Happy Easter to you all, just one more day until you can break your fast and feel deeply virtuous, maybe you’ve given up ‘the drink’ or sweet things or sugar. That’s how I gave up sugar in my tea originally and I’ve always been grateful to the Dominican nuns in Wicklow who insisted we did proper penance during Lent. This Easter I thought I might dedicate this column to the magic and versatility of eggs in general. Easter eggs sometimes called Pascal eggs have always been associated with Easter not least because there’s usually a glut of eggs when people fasted during the Lenten period.
Numerous cultures use eggs in different ways in their Easter rituals and ceremonies. In Judaism, hard boiled eggs are an element of Passover Sedepr which coincides with Christian, Holy Week. Iranians paint eggs for the Spring Holiday of Nowruz.
For Christians, the custom of giving eggs for Easter is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection but it also dates back to the Pagan festival of Oestre.
The decoration of eggs is thought to date back to the 13th century but this has been one of the best loved and most enduring traditions. My grandchildren have hours of fun painting eggs every Easter and our clever hens lay eggs with the children’s name on them in the Palais des Poulets every Easter Sunday. Lovely Rosalie makes me an Easter tree and the Easter bunny hides chocolate eggs in tufts of daffodils around the Pond Garden.
From the cook’s perspective the egg is the quintessential fast food, cake bakers depend on it to create their magic and fancy chefs can create elaborate dishes, think Eggs Benedict and sauces like Hollandaise, Bernaise and Buerre blance. But it’s all about the quality of the egg, a beautiful egg, freshly laid by happy lazy hens that forage around your garden or are moved around your lawn in their arc is quite a different thing to an egg produced in an intensive system both in terms of flavour and nutritional content. I’m always encouraging anyone who will listen either in an urban or rural environment to consider getting a few hens. They will convert all your food scraps into delicious eggs a few days later, provide chicken manure to activate compost so you can grow lots of nourishing produce in your garden and a freshly boiled egg with soldiers will taste like a ‘forgotten flavour’.
We’ve been enjoying them with the first of the new season’s asparagus to use as dippers, utterly sublime and the earliest ever. I’ve included a recipe for Eggs Benedict but I have to tell you that Christine Crowley’s Egg Benedict at the Shanagarry Pottery Café is the best ever. We’ve also been serving them with some of the kale sprouts which cook to melting tenderness in boiling, well salted water.
I also love an egg fried in extra virgin olive oil with sage leaves or a deep fried egg all crispy on the outside and soft and gooey in the centre. Maybe drizzle it with a spicy tomato sauce or a little wild garlic pesto in season at present.
A little cheese soufflé is also impressive and super easy to make, a delicious little starter or a perfect main course.
Collect some wild garlic and make a wild garlic custard – silky and sophisticated and then of course there’s an Easter frittata to have for supper with a salad of organic leaves after an Easter Sunday roast lunch of spring lamb with mint sauce.
New Farmers Market
Has recently opened at the Ballyseedy Home & Garden in Carrigtwohill – Green Saffron, Rostellan Chocolate, , Annie’s Roasts, Joe’s Crisps, Ardsallagh Cheese, Arbutus Breads, Little Apple Juice, Ballintubber Fruit and Veg, Ballycotton Seafood and many more……It runs every Wednesday from 9am to 2pm.
www.ballyseedy.it 021 488 1010
Easter Egg Trail at Fota House and Gardens on 14th and 15th April 2017. Discover clues amongst the trees and wildlife that will bring you to your own chocolate egg. www.fotahouse.com//whatson
Staying with Fota House….the annual Plant and Garden Fair is on Sunday April 23rd from 11am-4.00pm and is recognised as the biggest Plant and Garden fair outside of Dublin. Many specialist nurseries with unusual and special plants. Admission is €8.00 part of which will be donated to Friends of Marymount Hospice. Phone Margaret Martin or Maura Geary on 021 481 5543 or Margaret@irishheritagetrust.ie for more information
Jeannie’s Chorizo Timbales with Rocket Mayonnaise
A perfect little starter, almost a soufflé, without flour so it is suitable for coeliacs.
275 g (10 oz) soft chorizo, peeled and chopped
500 ml (18 fl oz) cream
125 g (43/4 oz) mature Cheddar, plus extra for sprinkling on the top
Scant 1 teaspoon of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mustard powder
Dessertspoon white wine vinegar
4 fl oz olive oil
then 2 fl oz sunflower oil
100 g rocket, coarsely chopped
12 x 4 fl oz ramekins
Butter for greasing
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400F/gas mark 6.
