by Michael Vyskocil, photography by: Tara Hope Cofiell

After the winter that central Maryland has experienced, the sights, sounds and flavors of spring are welcome to our winter-weary souls.

April is a special month, hosting two religious holidays, Passover and Easter. Holidays are steeped in rich food traditions; Passover and Easter are no exceptions. For example: Chicken soup with matzo balls and crown roast of lamb.

There are many schools of thought about chicken soup with matzo balls. The color, clarity and flavor of the broths can vary; soups can contain chicken or be strictly vegetarian.

There is even debate about the density of matzo balls: Some prefer them airy; others like sinkers, but the basic ingredients are matzo meal, eggs (or not); schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) or not. My version is a blend of several recipes: Airy matzo balls are simmered in a flavorful homemade chicken stock. The aroma alone will permeate your kitchen and surround you with comfort from this Jewish cooking classic.

This year, try foregoing the traditional Easter ham in favor of Easter lamb. A crown roast of lamb makes an elegant presentation on the dinner table, and it is not as hard to prepare as you might think.

Served with roasted red potatoes, the crown roast of lamb gets a flavor boost from a citrusy lemon sauce.

Parsley and Lemon Crown Roast of Lamb With Caramelized Red Potatoes for Easter

Ask your butcher to french the crown roast of lamb (trim off the first few inches of meat and fat from the bones) for a standout presentation.

1 crown roast of lamb (16 ribs total), bones frenched
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds small red potatoes, washed well
3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus ? cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove crown roast of lamb from refrigerator and allow meat to come to room temperature.
  2. Toss potatoes with 2 tablespoons oil and season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange potatoes around lamb.
  3. Place a rack in the bottom of a roasting pan and cover rack with aluminum foil.
  4. Transfer crown roast to roasting pan and scatter potatoes along the bottom of the roasting pan.
  5. Transfer roasting pan to oven and cook crown roast for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 145 to 150 degrees (for medium-rare meat) on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer crown roast to a cutting board and tent with aluminum foil. Test potatoes for doneness; return potatoes to oven to cook for 10 minutes more, or until a fork slides easily into the potatoes.
  6. Combine remaining ? cup olive oil, parsley, garlic, white-wine vinegar, thyme, lemon zest and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. To carve, slice down in between bones with a sharp knife and place lamb chops on a platter. Spoon lemon sauce over lamb chops and serve with roasted potatoes and remaining lemon sauce. Makes 6-8 servings.

Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls for Passover

In this recipe, the matzo balls are cooked directly in the broth. While the matzo mixture may make the broth a bit cloudy, the broth infuses the matzo ball mixture with great flavor.

3 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons schmaltz (rendered chicken fat, see note below)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 cup matzo meal
8 cups Homemade Chicken Stock (recipe follows), or canned, low-sodium chicken broth, skimmed of fat
1 cup water
4 medium carrots, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
3 medium stalks celery, diced into 1/2-inch-thick pieces
Fresh dill or flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, schmaltz, salt and matzo meal until combined.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Fold beaten egg whites into matzo meal mixture. Cover mixing bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, or until firm.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a large, wide saucepan or stockpot, bring chicken stock or broth and water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
  4. Dampen your fingertips slightly with water. Scoop about 2 heaping tablespoons of batter into your hands and form batter into a 1 ?-inch ball. Place matzo ball on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining matzo meal mixture.
  5. Using a large, slotted spoon, carefully slide matzo balls into the simmering stock or broth. Once all the balls have been added, cover stockpot and cook for about 12 minutes. Add carrots and celery, cover, and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the matzo balls are cooked throughout.
  6. To test for doneness of the matzo balls, remove one ball from the soup and slice it in half. If the inside is sticky and dark in color, continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes longer. Cooked matzo balls should be evenly light-colored inside.
  7. Ladle soup into 6 serving bowls, dividing matzo balls evenly among the serving bowls. Garnish each bowl with fresh dill or parsley, and serve immediately.
  8. Note: You can obtain schmaltz from a butcher shop or in the meat department of a larger supermarket. If you cannot find it, you can substitute vegetable oil. Makes 6 servings.

Homemade Chicken Stock

8 whole black peppercorns
4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 dried bay leaf
1 large onion, washed, cut into thirds
3 carrots, scrubbed, cut into thirds
2 stalks celery, leaves attached, cut into thirds
1 3- to 4-pound whole chicken
12 cups water

  1. Place the peppercorns, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, onion, carrots, celery and whole chicken into a large stockpot. Add water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer and cook for 50 minutes. The liquid should just bubble up to the surface and a skin will form on the surface of the liquid; skim off the fat and discard. Repeat the skimming process as needed during cooking. After 50 minutes, remove the chicken from the pot and set the chicken aside until it is cool enough to handle.
  2. Remove the meat from the chicken bones, set the cooked chicken meat aside and return the bones to the stockpot. Shred the chicken meat and refrigerate for future use.
  3. Continue simmering the stock on the lowest heat possible for 3 ? hours, skimming any fat from the surface as needed. Strain the stock through a sieve lined with a layer of cheesecloth into a very large bowl. Discard the solids. Let the stock cool to room temperature, then divide the stock among airtight, freezer-proof containers. Refrigerate for 4 days or freeze for up to 5 months. Remove the layer of fat from the top of the stock just before using. Makes about 2 1/2 quarts.