Scale back and simplify your recipes, and the holiday will still feel like a holiday.

By Sarah Karnasiewicz
April 06, 2020
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My husband and I hail from a long line of Polish, Italian, and Irish Catholics, which is really just another way of saying that our people do not mess around when it comes to Easter. True: I couldn't tell you the last time we went to Mass. Still, even in our mostly secular clan, this holy day inspires deep faith: in the resilience of family, the hope of spring, and the life-affirming joy of a great communal feast. From clove-studded hams and butter lambs to pizza rustica and ricotta cakes, from year to year the dishes on our Easter table have evolved and changed, but the spirit of exuberant excess has always remained the same.

Brent Hofacker / Getty Images

Until now. This Easter will be different, of course. Like millions of other families around the globe, ours has spent the past month in isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, hunkered down in the name of public health. Separated from our parents and siblings, nephews and aunts, there will be no crowded, groaning board to gather around this spring.

But that doesn't mean our little household of three isn't determined to mark the day—in fact, in this season of fear and loneliness, the blessings of Easter feel more essential than ever. Instead, we're planning to blow kisses to our far-flung loved ones with an assist from FaceTime and Zoom, and sit down together to a holiday supper that's simpler and smaller in scale—but no less worthy of celebrating. In the same boat? Here's everything you need to make it happen.

© John Kernick

The Main Event = Ham

For a lot of families—mine included—Easter is synonymous with ham. And not just any old ham: a big, juicy beast, generously seasoned, glazed to a high shine, and roasted until lacquered. A ham perfect for hacking away at with a long knife, piling on a plate with mustard and pickles and squishy rye bread, while your uncle regales the table with tales of his latest fishing victories. In other words, a ham for a crowd. But if you're serving 4, not 14, a whole bone-in ham (like this Honey and Bourbon-Glazed beauty) may seem a little much.

Instead, you might consider something smaller scale, like Ham Steaks with Apples and Onions (which have the added bonus of being inexpensive and available at most grocery stores.) Or you could choose a main that's more ham-adjacent, like this winner from Julia Turshen: a Skillet Pork Tenderloin with Mustard and Smoked Paprika. That said, maybe there's no such thing as too many leftovers right now? Certainly, if you do decide to go the whole ham (whole hog!?) route, there'll be no shortage of delicious ways that you can work through the remains—like a Spanish-style Ham and Potato Chip Tortilla , Deviled Ham Salad or Grilled Cheddar and Ham and Chutney Sandwiches.

Antonis Achilleos

Or Maybe It's Lamb

Perhaps yours is a lamb clan? A leg of lamb certainly is a glorious Easter feed—but again, if roasting a joint of that size seems both impractical and extravagant this year, there are more modest, single- and double-serving alternatives. These Lamb Chops Sizzled with Garlic have an appealingly abbreviated ingredient list, and these Lamb Chops with Fennel Relish seem like a practical and delicious way to use up some pandemic-friendly produce (fennel bulbs stay fresh in the refrigerator for weeks). For an especially springy dish, go for these Seared Lamb Chops with Seared Endive, Asparagus, and Tahini Dressing, which come together in a flash: Pan-fry the chops, whisk together a quick lemony tahini dressing, and then saute the vegetables in the pan the lamb just cooked in. Feeling a little more playful? A batch of saucy Lamb Meatballs with Mint  could be a cool way to nod to the classic holiday pairing in a low-effort, kid friendly package. And if you make a double batch, I bet they'd keep well in the freezer, to boot.

Greens and Things

Of course, no spring table would be complete without something fresh and crunchy. Asparagus—so bright and green—is one of our family's perennial Easter favorites. This time around, with my effort meter currently set to "low," I'm liking the looks of this no-cook salad of Shaved Asparagus with Parmesan Dressing, which only calls for a vegetable peeler and a few staples. But if you're craving something warm, this recipe for Roasted Asparagus and Mushrooms would be another home run. Artichokes are always a mainstay of my husband's Italian-American family feasts, and stuffed everything sounds pretty darn comforting right now—so a batch of Sausage Stuffed Artichokes with New Potatoes is also riding high on my wish list. (NB: If you happen to have an Instant Pot, it makes cooking artichokes ridiculously easy.) Maybe there's a bunch of carrots kicking around your crisper? These pretty Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Gremolata would be a tasty, low-waste way to work through them. Same goes for these Roasted Radishes with Radish Greens—which surely deserve some bonus points for actually looking like Easter eggs?

Spuds, Please

You're probably going to want potatoes, too. My mom makes a killer version of creamy scalloped potatoes, but this year I'm thinking a Potato Gratin with Herbs might be a more austere, but no less delicious, swap. Craving something even simpler? With their crusty exterior and fluffy insides, Granny's Roasted Spuds should get the job done. Or maybe you've watched every episode of Tiger King twice by now and would actually welcome a project? Potato and Cheese Pierogies are guaranteed to earn a chorus of yums—and as my Polish grandmother knew: filling and folding dumplings is a great way to keep little hands busy.

Con Poulos

Carb Therapy

Are you part of the bored hordes who have been using this period of house-arrest to raise a sourdough starter? If so, here's your chance to finally put it to work! Round out the spread on your holiday table with a loaf of No-Knead Bread (if you have yeast) or a Country Boule (if you have a sourdough starter) and a dish full of salty, smearable butter. If Easter means an overflowing bread basket to you, these pliant, buttery Pull-Apart Rolls are just the ticket, and these adorable Rosemary-Scented Dinner Rolls can be made right in an ordinary muffin pan.

Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food styling by Rishon Hanners / Prop styling by Audrey Davis

A Little Something Sweet

True story: I bought 5 pounds of Cadbury mini eggs at the start of this mess, thinking I was a genius for planning ahead for Easter baskets—but my husband and I have already stress-eaten almost the entire hoard. Should you have a similarly shameful confession, let me be the bearer of good news: Economy Candy, a saccharine stalwart that's operated for almost a century out of a mom-and-pop storefront on NYC's Lower East Side, has a mind boggling selection of foil bunnies and gummies and every other sort of of sweetie you can dream up, and despite COVID-19 closures is still busily shipping orders across the city and throughout the U.S.

Of course, doing some holiday baking of your own could be highly cathartic—and doesn't have to be overly complicated. This Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake is less All-American diner fare and more of an Italian style torta, a combination of short pastry and a soft and creamy, citrus-perfumed filling. Digging the cheesecake concept, but want to take it in an even more elemental direction? This Baked Ricotta with Spice-Poached Rhubarb is a cinch to make, airy and sweet, and would be a great way to show off a few of the season's first stalks of pretty ruby-hued rhubarb. Same goes for this Strawberry Rhubarb Galette—in layman's terms, a rustic tart—but if sourcing rhubarb is too fussy, you can get just as juicy results with a bag of frozen berries and this recipe for a Freeform Blueberry Tart.

Want to keep things simpler still? How about a recipe that requires nothing more than butter, eggs, sugar, and lemon—but still feels luxurious and sings of springtime? Yep, I'm talking about Lemon Curd. Just scoop a few portions into little glasses and crown them with a cap of freshly whipped cream and serve with a platter of Buttery Vanilla Shortbread Cookies (or store-bought butter cookies!) on the side.  Lay out some spoons. And for just a moment—no matter the distance between you and your loved ones or the grim news rolling relentlessly over the airwaves—savor a moment of sweetness and light.