A couple of Sundays ago, the following things occurred to me in roughly the following order:
- A single whole chicken is a thing of joy and wonder
- The Wye River food store, whilst very pleasant and a great place to take the kids, is really not that great
- The secret of poaching eggs is not to let the bubbles break the surface of the water
- Fried bread should be mandatory on Sundays
Let me explain. A couple of weeks ago I poached a lovely free range chook for the purpose of making a chicken and leek pie. Once the carcass had been stripped of its flesh, I returned the bones to the stockpot with stacks of fresh herbs, leeks, garlic, tomatoes and lemon rind and proceeded to make a (if I may say so myself) completely bitching chicken stock. It sat in the fridge overnight to allow the fat and impurities to rise to the surface. When I scraped the scummy layer of fat off the top, a rich red brown broth was revealed beneath. I had inadvertently made a consomme to remember and it did not deserve to be wasted on, say, my standard chicken and vegetable soup. Performance anxiety kicked in.
That afternoon we set off down the Great Ocean Road to the Wye River Food Store. I like this place because you can sit inside a lovely building and eat cake while the kids play just outside where you can see them at all times. Prior to this trip I had eaten there only once and was hugely disappointed by the quality of the food and the service. But people here rave about it so I figured it was worth a second chance. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong – the weather was great, the company fantastic and the ambiance,well…ambient. But the menu was uninspired and my pork was dry and boring (although I did very much fancy the salty roasted baby carrots). And the consomme was on my mind.
I remembered reading a recipe for Zuppa Pavese from Elizabeth David’s 1954 Italian Food. I consider myself to have no talent for (and to be quite honest, no particular interest in) Italian food but this book has really got under my skin. It’s full of incredibly simple recipes with very few ingredients and it has completely changed my understanding of Italian food. Anyway, Zuppa Pavese is basically consomme with a poached egg and Elizabeth David suggests serving it with bread fried in butter and covered with shaved Parmesan. I made a couple of changes to the recipe - most significantly I couldn’t bring myself to fry the bread in butter and used olive oil instead. This probably stems from the residual guilt I still sometimes feel when I recall the quantities of white bread fried in bacon fat I ate as a child.
It was just the perfect Sunday night dinner. I have been trying to figure out the art of poaching an egg for ages and finally I figured out that you need to get the water to the point where the bubbles are just about to break the surface of the water but don’t. Then, of course, you make the whirlpool and drop the egg in. I’m sure there are people who can do multiple eggs at one time like this but I am not one of them. Each bowl therefore got served up separately as the eggs were poached which meant that by the time it was my turn I was sitting at the table with my glass of wine, my bowl of soup and my plate of fried bread and cheese all on my own. Bliss! Such simple,simple food and so much better than the mediocre plate I had payed good money for earlier.
PS: For the kids, I cooked them up some penne and served it up with a poached egg and lashings of shaved parmesan – a very,verykid friendly meal!
- About 1 litre of good quality hot stock (any meat or vegetable stock would work)
- 1-2 fresh eggs per person – depending on how hungry you are
- Freshly picked leaves of flat leaf parsley
- 3 slices of ciabatta per person
- Olive oil for frying
- Shaved Parmesan
Bring a pan of water up to the point where the water is just about to boil but bubbles are not yet breaking the surface. Make a gentle whirlpool in the centre and carefully drop the egg in. Alternatively, use whatever poaching method works for you, unless its one of those evil aluminium poaching tins that turn eggs into bullets and gives you Alzheimer’s disease, in which case you ought to be ashamed of yourself. The egg only needs to be just, just set as it will continue cooking in the hot soup.
Sprinkle some parsley leaves in a soup bowl and ladle in some hot consomme. Season to taste. Carefully place 1-2 eggs in the soup. Serve with the bread that has been fried until golden, removed from the pan and covered with shaved Parmesan.