Everyday Food: Spring entertaining at its best

Welcome guests — and the spring season — by serving a platter with slices of salt-crusted leg of lamb
Welcome guests — and the spring season — by serving a platter with slices of salt-crusted leg of lamb Christopher Testani

These recipes make it a breeze to put together a meal worthy of a spring celebration, whether it’s lunch or dinner or a gathering in honor of the season’s first warmer days.

Knowing how to combine flavors for an interesting menu can be tricky, but there’s no guesswork here: These dishes complement one another. Leg of lamb is a seasonal favorite, but this rendition has been given a few fresh tweaks. The lamb and side dishes are all assertively flavored with seasonings evocative of Mediterranean cooking, including lemon, fresh herbs and fruity olive oil.

As it warms up outside, desserts with bright, sunny flavors like those in this triple-citrus Bundt cake are especially appealing.

The cake is moist, dense and rich. It’s also almost bracing in flavor. Lemon lovers won’t be able to resist it.

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Salt-crusted leg of lamb

A few simple steps ensure that every bite of this roast is tender, juicy and infused with the heady flavors of herbs and lemon. Begin by broiling the lamb, caramelizing the exterior to enhance its texture and taste. Next, coat it with herb oil. Finally, pack a thick layer of salt all over the lamb; as the meat roasts, the salt crust keeps it moist and leaves it perfectly seasoned — but not salty.

Serves 8

  •  1/4 cup fennel seeds
  • Peel of 6 lemons, chopped, plus lemon wedges for serving
  •  1/2 cup fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns, crushed
  • 10 fresh bay leaves, torn
  •  1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for lamb
  • 1 bone-in leg of lamb (11 pounds), trimmed and frenched
  • 2 boxes (3 pounds each) coarse salt
  • 11 large egg whites

1. Finely chop fennel seeds, lemon peel, rosemary, peppercorns and bay leaves in a food processor. Transfer  3/4 cup of mixture to a bowl; stir in oil.

2. Heat broiler with rack in middle of oven. Place lamb on a rimmed baking sheet; rub with oil. Broil until browned, flipping once, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set on another baking sheet; let cool. Reduce oven to 350 degrees.

3. Combine remaining herb mixture with salt in a large bowl. Stir in egg whites and 1 cup water. Rub herb oil over lamb. Mound 3 cups of salt mixture in middle of a roasting pan. Place lamb on top. Pack remaining salt on lamb to cover as best as possible. Bake until a thermometer inserted in thickest part (without touching bone) registers 145 degrees, about 90 minutes. Remove salt crust, brushing off bits. Let lamb stand 30 minutes; carve and serve with lemon wedges.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 786 calories, 60 grams fat, 6 grams carbohydrates, 54 grams protein, 186 milligrams cholesterol, 1,829 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 69 percent of calories from fat.

Feta- and dill-

stuffed artichokes

Here’s a special-occasion dish that’s been streamlined. You can trim and steam the artichokes in advance, then fill them just before baking. The five-ingredient stuffing includes bread, feta cheese and dill, moistened with chicken broth and olive oil. Another drizzle of oil helps the dish brown in the oven.

Makes 12 halves

  • 12 ounces rustic bread ( 3/4 loaf)
  • 6 artichokes (8 ounces each), bottoms and leaf tips trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling and baking dish
  • 3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill leaves, plus sprigs for serving
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove crust from bread and tear into  1/2 -inch pieces (you should have 4 cups). Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet; dry in oven, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

2. Stand artichokes in a saucepan just large enough to hold them. Add water until  3/4 inch up sides of pan; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and steam until artichokes are tender, 30 to 35 minutes. (Add more water as needed.) Transfer to a plate; let cool, then slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out fuzzy chokes with a spoon; discard.

3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, combine bread, oil, cheese, dill and broth. Season mixture and insides of artichokes with salt and pepper. Divide stuffing among artichokes, mounding tops; drizzle with oil. Place in an oiled baking dish; bake until heated through and tops are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Drizzle with more oil, top with dill sprigs and serve.

