Everyone has their own traditions for Easter dinner. We often dine early in the afternoon, leaving time for a walk or some other outdoor activity. A pasta side dish loaded with spring-time vegetables is a healthy choice to go along with ham or leg of lamb, especially if you don’t want to feel weighed down.

Once again, I’m sharing a flexible recipe that can be modified to your liking. These sautéed vegetables can also be steamed if that’s your preference, or roasted in a 400-degree oven on a sheet pan with a bit of olive oil before they are combined with the pasta bow ties. If you choose the oven-roasted method, use about the same timing guidelines that you would use for sautéing.

For those of you who prefer an all-green effect, just leave the carrot shreds out of this dish, but I like to include them because they lend a natural sweetness. And if you’re fortunate enough to have leftovers, cube up a bit of ham and toss it in with the pasta and veggies for your take-away lunch the next day, or for a quick and easy Monday night dinner.

If you are baking a ham, you may also want to try pineapple stuffing. The first time I encountered this supreme yumminess in a casserole dish was on a trip to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. The buttery, sweet “stuffing” was served with a ham dinner at a relative’s home and the first time I tried it, I remember thinking, “Baby, where you have been all my life?” I demanded that my hostess write down the recipe immediately.

This unusual side dish is simply divine slathered over a piece of ham. I know the recipe sounds weird and it’s not exactly loaded with nutrients, but Easter comes but once a year so I think it’s okay to treat yourself to a big spoonful. Or maybe two.

Okay, so far we have something healthy and something not so much. Now how about something whimsical? If you have little ones at your Easter dinner table, you want to keep them engaged and have them enjoy their meal so what could be more enticing than Bunnies on the Lawn?

This cute pear salad has been served at my Easter dinner table since the ‘70s and is now made up just for the grandchildren. It’s simply not Easter without the bunnies served on their individual salad plates. Whether you prefer the bunnies on a slippery slab of green Jell-O, or on a bed of spring greens or young pea shoots, they’re a delicate operation to put together. They will make everyone smile though, so it’s well worth the effort.

I suggest you purchase two cans of pears just to be safe, as sometimes the pear halves are broken and bunnies can’t be made with defective pears!

A tip: I prefer the cherry-infused Craisins, which are absolutely yummy, to the maraschino cherries because I can use the Craisins in other recipes (or eat them out of hand with some bits of good dark chocolate and some of those leftover sliced almonds).

A dash of pear juice added to the greens is nice; and if you don’t have mini-marshmallows on hand, a spritz of whipped cream from the can, added at the last minute works.

I hope these three recipes become part of the Easter tradition at your house, too!

Spring Primavera
1 pound bow-tie pasta, or favorite pasta
2 cups fresh broccoli florets
2 cups asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups fresh pea pods
2 cups fresh green beans, cut in half
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup fresh baby spinach, torn in pieces
1 cup carrots, shredded
4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package instructions, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauté broccoli, asparagus, pea pods, green beans, onion, and garlic in olive oil until veggies are just tender, about 7-10 minutes. Stir in spinach and carrot shreds, and continue cooking an additional 5 minutes.

Remove cooked veggies from heat and stir in cooked pasta, 1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking water, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve warm or cold. Can be refrigerated up to 4 days.

Pennsylvania Pineapple Stuffing
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups sugar
8 eggs
2 cans (20 ounces each) crushed pineapple, drained
3 tablespoons lemon juice
10 slices day-old white bread, cubed

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in pineapple and lemon juice. Fold in bread cubes. Pour into a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Bake, uncovered, 35 to 40 minutes, or until set. Yield: 12 servings.

Bunnies on the Lawn
1 (28-ounce) can pear halves with 3 tbsp. reserved juice
Sliced almonds
Maraschino cherries or Craisins
Miniature marshmallows
1 small package of lime gelatin and/or spring greens and/or pea shoots

If using Jell-O, prepare according to package directions and pour into a rectangle baking dish that will accommodate the bunnies without crowding. Chill until set. Drain pear halves and reserve 3 Tbsp. juice. Place pears flat side down on Jell-O.

If using greens, place the lettuce and/or pea shoots into small individual serving dishes then place the pear halves (bunny bodies).

To make the bunnies, poke in 2 sliced almonds for ears, very tiny bits of raisins for eyes, and a teeny bit of Craisin or cherry for the mouth. Add marshmallow tail. Drizzle pear juice over greens. Yield: 6 servings

Your questions and comments are always welcome and will be answered. Send your letters to [email protected] or in care of the Coastal Journal.

filed under: