite, but you will not find an authentic Schwarzwälder Schinken this side of the Atlantic.
The Italians are rightfully famous for their Prosciutto di Parma, an amazing cured ham that is made only in a few Italian provinces. If it is not made in one of the approved provinces, it cannot be called Prosciutto di Parma, at least not in Europe.
And what the Spaniards do with Jamón serrano is amazing. So your choices are plentiful, if you want to choose the ham option.
If ham is not your choice, I offer, too, a lamb shanks recipe for your consideration.
Julian Brunt, who is from a family with deep Southern roots, writes Coast Cooking in Wednesday’s Sun Herald and has a blog at sunherald.com.
Cured Ham and Melon
This is perhaps the most traditional way of serving thin slices of cured ham.
The salty ham and sweet fruit pair up in a wonderful way. Some people might disagree, but I think a nice rosé wine, not a sweet one, but a dry one, would go nicely with this dish.
Thin slices of country ham or Italian Prosciutto di Parma
Honeydew melon or cantaloupe cut into cubes or slices
Make sure to get the ham thin-sliced, never buy it already sliced as it will be dry. It should be paper thin. Let the ham come to room temperature before you try to cut it into slices; if it is too cold, it will tear. Separate the ham, wrap a cube of melon as artfully as you can or arrange with equal artfulness on a serving tray. Make sure to serve the rosé chilled.
There is a small world of things you can do to deviled eggs to charm them up a bit. The simplest is to mix the yolks with mayonnaise, refill the halved egg, and garnish with green onions. Some folks like to garnish deviled eggs with caviar, but the following recipe is my favorite.
1-2 whole eggs per person
Yogurt, crème fraiche or mayonnaise
Hard boil the eggs, cool, shell and cut in half. Remove the yolk and combine with your choice of yogurt, crème fraiche or mayonnaise, then add as much olive salad as you like. Chopped jalapeno will add a spicy kick. Refill the halved eggs, and serve chilled. If you have any of that rosé left over, serve it again.
Braised Lamb Shanks
1 lamb shank per person
1-2 thickly chopped onion
2-3 thickly chopped carrots
10 garlic cloves, minced
1 bottle dry red wine
2-3 cups canned whole tomatoes
2-3 cups chicken stock
1 small bunch rosemary and thyme
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes
If you are not crazy about lamb, you can substitute veal or pork shank for this recipe. Season the shanks aggressively, sear in a heavy-bottom pot in oil until well browned, remove and set aside. Add the vegetables and cook over medium high heat for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, and the shanks, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 2 hours. If the sauce is not thick enough when the meat is tender, remove the meat and simmer uncovered until you have the consistency you like.