Now that Easter has come and gone I will confess how much I love it. And by Easter I don’t mean its religious side. I love dying and hiding eggs — and having way too many deviled ones the next day. I love eating chocolate bunnies.
My mother used to tell friends that she had to hide eggs and make baskets for my best friend and me until we were both 16. After that she finally bowed out of her Bunny Day labors — except for grandkids. I was stricken.
Though my hallowed childhood hunts may have ended, there was more in store. Once I moved on to Berkeley — finally away from home and the mistress of my own kitchen — I began planning my own unusual Easter egg hunts and lunches. My ritual has continued over decades and I play it out no matter where I am.
I always liked studying the traditions of other nations and did my share of borrowing. Russian Easter was a favorite with kulich, a fruit bread, and the rich cheese pashka (along with shots of iced-cold vodka). There was Italy’s lovely (and beloved) roast lamb or the barbequed goat that so often graces French tables.
But I may have to reconsider one Easter menu in my repertoire.
Years ago I invited a dozen friends to a traditional egg hunt and lunch (never mind that all of us were in our thirties and older). After champagne glasses clinked and the smoked salmon with caper butter was polished off, everyone sat down to a flower-laden table, ready for the pièce de résistance. Wine was poured and the mood was spirited when I arrived with my nice warm platter of lovely homemade pasta and… rabbit.
Silence fell, and fell hard. I had lost them.
Though we hadn’t yet entered the politically correct era, it was clear that bunny on Easter was pushing the etiquette envelope — at least for some.
Thankfully, one interested guest, a cook himself, broke the spell by asking me exactly how I’d prepared the otherwise sacred bunny.
It began, I said, with melted butter and olive oil sizzling in a pan. The rabbit, cut in bite-size pieces and tossed in flour, salt, pepper and paprika, was then added and sautéed quickly with a little garlic until golden brown and crispy.
That did it. Suddenly I had a rapt and salivating audience.
After the rabbit cooked for a few minutes, I continued, I added a generous glass or two of Marsala, covering it for another few minutes. The last step before serving was tossing in a nice handful of toasted pine nuts and parsley or basil, chopped fine, and a squeeze of lemon.
Everyone was now seeing bunny in a new light, and, of course, all were also starving. So, setting aside whatever Easter tradition they had in mind, they plunged in, rabbit wranglers all. They even asked for the recipe before leaving.
Alas, my luck wasn’t so good at a subsequent rabbit feast for a group I didn’t know very well. When the rabbit appeared in all its crisp caramelized glory nestled in its nest of noodles, eight out of 10 guests politely said, “Just the pasta, please.”
Still, a couple of stalwart souls stuck with me — with great pleasure, I might add. As for the abstainers, I quickly went to the kitchen and returned with what I told them was all I had left in the pantry: a jar of peanut butter and a dish of dill pickles. That’ll teach ’em, I thought.
Still, next year I might have lie down like a lamb and get their goat.