How to Cook a Simple, Easy Easter Dinner for a Small Group

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

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, the dishes on our Easter table have evolved and changed each year, but the spirit of exuberant excess has always remained the same.

Guide to Easter Under Quarantine
Brent Hofacker / Getty Images

Until the pandemic hit. The Easter of 2020 was different, of course. Like millions of other families around the globe, ours had been spending the past month in isolation as a result of COVID-19, hunkered down in the name of public health. Separated from our parents and siblings, nephews and aunts, there was no crowded, groaning board to gather around that spring.

But that didn't mean our little household of three wasn't determined to mark the day — in fact, in the season of fear and loneliness, the blessings of Easter felt more essential than ever. Instead, we blew kisses to our far-flung loved ones with an assist from FaceTime and Zoom, and sat down together to a holiday supper that was simpler and smaller in scale — but no less worthy of celebrating. Whether you're still experiencing the need for a pared-down dinner, have a smaller family altogether, or just prefer a more intimate gathering, here's everything you need to make your Easter meal special.

Skillet Pork Tenderloin with Mustard and Smoked Paprika
© 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 four, not 14, a whole bone-in ham (like this Honey and Bourbon-Glazed beauty) may seem like a little much.

Instead, you might consider something smaller scale, like Julia Child's Ham Steaks in Madeira Sauce (which has the added bonus of being inexpensive). 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? 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 ham Dutch baby or Spanish-style ham and potato chip tortilla.

Seared Lamb Chops with Seared Endive, Asparagus, and Tahini Dressing
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 impractical or 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 Wine-Marinated Lamb Chops with Fennel Salad are a delicious way to incorporate seasonal produce. 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 sauté the vegetables in the pan that 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.

Roasted Radishes with Radish Greens

© John Kernick

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. When my effort meter is set to "low," I like 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 anything is pretty darn celebratory — so a batch of Sausage-Stuffed Artichokes with New Potatoes also rides high on my list. (NB: If you happen to have an Instant Pot, it makes cooking artichokes ridiculously easy.) These pretty Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Gremolata would be a tasty, low-waste way to work through carrots you may have kicking around in your crisper. Same goes for these Roasted Radishes with Radish Greens — which surely deserve some bonus points for actually looking like Easter eggs.


© Amy Neunsinger

Spuds, please

You're probably going to want potatoes, too. My mom makes an epic version of creamy scalloped potatoes; an Herb and Shallot Potato Gratin 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 if you're not averse to 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.

Mustard, Kale and Cheddar Pull-Apart Bread

Photo: Jennifer Causey / Food stylist: Ali Ramee

Carb therapy

Round out the spread on your holiday table with a loaf of yeasted No-Knead Bread or a sourdough country boule and a dish full of salty, smearable butter. If Easter means an overflowing bread basket to you, then this cheesy, buttery pull-apart bread is just the ticket.

Baked Ricotta with Rhubarb Recipe | FWCooks
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food styling by Rishon Hanners / Prop styling by Audrey Davis

A little something sweet

Doing some holiday baking doesn't have to be overly complicated. Limoncello-Ricotta Cheesecake is less All-American diner fare and more of an Italian-style torta, a combination of cookie-crumb crust 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 rhubarb seems 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, 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 savor a moment of sweetness.

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