This past weekend in Washington DC we experienced Full-Blown Spring: warm, almost hot sun, cloudless blue sky, trees outlined in new green emerging on drab hillsides, wide patches of daffodils, butter yellow, drinking in the light.
And, the cherry blossoms.
Oh, my. Blooms in Peak. Gorgeous ruffles of pink surrounding the Tidal Basin, shimmered pink in the water, showered pink in the breeze.
Ensconced by these lovely trees, The Jefferson Memorial, its marbled dome and columns gleaming white, ethereal, seemed to belong to another world.
We didn’t mind the throngs who joined us down at the basin—who could mind sharing in the beauty of such a place? A lot of people were walking with heads bent back, looking up, taking in all the pink. Children danced in the bluster of petals. Babies laughed when held up, face-to-face with the blossoms.
Of course, all of that Spring joy spilled into my daughter’s kitchen, where we prepared a Sunday feast featuring the season’s best:
Young Asparagus grilled in olive oil and thyme,
Butter lettuces dressed with strawberries and dulce di gorgonzola,
Orzo with leeks, shitake mushrooms, and sweet snow peas,
Fresh Ham roasted in rosemary-sage-garlic pesto.
Have you ever had a fresh ham? Likely you are familiar with smoked hams, some highly salted, redolent of hickory; others sugar cured rosy-pink, the rich hind leg of the pig baked under a fruity glaze.
Fresh ham, the uncured, non-smoked variety, is infrequently available, yet makes a wonderful pork roast–sweeter, more deeply flavored than, say, pork loin. I hadn’t cooked one in a number of years (I hadn’t seen one to purchase in as many…) and so when we found one at Whole Foods (at a surprising $2.49lb) we decided to make it the centerpiece of our Sunday DC Family Supper.
A pesto assertive with garlic, rosemary, and sage, is rough chopped with salt and black pepper, mixed with a little olive oil—as a medium—and slathered over the entire roast. You can’t have too much garlic or herb, really. This cut of meat can take it: the garlic gets toasty, the herbs and salt make an incredible crust. The pan fills with savory juices that make a rich brown gravy flecked with garlic bits.
It’s best to cook the ham uncovered, fat side up, on high for the first 30 minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, and let it roast along for another 2 1/2 hours. You can rotate the meat in the oven, pour a (very!) little water in the bottom of the pan to keep the juices from burning–that’s all there is too it. But, that’s why a liberal coating of the herb pesto is so important.
While the meat is cooking, you’ll have plenty of time to make the spring orzo with leeks, mushrooms, and snow peas.
Roasted Fresh Ham
6-8 lb. fresh Ham, trim any thick fat, but do leave a layer
6-8 cloves Garlic
4 sprigs fresh Rosemary
1 bunch fresh Sage
2 t. Sea Salt
1 t. Black Pepper
2 T. Olive Oil
Rinse off meat and pat dry. Make coarse pesto by chopping all the garlic and herbs together with salt and black pepper. (You can pulse this in a food processor if you like, but in this instance, I prefer the hand chop.)
In a bowl, combine the rough-chop with enough olive oil to act as a vehicle for spreading. Coat the entire ham with the mixture.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Roast for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and cook for 2 1/2 hours.
Remove the roast from the pan and let it rest for 15 minutes (or longer) before carving. In the meantime, make the gravy. Mix a heaping tablespoon of all-purpose flour with 1/2 cup water, and stir into roasting pan on the stove top under low heat. Add more liquid as needed; gravy will thicken and be dark and luscious.
Serves 10-12, leftovers make an AWESOME roast pork sandwich.
And, I think that you’ll enjoy the orzo dish below; the silky pasta and mushrooms, savory leeks, and sweet crunch of snow peas balance the richness of the meat.
Orzo with Leeks, Snow Peas, Shittakes
1 box (1lb.) orzo or riso
2 Leeks, cleaned and sliced (I use as much of the leek as possible)
1 lb. Shittakes, sliced
1 lb. Snow Peas, strung and chopped
2 T. butter
2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
In a deep skillet, heat butter and olive oil together. SautÃ© leeks until soft and translucent. Stir in mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Finally, add the snow peas and sautÃ© for another 3 minutes.
Remove from heat.
In a large (4 qt.) saucepan, bring lightly salted water to a boil and cook orzo according to package directions–about 10 minutes. Drain and add to the skillet of vegetables. Toss until all the ingredients are well mixed. taste for seasonings and serve.
Makes 10-12 servings.