Julia Reed’s Gorgeous Spring Menu — Just in Time for Mother’s Day

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Still planning? wOw’s hostess-with-the-mostest Julia Reed shares her inspired Mother’s Day menu

This is one of my favorite spring menus. Shellfish is at its best, I love lamb with spring peas and mint and the weather is finally warm enough to be thinking of ice cream.

The lamb dish is from Frank Stitt’s fabulous book, Frank Stitt’s Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef’s Love Affair with Italian Food. (Frank’s Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham received a 2009 James Beard nomination as best restaurant in the nation.)

He serves the lamb with rice or risotto, but I love stewy things like this with a cheesy spoonbread or polenta, or my mother’s really easy and very delicious “mock cheese soufflé.” For a starter, I’d do Shrimp Remoulade or a classic Crab Louis, but if you want something lighter, there are few things better than fresh jumbo lump crab tossed with a lemony vinaigrette and a handful of chopped chives and mint and tarragon, and you could throw some shrimp in there as well.

For dessert, I’d serve some really good cookies (molasses or shortbread) and one or both of these ice creams. They come from the late and much- lamented Justine’s restaurant in Memphis, where for big parties Justine would pile up individual scoops in big old silver punch bowls and place them on the sideboard. She also always had full-blown old roses from the restaurant’s garden on the tables. I can’t think of anything more beautiful for Mother’s Day.

Start with a good Sancerre, follow up with a Gigondas, and Mom will be really happy. Read on for the recipes.

NOTE: All the recipes but Stitt’s are from my book, Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties — also, I hasten to add, an excellent Mother’s Day gift.

Lamb Shanks with Sweet Peas and Mint
Adapted from Frank Stitt’s Bottega Favorita

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 lamb shanks, trimmed and patted dry
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups dry white wine
6 cups chicken stock or beef or lamb stock
Several sprigs of thyme and mint plus a couple of bay leaves, wrapped in a leek green and tied to form a bouquet garni
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 leek, cleaned and finely sliced
2 small spring bulb onions or 1 Vidalia onion, halved and sliced
1 small garlic clove, crushed
2 cups fresh or frozen sweet peas
1⁄4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped, plus a few leaves for garnish
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves removed and finely chopped
rice pilaf or basic risotto

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Heat a heavy sauté pan large enough to accommodate the shanks in a single layer over medium-high heat, and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season the shanks with salt and pepper and sear until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a Dutch oven or heavy casserole.

Wipe out the sauté pan, and heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil over high heat and reduce by half. Add the stock and herbs and bring to a simmer.

Pour the stock and vegetables over the shanks. Place a round of parchment paper on top of the lamb. Cover the pot with the lid, place it in the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees. Cook at the barest simmer until the lamb is tender, 2 to 2 1⁄2 hours.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the leek, bulb onions and garlic and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until softened and lightly colored. Add the peas and a splash of water and cook until tender. Stir in the mint, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

When they are tender, transfer the shanks to a rack. Strain the braising broth into a small saucepan and boil over high heat to reduce by half, skimming off the fat.

To serve, reheat the shanks and vegetables. Place one shank on each plate and garnish with the pea mixture and fresh mint.

Yield: Serves 4

Mock Cheese Soufflé

Softened butter for greasing dish and spreading on bread
8 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Dash cayenne pepper

Butter an 8-cup souffle dish

Butter each slice of bread on one side and cut into four squares. Layer half the bread, buttered side up, in the bottom of the dish. Cover with half the grated cheese. Repeat. Place the remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Pour over the bread and cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the soufflé and bake on the center rack until the top is browned and the soufflé is bubbling around the edges, about 45 minutes.

Yield: Serves 6

Crab Louis

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chili sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped
Salt and pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
6 cups shredded lettuce
3 cups jumbo lump crabmeat
3 ripe plum tomatoes, quartered
3 hard-boiled eggs, quartered

Combine the mayonnaise, chili sauce, Worcestershire, green peppers, scallions and lemon juice in a medium bowl and whisk until blended. Fold in the whipped cream and season with the salt, pepper and cayenne.

Line a shallow salad bowl with shredded lettuce and mound crabmeat on top. Spoon dressing over the crab. Garnish with tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs.

Yield: Serves 4

Justine’s Lotus Ice Cream

2-2/3 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup finely chopped toasted almonds
2-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Pour into an ice-cream machine and process according to manufacturer’s directions.

Yield: About 1 quart, 4 to 6 servings

Justine’s Pineapple-Mint Ice Cream

1-1/2 cup sugar
2 cups fresh mint leaves, lightly packed
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 cups canned crushed pineapple in its own juice
1-1/2 cups pineapple juice
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup white crème de menthe
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with 1-1/2 cups water and cook to boiling over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Boil without stirring for about 10 minutes, or until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234 to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer), when a drop forms a soft ball in a cup of cold water. Stir in the mint and simmer over medium heat 10 minutes more. Remove from heat and let cool.

Pour the mint syrup into a blender and puree; strain into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the corn syrup. Purée the pineapple and pineapple juice in a blender and add to the mint-syrup mixture, along with the milk, cream, crème de menthe and lemon juice. Chill at least 4 hours or overnight and freeze according to the ice-cream maker’s directions.

Yield: About 3 quarts, 10 to 12 servings

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