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By Michael Vyskocil; Photography By Tara Hope Cofiell

From the Mediterranean to northern Europe, the celebration of Easter is heralded with rich food traditions. Greek, Italian and Polish families each have special dishes they bring to their Easter feasts.

Preparing for a Greek Easter feast is a real celebration. Brilliantly dyed red eggs can usually be found gracing the tsoureki, or Greek Easter bread. Roast leg of lamb is a popular main dish served at holidays and special celebrations. Marinating the lamb in wine and those classic Mediterranean herbs of oregano and rosemary is a favorite method of preparing the meat.

For the Italians, the food reflects the symbolism of resurrection and renewal, with fresh breads and egg-based dishes in abundance. The Italian Easter meat pie is another one of those indulgences — filled with cheese and meat, it’s a fitting dish to mark the end of a Lenten season of abstaining from meat.

Babka, which means “grandmother” in Polish, is a yeast-risen sweet bread containing citrus zest, currants, raisins and almonds. While this Polish specialty is traditionally served on Easter morning, it makes a sweet ending to an Easter dinner as well.

Greek Roast Leg of Lamb

8 whole garlic cloves
½ bottle dry red wine
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons dried Greek oregano
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 4-pound boneless leg of lamb, tied and trimmed of fat
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise

  1. Finely chop 3 garlic cloves. In a large, shallow baking dish, combine wine, ½ cup lemon juice, chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon oregano, 1 tablespoon rosemary and 1 tablespoon thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Add lamb to dish, turning to coat with wine and herbs. Cover and marinate lamb in refrigerator overnight.
  2. Remove lamb from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature until ready to roast. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a mortar and pestle, crush 2 garlic cloves and remaining 1 tablespoon each of oregano, rosemary and thyme. Remove lamb from marinade, and pierce the lamb with a paring knife in 14 places across the meat. Rub the garlic mixture over the lamb, pushing the mixture down into the cuts in the meat. Transfer lamb to a large roasting pan and pour 2 tablespoons olive oil over lamb, rubbing oil over meat to coat.
  3. Place potatoes around lamb in roasting pan. Crush remaining 3 garlic cloves and toss crushed garlic with potatoes. Drizzle remaining olive oil and remaining lemon juice over potatoes.
  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer lamb to oven and roast lamb for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 325 degrees F., and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 140-155 degrees F. for medium.
  5. Remove lamb from oven and let meat rest for 10 minutes before carving. Makes 8 servings.

Babka

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for mold
1¼ cups milk
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
12 large egg yolks
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juiceGrated zest of 2 oranges
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1½ cups currants
1½ cups dark raisins
1½ cups golden raisins
1 cup chopped slivered almonds

  1. Butter one 9-inch kugelhopf mold; set aside. In a small saucepan, heat milk to 100 to 110 degrees F. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Stir yeast into warm milk; set aside for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour yeast mixture into a medium mixing bowl. Stir in 2 cups flour; cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat 8 tablespoons butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add 6 egg yolks, one at a time, and beat well after each addition. Mix in ½ cup all-purpose flour and 2 egg yolks; scrape down the bowl and beater with a rubber spatula. Add another ½ cup flour and 2 egg yolks; mix well to combine. Scrape down the bowl and beater with a rubber spatula. Add 1 cup flour and 2 egg yolks and beat to combine. Add vanilla extract, orange juice, orange and lemon zests, and yeast mixture; mix on low to combine. Let dough rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Continue beating the dough on medium speed until smooth, elastic and quite soft, about 2 minutes. Up to 1 cup flour may be added if the dough is still sticky. Add currants, dark raisins, golden raisins and almonds; mix to combine.
  4. Transfer dough to prepared kugelhopf mold. Cover mold with a piece of plastic wrap and allow dough to rise, about 60 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F., with a rack in the center of the oven, 15 minutes before the end of the dough rising time. Transfer mold to oven. Bake for 38 to 45 minutes, or until a cake tester, when inserted into the middle of the babka, comes out clean. The internal temperature of the babka should be about 180 degrees F. and the babka should pull away slightly from the sides of the mold.
  6. Let babka cool in the mold for 5 minutes. Turn babka out onto a cooling rack and continue to cool before slicing and serving. Makes one 9-inch babka.

Italian Easter Meat Pie

All-purpose flour, for rolling out dough and dusting work surface.
2 rounds homemade or store-bought pastry for a double-crust 9-inch pie
1 pound ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
¼ pound cooked ham, chopped
¼ pound Genoa salami, chopped
¼ pound prosciutto, chopped
¼ pound sliced pepperoni
4 ounces freshly grated mozzarella cheese

  1. On a lightly floured board, roll out 1 round of pastry to ¹⁄₈-inch thickness. Place the pastry in a 9-inch pie plate and press it into the bottom edges and along the sides. Trim the edges, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Roll remaining round of pastry into a 12-inch circle, about ¹⁄₈-inch thick. Transfer both pie plate and pastry to a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill until cold and firm, about 15 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place ricotta cheese in a large mixing bowl and add eggs, one at a time. Stir in meats and mozzarella cheese.
  3. Spoon ricotta mixture into prepared bottom crust. Place top crust over filling and tuck overhang under edge of bottom dough. Using your fingers, pinch along bottom edge to seal top and bottom crusts. Crimp edges and cut vents in top of crust to let steam escape. Place pie in refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Place pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until crust is golden brown. Transfer pie to a wire rack and let cool before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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