Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mr. O's eggs


Well, friends, it has been way too long since I've been around here. There's been work, Po life, a great big adventure of a trip, an engagement (!), and summer has just barely started...

Leave it to my consuming affection for eggs to bring me back, of course.

I've also been trying to eat more veggies these days. Something to do with say, goofing around in Italy for a few weeks eating nothing but delicious cheese and mountains of pasta, often both at once (I'm looking at you, Cacio e Pepe.) After all that extravagant richness, it's a bit of a relief to have a simple, healthy meal that won't put me to sleep right away. And the fact that this dish looks beautiful, and impressive, and is really, really spoon-licking delicious? All a bonus, I say.

I call these "Ottolenghi" eggs, after Yotam Ottolenghi and his amazing cookbook Plenty. I like to like Mr. O for his inspired Middle Eastern/British/North African combinations, as well as for his more recent focus on vegetable-centric cooking. (He's not a vegetarian, and clearly, neither am I. But, boy, does this guy know his way around eggplants, and lentils, and broccoli. Trust me, you will want to eat your veggies after reading Plenty.)

Mr. O's dish is called Shakshuka. It's a North African recipe, an all-in-one gently spiced red pepper and tomato stew, finished with gently poached eggs cooked right in the sauce. Serve topped with tons of freshly chopped coriander and warm crusty bread (or fresh corn tortillas in my case, if you're feeling fancy).

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty


Pinch whole cumin seeds
Olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced or diced into small pieces
1 tsp brown sugar (I used amber agave syrup)
1 bay leaf
2-3 thyme sprigs
1 large ripe tomato, roughly chopped
(pinch saffron threads, optional - I used a pinch of turmeric here)
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper
4 eggs

Chopped fresh parsley and/or coriander and/or green onions

The first step is to make the slurpy, thick, saucy goodness. (This part can be done ahead of time, if you like.)

In a medium pan over high heat, dry toast the whole cumin seeds until they smell fragrant, about a minute. Add the oil and onions; sauté until soft and starting to colour. Add the pepper, sugar (or agave) and the herbs. Cook over high heat for another 5-7 minutes. Get some real roasty colour going on, it'll give your final sauce some personality. Add the tomato (watch the splatter!) and the saffron/tumeric and cayenne. Turn the heat down to medium low and cook out for another 10 minutes. While you stir now and again, add a bit of water so that your mix has a nice chunky thick pasta sauce consistency. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

When you're ready to serve:
Ideally this works in two small cast iron pans. If you don't have some (D seems to collect them at our house, we're strange that way) a single medium sized, heavy bottomed, deep-ish frying pan will certainly do.

Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Divide the pepper mix into two pans. Place them over medium heat to warm up the sauce. Make two wells in each pan; carefully break an egg into each well. Cover the pans with lids, and cook gently over medium-low heat until eggs are as cooked as you like them. It should take around 10 minutes (I like my yolks barely set).

Season the eggs with salt and pepper, and top generously with chopped fresh greenery.

Makes two hungry-sized portions.