Butter the ramekins well.
First make the rocket mayonnaise. Put the egg into a blender, add the mustard and white wine vinegar. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Whisk and add the mixture of oils. Finally add the coarsely chopped rocket. Whizz for a second.
Turn into a bowl, taste and correct seasoning if necessary.
Next, peel and chop the chorizo and divide between the ramekins – a good tablespoonful in each.
Whisk the eggs and cream together, add 1 teaspoon of salt and lots of freshly ground pepper and the grated cheese.
Just before cooking, stir the batter and pour over the chorizo, sprinkle with grated cheese and pop into the oven for 15 minutes.
They will puff up and be nicely golden on top.
Turn out onto warm plates and serve with a dollop of rocket mayonnaise.
This recipe is a combination of two, ‘forgotten skills’: poaching eggs and making Hollandaise sauce (which also involves eggs). It is the perfect breakfast for a lazy Easter weekend.
Serves 4 (or 2 if very hungry)
Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe)
4 organic eggs
4 slices good sourdough bread or 2 English muffins or 2 bagels
4 slices home-cooked ham or 8 rashers good bacon, cooked
First, make the Hollandaise sauce and keep it warm.
Next poach the eggs. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Reduce the heat, swirl the water, crack the egg into a tiny bowl and slip the egg gently into the whirlpool in the centre. This avoids getting the tips of your fingers burned as you drop the egg into the water. The water should not boil again but bubble very gently just below boiling point. Cook for about 3–4 minutes, until the white is set and the yolk is still soft and runny.
Meanwhile, toast or chargrill the bread, muffins or bagels. Slather a little butter on the hot bread and lay a slice of ham or freshly cooked crispy bacon on the base. Lift out the poached egg or eggs on a perforated spoon; drain and place on top of the toast. Coat generously with the Hollandaise Sauce and serve immediately.
2 organic egg yolks
125g (5oz) butter, cut into dice
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Put the egg yolks in a heavy, stainless-steel saucepan on a low heat or in a bowl over hot water. Add 2 teaspoons water and whisk thoroughly. Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time. As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece. The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly scrambling, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water to cool it quickly. Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made. Finally add the lemon juice to taste.
If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low. Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to coating consistency.
It is important to remember that if you are making Hollandaise sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage. If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand, then it is also too hot for the sauce.
Another good tip if you are making Hollandaise sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so you can plunge the base of the saucepan into it if becomes too hot.
Freshly Boiled Eggs and Asparagus Soldiers
Mothers all over the country cut up fingers of toast for children to dip into soft-boiled eggs. In our family we call them ‘dippies’.
2 fresh free range organic eggs
salt and freshly ground pepper
a few pats of butter
1 slice of fresh best quality white loaf bread
6-8 spears fresh Irish asparagus
First prepare and cook the asparagus. Hold each spear of asparagus over your index finger down near the root end, it will snap at the point where it begins to get tough. Some people like to peel the asparagus but we rarely do.
Tie similar sized bundles of asparagus in bundles with raffia. Choose a tall saucepan.
Cook in about 2.5cm of boiling salted water (1 teaspoon salt to every 600ml) in an oval cast iron casserole. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until a knife tip will pierce the root end easily. Drain and serve immediately. If serving cold, refresh in cold water and drain again.
Next, bring a small saucepan of water to the boil, gently slide in the eggs, bring the water back to the boil and simmer gently for 4-6 minutes, according to your taste. A four minute egg will be still quite soft, five minutes will almost set the white while the yolk will still be runny, 6 minutes will produce a boiled egg with a soft yolk and solid white.
Immediately the eggs are cooked, pop them into egg cups, put the asparagus soldiers on the side and serve with a pepper mill, sea salt and a few pats of butter.
Crispy Deep-fried Eggs
This technique takes a bit of practice but the crispy white is irresistible.
extra virgin olive oil, sunflower or peanut oil
really fresh organic eggs
salt and freshly ground pepper
Tomato and Chilli Jam (see recipe)
Heat the oil in a deep sided frying pan. It should be really hot, test by dropping in a tiny cube of bread – it should brown in seconds.
