Yolks. How do we feel about them? And of course by “we” I mean you, because I know how I feel about them. I love em! I like my yolks warm and silken and runny. The runnier the better, in fact.
This was however, not always the case. I used to think that scrambled was as exotic a texture as I could handle. Then I met Mathias.
Isn’t he cute? And he’s as nice as he looks. Which is why, when he ordered sunny side up eggs in a diner in Saint-Henri nearly 12 years ago and I inadvertently scrunched up my nose, he smiled and said, “They’re really gooood!” In his reaction he taught me two things: one, that the best way to introduce something new is to speak positively about it, NOT to put down the countering view, and two, that runny yolks are da bomb.
My conversion was gradual. At first I could only have runny yolks if I had plenty of toast to stab them with. But eventually I was finding myself ordering eggs sunny side up and excitedly piercing the beautiful delicately encased fluid with my fork alone and licking it up. I finally understood the scope of Mathias’ love of yolks, and eggs in general, when he took me to France.
The first time I came to France, Mathias had been away a year and a half and second only to his family, he most missed crêpes and cidre.
At the time, when I thought of French food, I thought it was all super complicated and fancy and most of all, expensive. To be sure, those dishes exist and I love them as a treat. But they don’t always reflect how humble families are actually eating at home. Most French food is really quite approachable, focusing on and celebrating treasured ingredients. For Mathias, crêpes tasted like home. On a weekly basis, his father would mix the batter in the old manual batteur, pour a small amount into the pan, flip it, and top it with ham, cheese, and of course, an egg. No pomp and circumstance, just good satisfying food. Served with, of course, a chilled bottle of cider.
The second time I came to France, I discovered that crêpes were not the only things being topped with eggs in this country…
Pizza! It’s funny to look back and remember feeling incredulous. Now I live in France and our local pizza joint is littered with egg topped pizzas. But years ago when Mathias ordered that baby with a massive smile on his face I was starting to see what a bright happy yolk can do for him.
Now, I realize that this post feels like it is all about crepes, and trust me I would love to share Mathias’ crepe recipe soon (seeing as he’s the crepe-maker in the family!) But this post is actually about eggs. And how they can make a dish feel luxurious and exciting, even if it’s really just a medley of leftovers.
This recipe came about on a Sunday after we’d slept in and were hungry for something “brunchy”. I opened the fridge to see I had leftover tomato sauce, a small amount of mashed potatoes and some cooked polenta.
So. The tomato sauce was made by sautéing onions, garlic, and chopped carrots, adding chopped red peppers and sliced mushrooms with a couple spoonfuls of tomato paste, cooking down and adding a splash of white wine, 1/2 a bouillon cube with a enough water to loosen everything up, cooked down and seasoned with a small amount of salt (the bouillon is already quite salty) and a bit of pepper. As a last minute addition I threw in halved olives and the brininess really added a complexity to the flavor that married the egg and polenta together wonderfully!
The polenta cakes were made by combining the leftover mashed potatoes with the cooked polenta. (Three parts polenta one part mashed potato.) I had cooked the polenta for a prior meal by adding a bit of cornmeal to boiling chicken broth, whisking until cooked and adding a bit of cream for, well… creaminess. We enjoyed it with braised beef cheeks and there was about a cup leftover, so the next day polenta was what I used in the cakes. As it sits in the fridge it solidifies and can be easily shaped into patties, which is what I did. After mixing the leftover mashed potatoes with the leftover polenta, the patties, or cakes, were coated in breadcrumbs and pan fried on each side until crispy on the outside and warmed through.
While the sauce is heating and the polenta cakes are frying, crack your eggs into a pan. As the whites are starting to cook through, bombard them with a load of grated cheese! (I used Emmental.) Once cheese is melted and whites are fully cooked through, you`re ready to assemble!
In a shallow bowl, spoon vegetable tomato sauce, place one polenta cake per dish on top and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Carefully place one fried egg on top, sprinkle with dried basil and drizzle with olive oil.
I served it with orange juice, but if you were inclined to add a splash of sparkling wine to that OJ, I can’t see that being a problem.
Just shy of 10 years living with this man, I have figured out the trick to making his eyes light up when presenting a meal: top it with a fried egg. It never fails to elicit a delighted “Oooh!” And now, I’m oohing and ahhing right along with him.