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FAMILY FAVORITES CELEBRATE EASTER WITH CONTEMPORARY TWISTS FROM TV HOST GIADA DE LAURENTIIS AND OTHERS.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

Gather family and friends for a special Easter dinner celebration on Sunday and choose from several tempting ideas for contemporary feasting. Make lamb or ham the star of the menu 1/3 and accompany with a few fresh spring dishes with a twist.

"After Christmas, Easter is the biggest holiday for our family," says popular Food Network television host Giada De Laurentiis, author of "Giada's Family Dinners" (Clarkson Potter/Publishers; $32.50), her just-released second book. Her first cookbook, New York Times best seller "Everyday Italian," has sold more than 600,000 copies, she notes.

"We go all out (for Easter)," she says by phone from New York, noting that she'll be back in time to celebrate with family in Los Angeles.

"Easter is preceded by Lent, a time for fasting. So when Easter Sunday arrives, it is a time to celebrate, splurge and indulge," she adds.

Grilled Lamb With Salsa Verde, a recipe she shares today, is one of her traditional favorites (accompanied with broccoli). She also loves a rich, cheesy Easter pie made with filo dough. It is found, with regional differences, in bakeries all over Italy this time of year. You'll find the Neapolitan version she grew up on in the book.

De Laurentiis' memories of Easter also include giant Perugina chocolate eggs that her grandfather had custom-made and filled with prizes, including money. They were hidden, and the children had to search for them, she recalls, and the hunt remains a family tradition to this day (but they now buy ready-made giant Perugina eggs).

Pizza Rustica, really not a pizza at all, but a savory layered pie made with assorted cheeses, meats, roasted red peppers, spinach and pizza dough, is another holiday favorite. "I love it 1/3 it is such an indulgence." Cut in wedges and served warm or at room temperature, it's a great lunch or snack when unexpected guests drop by.

For a contemporary twist to the festivities, De Laurentiis, offers a make-your-own bellini bar, so the classic aperitif can be whipped up in several flavors 1/3 strawberry, blueberry or blackberry 1/3 beyond the original peach version.

For dessert this year, offer De Laurentiis' beautiful-looking Raspberry Tiramisu, somewhat reminiscent of a layered trifle but containing ladyfingers, mascarpone, cream, raspberry jam and fresh raspberries.

"We serve dinner family style, placing all the platters in the center of the table. That's how my grandfather did it."

If ham is your Easter dinner choice, figure that 1 pound of fully cooked boneless ham will make three servings, more if you'd like leftovers, notes Joan Hanson, of Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods, marketer of Cure 81 fully cooked hams. She recommends buying 1/2 pound per person when selecting a bone-in ham.

Keep in mind that if you purchase a fully cooked ham, either bone-in or boneless, you'll only need to heat it to serving temperature, which requires less time than an uncooked ham.

Hanson advises heating cooked, boneless hams in a shallow baking pan, covered securely with foil (to keep from drying out), at 325 degrees about 22 to 25 minutes per pound, or until a meat thermometer inserted at the center reads 135 to 140 degrees F. Figure on heating bone-in spiral-cut hams at 325 degrees about 10 minutes per pound.

For best results, glaze hams the last 30 minutes of the baking time, advises Hanson. "Glazes can be simple or elaborate," she adds, noting that she prefers the simplicity of brushing the top of the ham with orange marmalade. But other options include mixing an 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple, drained, with 1/4 cup orange marmalade and 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard. Or mix 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup honey and 2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard. Another quick option: 1/3 cup brown sugar combined with 1/4 cup Dijon mustard and a dash ground cloves.

My favorite glaze is a 12-ounce jar of apricot preserves mixed with 1 to 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard. Mix up more to serve with the ham 1/3 or pass sour cream mixed with prepared horseradish and Dijon mustard.

"People tend to be afraid of ham because of the cooking," notes Hanson. Cooked or heated ham can be stored in the refrigerator and should be used within four or five days. Avoid freezing fully cooked, heated or unheated ham, as it ruins the texture of the meat (the texture breaks down and it gets tough and sometimes mushy), says Hanson.

