by Brian Clarey
The first thing I tasted at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market was something I could not buy: two slices of house-cured prosciutto, courtesy of a Guilford County farmer gauging interest in a new product.
I had already picked up three loaves of good, crusty bread — a semolina Italian, a marbled pumpernickel-sourdough and a round of Italian Easter bread, made by Alex Amoroso of Cheesecakes by Alex, redolent of anise and vanilla, just like my Aunt Louise used to make, except she used to put whole, dyed Easter eggs in hers. And I got fresh thyme, parsley, arugula and a couple sheaves of Swiss chard with deep pink stems.
We do it every Easter: open our home to a growing gaggle of people we love to help celebrate the season. There’s an egg hunt and a dyeing contest and televised sports and all sorts of other fun. And I like to put on a big spread.
This year I went no further than my figurative backyard for inspiration.
The GFCM provided me with a strong list of essentials, including the recipe for the main course, a lamb stew that I tasted right there on St. Patrick’s Day.
I used a boneless leg from Massey Creek Farms in Madison, procured from a Chef Brendan Hofacker of the Worx in downtown Greensboro, who also supplied me with an absolutely beautiful side of salmon. I don’t always buy my meat from restaurants, but it’s not a bad idea. They get the best prices, the choicest cuts, and are always willing to dispense some cooking advice.
My chef friend told me to cube the lamb while it was still partially frozen so it would be easier to cut and would leave a significantly less bloody mess in my kitchen. He then had me toss it with salt, pepper, fresh thyme and a little flour to coat it all and, eventually, add body to the broth.
“You don’t need to make stock,” he told me. “Just cook it all together.”
The meat got browned; onions, carrots and celery went in, along with a parsnip just for the hell of it. When they softened a bit, I added three tall cans of Guinness Stout and about the same amount of water. The potatoes went in at the end, and I let it cook for half a day.
There’s more to it: I blasted the salmon at 450 degrees with a jacket of fresh dill pressed atop it for about 20 minutes. When I pulled it off the roasting tray, the skin slid off like a satin dress. And I cut the Swiss chard into strips before sautéing it in garlic, parsley, lemon and olive oil. That one was for the vegans in the house, who grow in number every year.
My mother whipped up another ancestral dish: ricotta pie. It was my great-grandmother who used to make these, deep-dish style and so rich with cheese that I could never stand to eat much more than a couple bites.
But a meal like this is about more than the final menu. At the holidays, I’ve found, the most important elements are the ingredients.