Break an egg into the hot oil. Tilt the pan immediately so the egg slides down into a pool of oil. Use a tablespoon to lift the white over the yolk so the yolks is completely enclosed between two layers of white. This will prevent the yolk from overcooking and allow the white to get deliciously crisp and slightly golden. Cook for a minute or two more.
Lift the egg out of the oil with a perforated spoon, drain well on kitchen paper. Serve on warm crisp croutons with tomato and chilli jam and some rocket leaves.
Tomato and Chilli Jam
Makes: 2 large pot or 4 small pots
This zingy jam is great with everything from fried eggs to cold meat. Terrific on a piece of chicken breast or fish or spread on bruschetta with goat’s cheese and rocket leaves.
1kg (2 1/4lb) very ripe tomatoes
4-8 red chillies
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
about 5cm (2 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
50ml (2 fl oz) fish sauce (Nam Pla)
500g (18oz) golden castor sugar
200ml (7fl oz) red wine vinegar
Peel the tomatoes and chop into 1cm (1/2 inch) dice. Purée the chillies, garlic, ginger and fish sauce in a blender. Put the purée, sugar and vinegar into a stainless steel saucepan, add the tomatoes and bring to the boil slowly, stirring occasionally. Cook gently for 30-40 minutes, stirring every now and then to prevent sticking.
When cooked pour into warmed, sterilized glass jars. Allow to cool. Store in the fridge.
Cheese Soufflé Omelette
A perfect soufflé omelette is a special treat and takes only a few minutes longer to make than a French omelette, but it is well worth the effort. This is definitely a forgotten skill, and Irish farmhouse cheeses in particular are utterly delicious in this recipe.
3 organic eggs, separated
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons finely grated cheese – Gruyère, Parmesan, Irish farmhouse cheese or a mixture
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives or spring onion tops (optional)
25g (1oz/1/4 stick) butter
omelette pan, preferably non-stick, 23cm (9 inch) in diameter
Whisk the egg yolks until light. Season well with salt and pepper, and add the cheese and chives, if using.
Whisk the egg whites until they hold a stiff peak, stir a little of the whites into the yolks, then very lightly, very carefully fold in the rest with a metal spoon.
Melt the butter in the omelette pan, shaking it gently so that the sides are covered with butter, too, and as it foams turn in the egg mixture and level it off with a palette knife.
Cook the omelette very gently for about 3–4 minutes. The bottom should be golden when you lift the omelette with the palette knife to have a peek, and it should have started to fluff up. Then put the pan under a grill about 10cm (4 inch) from the element. Cook very gently for 3–4 minutes longer, until the omelette is well risen and just set. Remove at once, loosen the edges with the palette knife, and if you want to fold it over, first score it lightly across the centre. Then turn it out gently onto a hot plate and serve with a green salad.
Asparagus, Rocket and Wild Garlic Frittata
Asparagus is normally ready until May but we had a few spears at the beginning of April – another symptom of global warming.
The pan size is crucial here. If you don’t have the exact size, increase the eggs so the frittata is 4cm deep, otherwise the frittata is likely to be thin and tough. This is an example of how we incorporate seasonal ingredients into a frittata.
8 eggs, preferably free-range, organic
225g thin asparagus
1 teaspoon salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
50g Parmesan, Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated, or a mixture
2-3 tablespoons roughly chopped wild garlic and rocket leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
wild garlic and rocket leaves and flowers
non-stick frying pan – 19cm bottom, 23cm top rim
Bring about 2.5cm of water to the boil in an oval casserole. Trim the tough ends of the asparagus, add salt to the water and blanch the spears until just tender for 3 or 4 minutes. Drain. Slice the end of the spears evenly at an angle keep 4cm at the top intact. Save for later.
Whisk the eggs together into a bowl. Add the blanched asparagus except the tops, most of the Parmesan and wild garlic leaves. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Heat the oil in the pan, add egg mixture and reduce the heat to the bare minimum – use a heat diffuser mat if necessary. Continue to cook over a gentle heat until just set – about 15 minutes. Alternatively after an initial 4 or 5 minutes on the stove one can transfer the pan to a preheated oven (and this is my preferred option), 170°C/Gas Mark 3 until just set 10-15 minutes. Arrange the asparagus tops over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Pop under a grill for a few minutes but make sure it is at least 5 inches from the element. It should be set and slightly golden. Turn out on a warm plate, cut into wedges and serve immediately with a salad of organic leaves, including wild garlic and rocket.
Garnish with wild garlic flowers