I had spent the day shopping and cooking for an Easter feast with friends.
I’d added a folding table to the one in the dining room, because we’d invited a crowd. And because it’s finally spring, I chose cream-colored tablecloths to lighten the formal room. As I counted dessert forks and arranged wineglasses, I thought about the significance of setting a table. In some ways, this is my favorite moment of a dinner party, when all the hard work is done and I can bask in the pleasurable anticipation of a long evening of eating and talking and laughing.
I folded cloth napkins and set them at each place, added a stack of soup bowls to my spot at the foot of the table for serving, along with bowls of chopped parsley, lemon zest/juice, and steamed asparagus spears to garnish the soup. In the center of the table, I put a board with a sliced loaf of artisanal bread I’d baked that morning along with four French cheeses.
The house was quiet and full of good cooking smells. In the next few minutes, eight friends would arrive and shed their wraps and hang out in the kitchen, pouring wine, eating the deviled eggs and Hillel sandwiches I’d put out on the counter to start with—eggs for Easter, of course, and homemade matzo with Sephardic haroset and prepared horseradish as a nod to Passover, because why not celebrate everything everywhere all at once?
All that was left to do now were the finishing touches. While everyone grazed on the appetizers and drank wine around the kitchen island, Brendan and I took the roast leg of lamb out of the oven and tented it with foil to rest, stirred butter into the white bean pilaf, squeezed a little lemon juice into the cream of asparagus soup, and minced fresh mint for the peas.
But before I called everyone to eat, I stood in the dining room doorway and took a moment to appreciate the quiet table. It looked inviting and festive, like a stage set, designed to bolster whatever drama or comedy was at hand. It occurred to me that a dinner party is like a play, directed by the cook and host, peopled by the guests, its dramatic arc determined by the procession of courses.
Then, as the evening unfolded, the ten of us gave ourselves over to the flow of food.
The meal ended perfectly with a sumptuously rich lemon-blueberry cake, along with the astonishing lavender ice cream my friend Tara had made.
It was very late when we all got up from our chairs, even later when the last guest went home, after tea by the fire in the living room. Around midnight, the stage crew/hosts broke down the set: Brendan and I cleared the table, loaded the dishwasher, scrubbed the pots, and put the leftovers away.
Outside, a huge moon lit up the snow-capped mountains and the still-bare trees. The dogs ran and barked through the field while we inhaled the dry, chilly air, warm with the remembered glow of good food and company.
Kate Christensen’s Easter Dinner Menu, at a Glance:
Wash and trim 5 pounds of asparagus, breaking off the tough ends. Cut the spears off the stems and reserve. Roughly chop the stems.
In a soup pot, melt 4 T butter and add 2 T olive oil. Mince 2 onions and sauté for 6-7 minutes, stirring.
Meanwhile, put the asparagus tips in a steamer basket in a small pot and steam over one inch of simmering water, covered, until bright green. Blanch in a bowl of icewater and set aside. Juice and zest 2 lemons.
Add the chopped asparagus stems to the soup pot and stir in 2 T flour, coating the vegetables well. Whisk in 6 cups chicken stock or broth and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes, stirring often.
When the asparagus is soft, purée the soup with an immersion blender, return to the stove, and bring to a simmer. Stir in 1 cup of heavy cream, salt and pepper to taste, and 1 T lemon juice.
Serve in shallow soup bowls and garnish each bowl with chopped parsley, a drizzle of lemon juice plus zest, and 4-5 asparagus spears.
White Bean Pilaf
In a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat 4 T olive oil. Mince 1 yellow onion and sauté for 6-7 minutes, then add 4 minced celery ribs and 6 minced cloves of garlic. Open and rinse 5 cans of white beans. Add them to the softened vegetables. Add ½ cup chicken stock and 2 teaspoons dried thyme. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, then stir in 4 T butter and a handful of parsley. Spread on a platter as a base for the sliced roast leg of lamb. Pour the roasting juices over the top and serve with a flourish.
Peas with Mint
In a saucepan, sauté one bunch of sliced spring onions in 1 T olive oil and 2 T butter. Add 2 pounds fresh or frozen peas with ¼ cup vegetable broth or water. Cook, stirring till the peas are cooked the way you like them. Mince 2 T fresh mint leaves and stir into the peas just before serving.
French Easter Lemon Cake with Blueberries
Enough for everyone
Preheat the oven to 350.
Line the bottoms of 2 cake pans with parchment, butter the pans and parchment well, lightly flour them, and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together 2 ¾ cups flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, and 1 tsp. salt. Stir in the zest of 1 lemon.
In a large bowl, cream 12 T butter with 1 ½ cups sugar till fluffy. Stir in 3 eggs one by one.
Measure 1 ¼ cup milk and add 1 tsp. vanilla.
Alternating, stir half of the flour into the butter-egg-sugar mixture, then half the milk, and repeat, mixing well.
Spread the batter between the two cake pans and bake for 30 minutes, until an inserted knife comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely.
Wash and dry 4 cups of fresh blueberries.
For the icing, cream 8 ounces of cream cheese with 8 T butter. Gradually stir in 2 cups powdered sugar. Add 2 T lemon juice, 1 T lemon zest, and 1 tsp. vanilla and beat until smooth.
Spread a thin layer of icing on the lower layer, arrange a layer of blueberries, then spread another thin layer of icing. Gently press the top layer onto the bottom one. Ice the top with another thin layer of icing and arrange the blueberries in concentric circles all the way to the edge. Ice the sides of the cake, thickly between the layers, more thinly at the edges, Garnish with mint leaves and a sliced strawberry, if you like. Serve with lavender ice cream.
Kate Christensen is a novelist, memoirist and food writer based in Taos, New Mexico. This essay is part of a monthly series about French food called Bouffe, created and written exclusively for Frenchly by Kate Christensen. Her books, Blue Plate Special, How to Cook a Moose, The Last Cruise and more can be purchased here, on Amazon. Her next novel, Welcome Home, Stranger, will be published on December 5th, 2023, by HarperCollins.
All photos are courtesy of the author. To see more of Kate’s photos of food, family, the writing process, books and her darling pups, visit her on Instagram, here.