Ten years ago, Tony and I traveled to Sicily on Easter Sunday to attend his sister's wedding later that week.
Even though we arrived on the morning of Easter Monday, the signs of Easter were still everywhere. I will never forget the beautiful displays of colorfully wrapped chocolate Easter eggs, small, large and some even extra-large, splendidly showcased in huge towers, everywhere - at the airport, in shop windows, on street kiosks, even at gas stations. Combined with streets heavily decorated with flowers and crosses, it soon became apparent that Easter is a very big deal in Italy.
It's also Tony's favorite holiday. To him, Easter symbolizes new life, new beginnings, the end of winter and new clothes (he is Italian after all). But his favorite holiday memories are centered on the feast prepared by his mother, featuring a vast array of specialties, which might include pasta, salad, roasted potatoes, stuffed artichokes, green beans, roasted red peppers, homemade ravioli, or all of the above.
While the side dishes may have varied from year to year, the main course never did. True to Italian custom, roast leg of lamb was the order of the day.
Listening to Tony talk about Marianna's Easter table is more than mouth-watering. His voice grows softer, tenderer, filled with the sweet memories of a childhood defined by his mother's love.
Needless to say, Tony has had lamb on his mind quite a bit this week.
One of his favorite ways to showcase lamb is with his recipe for Honey Mustard Crusted Rack of Lamb. When asked why he loves rack of lamb so much, he laughed and replied, "What's not to love? It's juicy, tender, and loaded with flavor. The rack is the Ferrari of lamb - it has an elegance, a certain luxury to it."
You can find quality rack of lamb at your local butcher's department or store, or even at big box stores.
When buying rack of lamb, you want to make sure that it is already "frenched," which means that the meat has been trimmed away from the rib bone, giving each chop the appearance of a lamb lollipop. This preparation creates a built-in, beautiful presentation sure to generate a "wow" factor at your Easter table. And your guests will think you slaved away in the kitchen for hours.
There are eight chops to a rack, and a standard serving portion is three to four chops.
Tony brushes the rack with a blend of honey and Dijon mustard, and then dredges it in a mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan cheese and rosemary, without covering the bones (omit the cheese if serving a kosher meal).
The ingredients in the breading are the perfect complement to lamb, adding not only flavor, but texture, to the meat. The racks are then baked in the oven to a perfect medium-rare, the ideal serving temperature for lamb, which takes only 10 to 15 minutes.
Green Beans Nasello, a recipe straight from Marianna's table, is a great side dish to serve with the lamb. A simple dish of fresh green beans tossed with garlic, olive oil and red wine vinegar, Tony says the key to this family-favorite is to toss the beans with the other ingredients while they're still hot, as the heat will help release their flavor.
We recommend pairing this meal with a Pinot Noir, Zinfandel or Syrah, and wish you Happy Eating this holiday week.
Honey-Mustard Crusted Rack of Lamb
2 "frenched" racks of lamb (16 chops)
½ cup honey
1 cup Dijon mustard
Combine the honey and mustard together in a medium-sized bowl.
2 cups Japanese bread crumbs (Panko)
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1 Tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Combine ingredients together in a shallow dish for dredging.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brush the rack of lamb with the honey-mustard mixture on both sides, then dredge it in the breadcrumbs until evenly coated, leaving the bones completely bare.
Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes until medium-rare (130-140 degrees), or desired temperature is reached.
As with any meat, use a meat thermometer to ensure proper temperature.
Green Beans Nasello
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound fresh green beans, remove the tips from both ends
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8, cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh black pepper
Cook the green beans for 3-4 minutes in a large pot of boiling water until al dente (they should still be hard in the center, with a crunchy texture). Strain through a colander and transfer to a large serving bowl. Immediately add the remaining ingredients, toss and serve or store in the refrigerator for two days.
The heat of the green beans causes the release of the flavor of the olive oil, garlic and red wine vinegar, so it is critical to dress the beans immediately when they are done cooking.
This column was written exclusively for The Forum.
Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or