Vegetarian Easter recipes: Pasta alla Norma, Roasted Asparagus and Celery Salad

What’s Easter without a haunch of ham or leg of lamb? (For those born since Watergate, “haunch” is a cool old term for “large end of animal meat with a bone in it.”)

Well, it’s still Easter, with or without meat. Or even eggs. Here’s a simple Easter menu inspired by the Mediterranean cooking of solely vegetables.

The centerpiece is pasta alla Norma, yet again a Sicilian eggplant-centric preparation such as caponata or what they refer to simply as “parmigiana.” I prefer to roast, rather than fry, my chunks of eggplant. Doing so minimizes their oil saturation and also renders them into little pillows of pudding.

Also, the choice of pasta shape is important. Tubular shapes allow the chunky pieces of the thick sauce to secret themselves inside the pasta. Delicious.

No other vegetable signals “spring” so much as asparagus, here also roasted, but also brightened with ample curlicues of lemon rind, some of it roasted alongside into sweetness, others zesty and fresh.

Finally, an all-celery salad. When I was growing up and saw “pascal” (sometimes Pascal or Paschal) celery in the produce section, I thought, understandably, that the adjective had something to do with Easter, or even Passover. “Pascal” comes by way of Aramaic, Hebrew (pesach), Greek (pascha) and ecclesiastical Latin (paschalis), all referring either to Passover or Easter.

When those languages, in their ancient times, were churning out the words that we would later inherit as ours, “celery” and “parsley” were often confused, sometimes being called by the same name. (It’s easy to see why when you look at the leaves of each — they look identical — especially flat-leaf or “Italian” parsley. Indeed, the plants are botanically related)

And at Passover seders, either celery or parsley were (and are) used as both a sign of spring and new life, as well as being dipped into the brine or vinegar that itself symbolizes the tears of the Jews fleeing Pharoah.

So, a third Easter vegetarian recipe that uses all parts of the celery plant, as well as some of its relative’s (flat-leaf parsley’s) leaves.

Pasta alla Norma

Legend has it that this much-favored Sicilian vegetarian pasta preparation is named after Vincenzo Bellini’s opera “Norma.” Bellini was born in Catania, Sicily, in November 1801. Sicilians treat eggplant as a ready substitute for meat or fish: it is a hearty vegetable, holds up in cooking and is grown all over the island. Serves 3-4.


  • 1 large or 2 medium purple eggplants, partially peeled and cut into 1-inch squares, 4-5 cups
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated
  • 1 teaspoon dried Aleppo pepper flakes (or 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon Mexican-style red pepper flakes, to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4-5 Roma tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped (about 2 cups raw) or the equivalent in good quality canned tomatoes
  • 2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 to 3/4 pound medium-sized, short tubular dried pasta (ziti, pennoni, mezzi rigatoni, paccheri, ditali or the like)
  • A wedge of ricotta salata
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or chiffonade of basil, for garnish


Heat the oven to 400 degrees and ready a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. In a large bowl, add the pepper flakes, black pepper and salt to the 2/3 cup olive oil and stir together. Add the eggplant cubes to the bowl and toss them to coat. Lay out the cubes onto the baking sheet in a single layer and place in the oven.

Roast the eggplant for 40 minutes, turning the pieces over 1-2 times while cooking to even out their browning.

Meanwhile, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over a medium-high flame and add the garlic slices, letting them cook just until sizzling. Add the tomatoes and cook them down, 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato paste, smashing everything and making a thick sauce. If the eggplant has yet to finish roasting, set the sauce aside.

Set a large pot of water to boiling and cook the pasta until just al dente, draining it well and reserving 1-2 ladlefuls of cooking water. To the tomato sauce, add the eggplant, stirring it in gently, adding splashes of pasta cooking water, if necessary, in order to thin the sauce to your liking. (The sauce should be thick but not jammy.)

Gently stir in the pasta and serve, garnished with gratings of ricotta salata and either or both of the green herbs.

Roasted Asparagus with Lemon

A side serving for 4-8.


  • 1 pound asparagus spears, well washed and fibrous ends trimmed
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
  • Rind from 2 wedges of lemon, pith and flesh cut away, pith pitched, flesh set aside and rind slivered
  • Fresh lemon zest, in slivers, not grated, for garnish


Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl or baking dish, mix together the olive oil, vinegar, seasonings and lemon rind slivers and, in the mix, gently toss the asparagus spears to coat.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, lay out the spears in one layer, using a spatula to get all the seasonings and lemon slivers onto the baking sheet. Roast for 7-9 minutes (depending on the spears’ thicknesses), shaking the sheet once midway, until the asparagus is slightly browned but also still slightly crisp.

When done, remove the baking sheet away from the heat and squeeze the juice from the reserved lemon flesh onto the asparagus spears. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with fresh lemon zest slivers.

Celery Root, Celery Heart and Celery Leaf Salad

Adapted from, by Diane Morgan; serves 4.


For the dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins

For the salad:

  • 2/3 cup celery root, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 2/3 cup heart of celery (lightest green only), thinly sliced on the bias
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed celery leaves
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves


Make the dressing by whisking or mixing together all its ingredients in a small bowl, keeping back the raisins for a moment. When everything is well blended, add the raisins and let them steep in the dressing for at least 15 minutes.

To construct the salad, in a large bowl toss together the celery parts and the parsley leaves. Whisk the dressing one final time and add enough of it to coat the greens well but not overly so (you may not need all the dressing). Let the salad sit for 5-10 minutes to blend the flavors, then serve.


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