Lamb Stars In Italian Easter Feast

Chef Michael White slices a herb roasted leg of lamb he prepared as part of his Italian Easter dinner menu, April 10, 2009.
It's Easter weekend, and for many people Easter dinner is not complete without lamb.

Chef Michael White, who has received vast amounts of praise for his work in two New York kitchens -- Convivio and Alto - visited The Early Show to prepare a traditional southern Italian Easter dinner.

It's funny to note that although he truly has mastered Italian cuisine, White is originally from Wisconsin. He spent seven years studying and cooking in Italy, and returned to the U.S. in 2001.


  • Cacio e Uovo soup: a dumpling and egg soup

  • Herb Roasted Leg of Lamb

  • Roasted Potatoes with Pecorino Cheese

  • Broccoli Rabe with Garlic

  • Pastiera Napolitano: a sweet grain pie that is an Italian Easter classic

  • Wine: Rosso dei Cavalieri, made from the Negroamaro grape in Manduria, Puglia. This wine is accessible, approachable, relatively easy to find and value driven. It's got an earthy flavor with a nice balance of approachable fruit. It's a great wine for an Easter celebration!
  • Lamb is a traditional part of any Easter dinner. White prepared a roast leg of lamb. He chose this cut because:

    -- It's very economical ... around $5 a pound.
    -- It's the meatiest part of the animal.
    -- It's cooked on the bone which means the meat is juicy and flavorful.
    -- It's really difficult to mess it up!

    When shopping for lamb, look for the pinkest possible meat. This indicates that it's very fresh.

    Rosemary is a classic flavor accompaniment to lamb, and White combined the herb with anchovies, garlic, thyme, and orange zest to make a paste which he spreads all over the lamb before rolling it up and placing it in a roasting pan along with carrots, onions and celery. The meat cooks for about two hours to reach medium rare.

    Of course you want to let the lamb rest; while it's doing this you can make a pan sauce by deglazing the roasting pan with white wine.


    Pallotte Cace e Ova in Brodo
    Serves 4


    8 ounces grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese
    6 ounces fine white bread crumbs
    1 tablespoon parsley
    6 eggs
    Salt and pepper
    ½ onion, diced
    1 carrots, diced
    1 rib celery, diced
    1 cup chicory or dandelion greens
    2 quarts chicken stock

    Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over in a stock pot. When hot, add the onions, carrots and celery sauté for 3-5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and the greens. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. While soup is simmering, combine cheese, bread crumbs parsley and eggs in a large bowl and mix until mixture forms a ball. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Oil your hands lightly and roll ½ inch balls with your cace e ova dough; place on a plate. Drop the balls into the simmering soup and cook until they float to the top and are tender, 8-10 minutes depending on your preferred size. To serve, ladle the soup and dumplings into a bowl and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil on top.

    Roast Leg of Lamb
    Serves 4-6


    6 oil packed anchovy fillets, drained and blotted with paper towels
    3 large whole garlic cloves, peeled
    2 tablespoons fresh thyme
    2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
    Finely grated zest of 1 orange
    ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    1 small bone-in leg of lamb (about 5 pounds without the bone)
    1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
    1 large rib celery, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
    1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
    2 cups dry white wine

    Preheat the oven to 375. In a food processor, combine the anchovies, garlic, thyme, rosemary, orange zest and olive oil and process into a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Using a small paring knife, make 1 1/2 inch deep slits all over the lamb. Spread the herb paste all over the lamb, working it into the slits; season the lamb with salt and pepper. Using seven or eight long pieces of kitchen string, tie the roast at 1 inch intervals. Scatter the onion, carrot and celery in the bottom of a roasting pan just large enough to hold the lamb and lay the meat on top. Roast for 1 hour 40 minutes to 2 hours until an instant-read thermometer, inserted in the center of the thickest part of the meat, registered 140 degrees to 145 degrees. For medium-rare, cook to 135. Transfer the lamb to a cutting board, tent it loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 20 minutes.

    Meanwhile, set the roasting pan over high heat. Pour in the wine and bring the liquid to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Strain it into a small sauce pan, pressing on the vegetables to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the vegetables. Skim the fat from the surface and boil until the sauce is reduced to 1 cup, about 20 minuets, then pour it into a gravy boat.
    Remove the kitchen string from the lamb and cut the meat across the grain into thin slices. Serve at once with the sauce.

    Sautéed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic
    Serves 6


    1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
    2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
    ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
    2 pounds broccoli rave, thick stems removed and discarded, cut into 3 inch pieces
    freshly ground black pepper
    ½ cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese

    In a large deep skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and hot but not smoking. Add the onion, garlic, and pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the onion softens, 5-6 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and ¼ cup water, season to taste with salt and pepper and toss gently. Cover and cook until the broccoli rabe is softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the water has evaporated and the broccoli rabe is completely tender, 2 minutes longer. Stir 1/3 cup of the pecorino into the broccoli rabe. Sprinkle with remaining pecorino and serve.

    Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
    Serves 4


    2 pounds small red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into small chunks
    4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
    2 cloves garlic
    Coarse sea salt

    Preheat the oven to 375. Line a large sheet pan with aluminum foil. Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil; spread them evenly on the sheet pan, and bake, turning occasionally with a spatula, until golden brown on the outside and creamy inside, about 20 minutes. While the potatoes are roasting, finely chop the rosemary and garlic together. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on top of the stove. Drizzle the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil over the potatoes, sprinkle with sea salt and 2 tablespoons of the rosemary-garlic mixture, and turn to mix well and heat the seasonings through.
    Serve at once as a side dish.

    Pastiera Napolitana (traditional Italian grain pie)
    Yields: 1 12 inch pie

    1 ounce butter
    1 ounce confectioners sugar
    5 ounces unsalted butter
    ½ cup confectioners sugar
    1 cup + 4 tablespoons flour
    Pinch of salt
    3 egg yolks
    1 cup grano cotto (soaked whole wheat grain, available in Italian specialty stores)
    1 ½ quarts milk
    1 lemon rind, no pith
    1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
    2 cups ricotta cheese
    3 eggs, separated
    2 ounces candied orange peel
    2 ounces candied lemon people
    1 tablespoon Fiori di Sicilia or orange flower water (available in specialty Italian markets)

    1. Prepare the pie -- Butter a 12 inch pie pan and sprinkle with sugar; discard extra. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.

    2. Make the dough -- Combine 5 ounces butter, ½ cup confectioners sugar and flour in a food processor with a pinch of salt and pulse to combine. Slowly add in the yolks until the dough comes together. Remove from bowl; wrap the ball in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

    3. Make the Filling -- Bring the grano cotto, milk, lemon rind, cinnamon, vanilla, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until milk is absorbed into the grain. When absorbed, remove from heat; discard the lemon rind. In a standing mixer, cream together 1 cup sugar and ricotta on low speed. Slowly add 3 yolks, mixing until incorporated. Add in the grain mixture, candied fruit and fiori di Sicilia. In another bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peak; gently fold mixtures together and reserve.

    4. Assemble the Pie -- Roll out ¾ of the baking dough thinly and drape into a prepared 12 inch pie pan. Place the filling into the pie. Roll out the remaining dough; cut into strips and lattice across the top. Place in the oven and cook for 1 hour, or until filling has set and the crust is golden brown.