However, uncooked ham can be frozen prior to cooking.

For more ideas, ``Giada's Family Dinners'' offer more than 115 accessible, uncomplicated home-style recipes with vibrant Italian flavors for special family holidays and occasions, along with dishes you can make any night of the week.

Some of the creations have De Laurentiis' own contemporary, updated twists, are designed to appeal to a younger set and have been lightened up wherever possible. Among them are dishes like Grilled Chicken With Basil Dressing, Butternut Squash Lasagna, Turkey With Herbs de Provence and Citrus, Italian Caesar Salad.

But others are traditional family favorites. "This is the kind of unpretentious, authentic, down-home Italian cooking that my family loves. It represents an unbroken line from my grandfather (who gave me my love of food), to Italy (where I was born), to my extended family's life today in America. There is a lot of tradition in this book and a lot of love."

Her food philosophy? "It's about family," she responds. "Spend time in the kitchen and sit down with family. It helps hold us together 1/3 and our culture and tradition."

Natalie Haughton, (818) 713-3692

natalie.haughton@dailynews.com

Orange-glazed Ham With Rosemary

1 (6- to 8-pound) fully cooked boneless OR bone-in ham

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup white vinegar

2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons dried rosemary

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup unsalted butter

Place ham, fat side up, in a roasting pan. Pour 1 inch water into pan. Roast ham in a preheated 325-degree oven 1 1/2 to 2 hours to heat through.

Meanwhile, make glaze: In a saucepan over medium heat, boil sugar and vinegar together 5 minutes. Add orange juice and simmer mixture until reduced by a third. (It should appear slightly syrupy.) Remove mixture from heat; add rosemary, lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, then add butter and stir gently until melted and well-incorporated.

During last 30 minutes of roasting time, remove ham from oven every 10 minutes or so, and brush all over with a generous amount of glaze.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Grilled Lamb WIth Salsa Verde

1 cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 4 lemons)

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/3 cup chopped green onions

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup salted capers, soaked for 30 minutes, drained and coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper flakes

3 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 (4 1/2- to 5-pound) boned and butterflied leg of lamb

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Nonstick cooking spray

In a large bowl, stir oil, lemon juice, parsley, green onions, mint, capers, lemon zest and red pepper flakes to blend. Whisk in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Set salsa verde aside.

Place lamb in a 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish. Rub remaining 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper and garlic all over lamb. Pour 1/2 cup salsa verde over lamb, turning to coat it evenly. (At this point you may cover the dish and remaining salsa verde separately with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 1 day.)

Spray a grill rack with nonstick spray and prepare a charcoal or gas grill for medium-high heat, or preheat a large rectangular ridged grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill lamb, turning occasionally, until a meat thermometer inserted into thicker parts registers 130 degrees F for medium-rare, about 40 minutes. Transfer the lamb to a work surface and let it rest 15 minutes.

Cut lamb across the grain into thin slices. Arrange lamb slices on a platter and drizzle with some of the reserved salsa verde. Serve the remaining salsa verde alongside.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

From "Giada's Family Dinners," by Giada De Laurentiis

Wild Rice, Apricot, Cherry And Almond Salad

10 1/2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)

2 cups uncooked wild rice

1 cup dried apricots (about 6 ounces), coarsely chopped

3/4 cup dried cherries

1 cup slivered almonds, toasted

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

4 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring chicken stock to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Mix in wild rice. Reduce heat to medium low. Simmer uncovered until rice is tender, stirring occasionally, about 50 minutes.

Drain rice well and transfer to a bowl. Mix in apricots, cherries, almonds, green onions and parsley.

Whisk together vinegar, mustard and brown sugar in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Toss rice with enough dressing to coat well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover and chill in refrigerator until ready to use. Check salad for dressing and seasoning before serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Raspberry Tiramisu

1 cup seedless raspberry jam

6 tablespoons Grand Marnier

1 pound mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

48 soft ladyfingers (two 3-ounce packages) OR 40 dry Italian ladyfingers (2 packages)

3 baskets fresh raspberries (about 3 3/4 cups total)

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Stir together jam and 4 tablespoons Grand Marnier in a small bowl to blend. Stir together mascarpone and remaining 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier in a large bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat cream, granulated sugar and vanilla in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Using a large rubber spatula, stir 1/4 of whipped cream into mascarpone mixture to lighten. Fold remaining whipped cream into mascarpone mixture.

