Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wednesday at Home with Eggy Italian Salad

Last Wednesday, Jamie Oliver told us not to use factory-farmed eggs in our salad, so we heeded his advice and headed to Choices Market to pick up some free-range, organic eggs to go in the salad we were planning for dinner. I am quite enjoying Jamie's new cookbook (thank you, Michelle!) Jamie at Home. His most recent book, it chronicles a year in the life of his new home and garden in an Essex village, and his forays into planting and growing and rearing and collecting and cooking his own food – things like rhubarb and peas and eggs, of course.

The book is beautifully designed and illustrated, and is meant to emulate a journal (presumably kept by Jamie) with woodcut-style prints and handwritten text. These are mixed with lovely sunshiny photos and set type (woodtype-style, of course). The book is seasonal, and (luckily) starts with spring, so I consulted the four sections in spring – rhubarb, eggs, lamb and asparagus – and decided on a recipe involving eggs.

That's where I read about factory farming (and saw the corresponding episode on the television version of Jamie at Home) and decided to spend a little more on free-range eggs. In the episode, Jamie rescues some of the limp-looking chickens from a factory farm, bringing them to his little garden in Essex to live out their egg-laying days. It looks quite lovely there, and he has a full-time gardener (it's not that small a garden) who teaches him (and us) about planting and growing. The garden's high brick wall reminds me of my dad's when he used to live in Ongar, Essex (northeast of London). I used to climb that wall and survey the garden below, though I must admit it was a delightfully overgrown tangle, with not a chicken in sight.

The eggy contribution to the salad was a few thin crepes that were made simply, by whisking four eggs with a little water, and then spooning a quarter of the mixture into an 8- or 9-inch pan, swirling it around, and cooking for about a minute. They were set aside and covered with foil, but right before the salad-assembly, were cut into strips about a half-inch wide:

The salad was assembled thusly: on each plate, about 200 grams of prosciutto (it was meant to be bresaola, strips of thinly-sliced salted air-dried beef, but we didn't have time to visit a specialty shop where bresaola would be sold) were carefully arranged by Alisha. She had also sliced little crescent moons of fennel, which were immersed in ice water, and reserved the tops of the fennel.

The salad leaves (watercress, arugula and radicchio) had been cleaned, dried and chopped (where necessary) by Michelle, and mixed with the sliced fennel, a handful or so of grated romano cheese (substituted for parmesan), about six tablespoons of olive oil and lemon juice and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, Meg was putting together a garlicky loaf of bread for the oven, and I was making those egg crepes. The salad mixture was tossed and then arranged on the prosciutto, and topped with the egg strips, reserved fennel tops and some shavings of romano.

The salad was nothing if not flavourful, considering it had the peppery leaves of arugula, the salty prosciutto and the sharp romano, so I think the egg strips were a great addition to a salad that's fairly traditional in Italy (bresaola, arugula, parmesan) – to act as a sort of buffer, or a resting place for the palette. The ingredients combined really well, and I would certainly make this salad again, particularly in spring or summer.

We also had the garlic bread, of course, so by the end of the evening we were all breathing fire, and luckily Meg had a (little) antidote:

A mangosteen! There may have been only the one, but we divvied up its little sections and tried to identify its slightly unusual flavour. Its meat is white, and has the texture of a slightly more gelatinous lychee, and the flavour ... well, I'm still trying to pin it down. It was certainly fragrant! I shall have to try a few more to be sure. Hey, since I've never had a mangosteen before, does it count as a new thing for the 100 Challenge?


moyrad said...

I love your description of the egg "as a sort of buffer, or a resting place for the palette." This salad was flavourful and the fact you can choose each bite as you like.

This is a real egg noodle - not pasta but noodle made completely of egg.

Something I never would have thought of but it is soo simple and tastly.

Meg said...

This was a really yummy salad. I too would make it again. The fennel was so good. Like Michelle, I enjoyed assembling each bite.

And, Jamie's book is on my list now - I spent a few minutes flipping through and kept going "oh my god! Look at this, it looks sooo good!" Especially where eggs were included. There are some really amazing looking egg yolks in that book. And beautiful colours and illustrations too...

Yes Laura - the mangosteen counts as something new! Next time we'll have to get more that one. I like how you referred to its meat - there is something really meaty about its texture, which I like. Meaty and juicy at the same time, mmm.