Nutritional analysis per half: 150 calories, 6 grams fat, 20 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 6 milligrams cholesterol, 298 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 34 percent of calories from fat.

Carrot and

lentil salad

Ribbons of carrot wind through dressed black lentils in a dish that’s colorful, light and packed with protein. A generous sprinkling of parsley leaves and a vinaigrette with grated ginger give the salad freshness and zip. To make the ribbons, just use a vegetable peeler.

Serves 8

  • 1 cup black or Le Puy lentils, picked over and rinsed
  •  1/2 yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger (from a  3/4 -inch piece)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  •  1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 carrots, peeled and shaved into thin strips with a peeler
  • 1 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Bring lentils, onion, garlic and 4 cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat; simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together ginger, mustard and vinegar in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in oil. Toss together carrots, parsley and half of dressing in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Drain lentils; discard onion and garlic. Toss lentils with remaining dressing in another bowl. Transfer to a platter, top with carrot mixture and serve.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 224 calories, 14 grams fat, 19 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, no cholesterol, 27 milligrams sodium, 9 grams dietary fiber, 54 percent of calories from fat.

Triple-citrus Bundt cake

This spin on the familiar Bundt cake shines with lemon and orange. They flavor it in three ways (make that four, if you count the candied-zest garnish). There are segments in the batter, a syrup soaked into the baked cake and, finally, a glaze. Fill the center with whipped cream and you’ll get some with every slice.

For the cake:

  • Vegetable-oil cooking spray
  • 2  3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 large or 2 small oranges
  • 1  1/2 cups superfine sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1  3/4 teaspoons coarse salt
  •  3/4 cup creme fraiche
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1  1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

For the syrup:

  •  1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 to 2 lemons)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  •  1/2 cup superfine sugar

For the glaze:

  • 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For serving:

  • Lightly sweetened whipped cream
  • Candied lemon zest (optional)

1. Cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 10-cup Bundt pan (or kugelhopf mold) with cooking spray; dust with flour, tapping out excess. Finely grate 2 teaspoons lemon zest and  1/2 teaspoon orange zest.

2. With a sharp knife, remove peel and bitter white pith from all citrus. Holding a lemon over a bowl, cut between membranes to release segments into bowl. Squeeze juice from membranes into another bowl. Repeat with remaining lemon and orange, combining segments in one bowl and juices in other. Cut segments into  1/4 -inch pieces. (You will need 3 tablespoons juice and  3/4 cup segments.)

3. Sift together flour, superfine sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add creme fraiche; beat on medium speed until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to combine after each. Beat in butter, citrus juices and zests. Add citrus segments and beat just to combine. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake, rotating pan once, until a tester inserted in middle comes out clean, about 48 minutes.

4. Syrup: Bring citrus juices and superfine sugar to a boil in a saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil 30 seconds more.

5. Glaze: Whisk together confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a bowl.

6. Serving: When cake is done, leave oven on and let cake cool in pan on a wire rack set on a baking sheet for 15 minutes. Turn out onto rack and let cool 10 minutes more. Transfer to a shallow dish. Brush syrup over cake. Continue brushing syrup from dish until all syrup is used. Return cake to wire rack; let dry in oven 5 minutes. Immediately brush with glaze. Let cool completely. Cake can be stored, covered, up to 1 day.

7. Spoon whipped cream into center of cake; top with candied zest and serve.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 695 calories, 28 grams fat, 104 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams protein, 226 milligrams cholesterol, 600 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 35 percent of calories from fat.

Candied lemon zest

Store zest in syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Garnishes 8 servings

  • 4 lemons, well scrubbed
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cool water

1. Remove zest from lemons with a vegetable peeler, keeping pieces long. Remove white pith using a paring knife. Cut zest into a fine julienne using a very sharp knife. Place julienned zest in a small bowl; cover with boiling water. Let stand 30 minutes; drain.

2. Bring sugar and the cool water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When sugar is completely dissolved, add julienned zest, reduce heat to medium low and cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand overnight.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 52 calories, trace fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 0 percent of calories from fat.