Line bottom of a large footed glass trifle dish or bowl OR a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with 1/3 of ladyfingers. Spread 1/3 of jam mixture over ladyfingers. Spread 1/3 of mascarpone mixture over jam mixture, then cover with 1/3 of fresh raspberries. Repeat layering with remaining ladyfingers, jam mixture, mascarpone mixture and raspberries. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight. Dust powdered sugar over top and serve.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

From "Giada's Family Dinners," by Giada De Laurentiis

Asparagus With Warm Tomato Vinaigrette

1/2 cup finely chopped shallots

1/2 cup light olive oil

2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped vine-ripened tomatoes

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 large garlic cloves, finely minced

1 2/3 cups dry white wine

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

48 medium asparagus

To make vinaigrette, sautl shallots in oil over medium heat until wilted, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cook another 5 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking, and then add vinegar, garlic, wine, salt and pepper. Simmer 15 minutes to reduce and thicken vinaigrette.

Steam asparagus until crisp-tender. Serve topped with warm vinaigrette.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Seafood Cocktail Lettuce Cups

2 heads lettuce (use Sweet Gem, which has the texture and color of romaine with the taste of butter lettuce, if available OR use small butter OR bibb lettuce heads)

1/2 pound small whole cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp

1/2 pound crabmeat, cut into bite-size pieces

1/4 cup cocktail sauce

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon celery seeds

3 tablespoons diced red onion

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Remove and reserve 20 outer lettuce leaves. Chop lettuce hearts. Mix together shrimp, crab, cocktail sauce, lemon juice, celery seeds, red onion and chopped lettuce. Season with pepper, then chill mixture 1 hour. Serve seafood mixture in reserved lettuce leaves. Garnish with lemon slices, if desired.

Makes 6 to 8 appetizer servings

Arugula and Orange Salad With Basil Vinaigrette

3 medium navel oranges

2 shallots, minced

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

10 cups arugula, ends trimmed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Using a sharp knife, cut away all peel and white pith from oranges. Cut oranges in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine shallots and vinegar. Gradually whisk in oil. Stir in basil. In a large bowl, toss arugula and orange slices with enough vinaigrette to coat.

Season salad with salt and pepper to taste and toss again.

Makes 6 servings

From "Giada's Family Dinners," by Giada De Laurentiis

EGG-DYEING THE NATURAL WAY

You can create a virtual rainbow of dyes from ingredients in your own kitchen. Beets, blueberries, onion skins, coffee, turmeric, cranberry juice and fresh spinach are just a few simple and all-natural alternatives to premade egg-dyeing tablets.

To make a natural dye, add 4 cups chopped fruits or vegetables (or 1 tablespoon spice) to 4 cups water. Add 2 tablespoons white vinegar, bring to a boil and simmer 15 to 30 minutes. Strain dye and cool slightly. Use this dye on previously cooked, refrigerated eggs. Dip eggs 5 to 10 minutes, or until desired color is reached.

CAPTION(S):

6 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) EASTER DELIGHTS

Fresh takes on holiday tradition

(2 -- color) GRILLED LAMB WITH SALSA VERDE

Photo by Victoria Pearson, from ``Giada's Family Dinner,'' Clarkson Potter/Publishers

(3 -- color) ORANGE-GLAZED HAM WITH ROSEMARY; WILD RICE, APRICOT, CHERRY AND ALMOND SALAD; ASPARAGUS WITH WARM TOMATO VINAIGRETTE

(4 -- color) no caption (Easter eggs)

(5 -- color) ORANGE-GLAZED HAM WITH ROSEMARY

(6 -- color) SEAFOOD COCKTAIL LETTUCE CUPS

Box:

EGG-DYEING THE NATURAL WAY (see text)
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Apr 11, 2006
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