Spring Forward

Celebrate Easter with a Wholly Delicious Brunch

Winter is a stunningly beautiful and serene season in New Mexico. By late March, though, many of us residents ache for indications of spring—a crocus pushing its bright head through the snow, the swelling of buds on fruit trees. Well, anything but the spring wind, though even that heralds warmer days ahead.

For many centuries, the people of New Mexico have seen the spring equinox as a reason for celebrating rebirth and renewal. In our state’s far northwestern corner, Chaco Canyon, the center of Puebloan culture from AD 850 to 1250, signals the year’s equinoxes and solstices in monumental ways. The alignments of Chaco’s structures and the designs on their walls are famously attuned to the movements of the sun. Christianity, of course, has preserved the celebration by timing Easter to fall on the Sunday following the first full moon after the equinox.

New Mexico’s early Spanish settlers would have noted both the equinox and Easter. The equinox announced the promise of agricultural renaissance and preparations for a return to the fields. Devoutly Catholic parishioners celebrated the end of Lent, a time of solemn reflection and sacrifice, and of preparing to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both observances are still the norm.

In New Mexico, Easter week is also a time of pilgrimage. The village of Chimayó, in particular, embraces thousands of the faithful, who walk to its Santuario. Tomé Hill, south of Albuquerque on the original Camino Real, serves a similar role as a Christian shrine. And, as in other states, sunrise services and Easter-egg hunts abound.
Even for those not making a pilgrimage, the week beckons many to enjoy an outdoor activity. Some years, this has been when my family says a fond goodbye to Taos’s sunny spring ski-and-snowboard season. At other times, we’ve enjoyed a picnic in Frijoles Canyon, at Bandelier National Monument, near Los Alamos, or simply hiked the hills behind our Tesuque home.

Whatever the beginning of spring means to you, a special breakfast with family or friends is a great way to kick off a weekend morning. This year, the equinox and Easter fall somewhat early, before the end of March. That timing cuts into the availability of New Mexico produce, but we can still take advantage of locally raised eggs, lamb, herbs, dried apricots and chile, and even wheat grown and milled in the state.

Putting It All Together

Even if it’s still cold outside, set the table with a lively mix of spring colors. As a centerpiece, put out pots of verdant wheatgrass, often available at natural-food stores. Or consider a basket of hard-boiled farmers’ market eggs in naturally beautiful hues, from a mix of chicken breeds. (Did you know that the hens laying blue and green eggs are sometimes called “Easter Eggers”?) If your gang eats hearty, add a side of hash browns or other fried potatoes to the suggested menu, or switch out the lamb sausage for a hefty ham. Though the featured muffins are scrumptious, you can save time and effort by purchasing other muffins, or maybe a coffee cake, from a local bakery. Another time-saver: start with a prepared romesco sauce, perhaps from The Spanish Table, in Santa Fe (spanishtable.com). And if morning’s not your time of day, and you’d rather serve breakfast at 4 p.m., do so.

Cheryl Alters Jamison is New Mexico Magazine’s contributing culinary editor. Read her blog at nmmagazine.com/tastingnm. See Douglas Merriam’s work at douglasmerriam.com.

Simply Sublime Scramble

Slowed down and made with fresh eggs, the elemental scramble becomes a luxuriant start to the day.
Yield

Ingredients

1 dozen large eggs, very fresh
¼ cup whipping cream, half-and-half, or whole milk
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt or more, to taste
Several generous grindings of black pepper
Splash or 2 of Tabasco or other hot sauce
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
Approximately ¼ cup chopped fresh tarragon, dill, parsley, or chives

Directions

Many of us quickly whip up an egg before dashing off to work. But slowed down and made with fresh eggs from a farmers’ market, the elemental scramble becomes a luxuriant start to the day. When preparing this meal, have all the other dishes ready before you begin to cook the eggs, so you can serve them hot from the pan. In the perfect state of doneness, the eggs will be soft, moist, tender curds—things of real beauty. Shower the scramble with a handful of minced fresh tarragon or other herb as you remove it from the heat.

