Bringing the humble egg out of its shell


If you have an egg you have a meal. Eggs allow us to conjure all kinds of culinary magic. Eggs make a meal of something that otherwise might seem too slim or too simple. Whether it’s dipping a buttered soldier into a runny yolk or crowning a simple plate of roasted ratatouille or humble lentils with a crisp edged, cheery yolked fried egg. Eggs make a meal.

I once cooked for Prince Charles who, I was told, takes an egg with almost every meal – a wise man. I carefully poached one and sat it on top of his plate of spring risotto. I think of that meal every time I poach an egg, which actually isn’t that often as John, my husband-to-be, is the head poacher in our house.

I keep a little bowl of eggs next to our cooker. They come in all shades of blue, cream, brown and ivory but mostly I find myself reaching for the blue-shelled ones. They remind me of a still-life painting, most of all the Cedric Morris cover of Elizabeth David’s classic, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.

The bowl gets emptied a couple of times a week when we haven’t planned a meal or made it to the shops. We make French-style curdy herb omelettes, we softly scramble them, we spike them with chilli and wrap them in tortillas with spicy black beans for a hearty brunch and we fry them until crisp-edged for quick suppers with leftover fried potatoes and veg and a couple of spoonfuls of good chutney. It goes without saying that organic, free-range eggs should be used whenever possible. The sunnier the egg, the happier the eater.

Roast shallots and greens with baked eggs

This is a light, bright, late-spring brunch of baked eggs, courgettes, artichokes, sweet caramelized shallots and bright greens, all doused in the sunshine-mellow yellow of saffron.

Serves 4
8 banana shallots
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
4 small or 2 large courgettes, cut into 1cm coins
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 heads of spring greens, washed and finely sliced
4 cooked artichoke hearts, halved
A pinch of saffron, soaked in 50ml boiling water
4 eggs

To serve

A small bunch of parsley, chopped
A small bunch of mint, chopped
A dollop of natural yogurt
Chilli flakes (optional)

1 Peel the shallots, then slice them in half from root to tip. Warm the olive oil in a heavy-based, shallow pan that can go in the oven. Add the shallots and a big pinch of salt and lightly brown them on both sides. Keep the heat moderate. Set the oven at 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

2 When the shallots are soft, push them to one side and add the courgettes and garlic to the other side of the pan, cook for a few of minutes until the courgettes begin to turn golden. Then add the greens, artichokes, saffron water and another pinch of salt, and cook for a minute or two until the greens have just wilted, then transfer the whole pan to the oven.

3 Bake the vegetables for 15 minutes to allow the shallots and courgettes to roast and soften. Remove the pan from the oven and make four small, shallow hollows among the vegetables, then crack an egg into each of them. Return the vegetables and eggs to the oven for 4-5 minutes, until the whites are just set and the yolks are still runny. Serve with some chopped mint and parsley, a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of chilli flakes, if you like.

Lentils, herbs and a fried egg
Lentils, herbs and a fried egg Photograph: Issy Croker for the Guardian

Lentils, herbs and a fried egg

This has become a staple quick dinner in our household. When I have a little longer, I cook the lentils from scratch but in a fix a tin of puy lentils works extremely well.

The lentils have an agrodolce (sweet from the currants and tart from the capers) which I love. It’s a quick and simple way of layering up the flavour without too much faff. The egg crowns the lentils and the just-right yolk dresses the lentils once it’s broken into the bowl.

Serves 4
A splash of olive oil or coconut oil
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
½ tsp each of cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, chilli powder
Salt and black pepper
2 x 400g tin of puy lentils or 600g home cooked lentils
2 tbsp small capers
2 tbsp currants
4 eggs

To serve

A handful of soft herbs, chopped
A few handfuls of rocket
A dollop of natural yogurt

1 Heat a frying pan on a medium heat with a little oil. Once hot add the onion and fry for 10 minutes until soft. Add the spices and fry for another minute.

2 Add the lentils and 50ml of water and cook for 5 minutes until warm.

3 Fry the eggs in a little olive or coconut oil and season well. Sometimes I fry them until the edges crisp up, sometimes I flip them over easy, but I always keep the yolk runny.

4 Finish the lentils by stirring in the capers and currants, then pile the lentils on plates, top with an egg, a spoonful of yogurt and a scattering of rocket leaves and herbs.

It starts with an egg …

Ten meals with four simple ingredients:

Turkish flatbreads
Top gently charred flatbread with creamy plain yogurt, finely chopped mint and parsley, sumac and a fried egg.

Healthy herby quinoa
To warm, cooked quinoa add cooked peas, pesto, crumbly goat’s cheese and a gently poached egg.

Black bean bowls
To warmed, tinned black beans add mashed avocado, spicy salsa, finely chopped coriander and a fried egg.

Charred summer veg
To golden, roasted courgettes add chopped roasted peppers from a jar, finely grated lemon zest, chopped parsley and a fried egg.

Hearty late-spring salad
To warm, boiled potatoes add blanched asparagus, lemon juice and zest, chopped watercress and boiled eggs.

Chilli baked eggs
To tomato sauce add chopped chillies, sliced garlic, coriander. Crack in eggs, bake at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 10 minutes.

Dosa-spiced avocado and scramble
Mash an avocado with mustard seeds, lemon juice and zest, add chopped green chilli and scrambled eggs.

The best egg sandwich
Fill good, toasted bread with capers, chopped dill, Dijon mustard and finely hopped celery mixed with roughly chopped soft-boiled egg.

Miso mushroom broth bowls
To a bowl of miso broth add sliced mushrooms, cooked noodles, shredded pak choi or greens, coriander and a poached egg.

Brown rice with garlicky greens
Add to a bowl of warm brown rice some sautéed greens, lemon juice and zest, gently fried garlic and a poached egg.

Written by: Anna Jones, the Guardian

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