Break eggs into large mixing bowl. Add cream, salt, pepper, and Tabasco. Whisk together eggs and seasonings only until yolks and whites have a yellow tint and bubbles in liquid are still large. Eggs should still drop unevenly from whisk.

Warm over low heat a well-seasoned, 10-inch cast-iron skillet, or a high-quality nonstick pan of similar size. Add butter and, as it melts, swirl to cover whole surface. Pour in egg mixture. Cook very slowly, stirring up frequently from bottom with rubber spatula, until eggs form curds but still look a little runny (about 10 minutes). If a sweep through pan with spatula uncovers dry egg coating the pan’s bottom, lift pan from heat as you stir to cool mixture a bit. Reduce heat under pan even more, if possible. Don’t overcook. Remove from heat, sprinkle with tarragon or other herbs, and stir through an additional time or two. Serve immediately.

Romesco Sauce

This vibrant Spanish red-pepper sauce adds a burst of flamenco-like flair to the eggs, sausage and asparagus.
Yield Makes about 1½ cups

Ingredients

4-ounce jar piquillo peppers with juice; or 4-ounce jar pimientos, preferably fire-roasted, with juice, plus ¼ to ½ teaspoon dried hot red-chile flakes
1 red-ripe plum tomato
1 slice country bread (about 1 ounce), toasted, torn in several pieces
¼ cup pine nuts or piñons
1 tablespoon hot Spanish paprika
2 plump garlic cloves
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
¾ teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
6 to 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

This vibrant Spanish red-pepper sauce adds a burst of flamenco-like flair to the eggs, sausage, and asparagus. Generally made with Spanish Marcona almonds, this version provides a New Mexican twist with the substitution of pine nuts or piñons. Like much of the menu, the sauce can be prepared ahead. Spoon any leftovers over toasted country bread, boiled shrimp, or grilled lamb or pork tenderloin.

Blitz together in food processor piquillos and juice, tomato, bread, pine nuts, paprika, garlic, vinegar, and salt with
1 tablespoon warm water. Process until thick purée forms. With processor motor still running, add oil until sauce is smooth and easily spoonable. Let sauce sit at room temperature about 1 hour, or cover and refrigerate up to several weeks. Serve cool or at room temperature.

Herbed Lamb Sausage Patties

For the best flavor, combine the sauage ingredients a day or night before forming and cooking the patties.
Yield Serves 6

Ingredients

2 pounds coarsely ground lamb
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dried bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 1 teaspoon finely crumbled dried rosemary
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves or 1 teaspoon finely crumbled dried sage
1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt,
or more to taste
½ teaspoon ground black pepper,
or more to taste
½ teaspoon ground dried New Mexican red chile, or more to taste
Vegetable oil for frying

Directions

I gravitate to lamb as a meat of choice for special spring meals, especially when I can get it from a local source. Shepherd’s Lamb (profiled in the April 2012 issue, “Tasting NM: For the Love of Lamb,” p. 58), from New Mexico’s high country near Tierra Amarilla, is the most widely available. For the best flavor, combine the sausage ingredients a day or night before forming and cooking the patties.

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl and, with clean hands, mix until just combined. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, preferably up to 24 hours.

To check seasoning, make a small test patty: Form walnut-size bit of sausage into patty. Warm thick film of vegetable oil in skillet over medium heat. Fry 2 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Taste and, if you wish, add more salt, pepper, and/or chile to sausage mixture.

Form a dozen 2½- to 3-inch-wide patties just under ½ inch thick. Fry patties over medium heat, in batches, 3 to 4 minutes per side, until richly brown. Transfer to platter and serve hot.

Roasted Asparagus

Wild asparagus pops up in damp areas throughout New Mexico, and many market farmers now cultivate other varieties.
Yield Serves 6

Ingredients

2 pounds asparagus, preferably spears of medium thickness, tough ends trimmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Coarse kosher or sea salt

Directions

Wild asparagus pops up in damp areas throughout New Mexico, and many market farmers now cultivate other varieties. Realistically, though, I won’t expect to find spikes of it shooting upward in most of the state until a good bit later in the spring. If you have a choice between bunches of plump or skinny spears, select spears that are finger-thick rather than pencil-thin.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Lay out asparagus on baking sheet. Stir together oil and mustard in small bowl. Pour over asparagus and, with clean hands, coat all spears. Arrange in single layer and sprinkle with salt.

Bake about 20 minutes, until tender and browned in spots. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Panocha-Apricot Muffins

Early New Mexico settlers ground sprouted wehat berries to make a flour called panocha.
Yield Makes 1 dozen medium muffins

Ingredients

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup sprouted whole-wheat flour, sometimes called panocha flour or harina para panocha (Arrowhead Mills makes a nationally available organic sprouted whole-wheat flour)
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup pecan pieces
½ cup diced dried apricots

Directions

Early New Mexico settlers ground sprouted wheat berries to make a flour called panocha, and used it particularly in a classic Lenten and Easter dish of that name. Panocha, an Indian pudding–like preparation, was probably the first dessert prepared in colonial New Mexico. Honey was initially too scarce to use in quantity, and sugar wasn’t readily available here until the arrival of the railroad. But wetting whole wheat and setting it a warm spot to sprout converts some of the wheat’s starch to sugar, giving flour ground from the grain a natural sweetness. While New Mexicans still make panocha at this time of year, they typically add plenty of sugar to satisfy the contemporary sweet tooth. The flour’s nubbly texture (like fine cornmeal) makes it worth seeking out for other dishes, too. In these muffins, I add oatmeal to further enhance the texture. Health enthusiasts like to point out that sprouted grains have more readily accessible vitamins and plant enzymes, but we like these muffins most of all for their yummy taste and appealing gooeyness.

12 muffins with paper cupcake liners.

Place oats in ceramic or metal bowl and pour 1¼ cups boiling water over them. Stir and set aside until lukewarm.
In medium bowl, stir together panocha flour, all-purpose flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

With electric mixer on medium speed, cream together butter and both sugars, beating until fluffy and light. Add eggs singly, beating well after each addition, followed by vanilla. Beat in flour and oat mixtures, alternating between them, adding about half at a time and stopping to scrape down bowl after each addition. Each time, beat until only just combined.

Remove bowl from mixer and stir in pecans and apricots. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin.

Bake on oven’s middle rack 28 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool muffins in pan about 10 minutes. Remove from tin and set on baking rack to cool.

Note: During Lent, grocery stores in New Mexico stock up on panocha flour from small local suppliers. Often, though, they don’t reorder until the season comes around the following year. If you want to make the muffins at other times, buy extra flour when you see it. Keep it in the freezer for later use.

Tangerine Mint Mimosas

Orange juice can be mixed with any moderately priced bubbly for a classic mimosa.
Yield Makes 6 to 8 cocktails

Ingredients

Approximately 2 ounces freshly squeezed tangerine juice per glass
Approximately 1½ teaspoons mint-flavored beverage syrup (avoid any with food coloring) per glass
1 750-milliliter bottle sparkling wine, well chilled
Fresh mint sprigs

Directions

Orange juice can be mixed with any moderately priced bubbly for a classic mimosa. A celebratory meal, however, deserves a little more sparkle—perhaps New Mexico’s Gruet Blanc de Noirs flavored with freshly squeezed tangerine juice and a hint of mint. Squeeze more tangerine juice to offer to children, or to those who prefer an alcohol-free beverage.

Pour equal amounts tangerine juice into Champagne flutes or white-wine glasses. Add equal portions mint syrup. Just before serving, top off each with sparkling wine. Garnish with sprig of mint and serve.