I like cooking. I wouldn’t be writing a food blog if I didn’t. Yet sometimes, no matter how well developed someone’s culinary skills might be, a hankering develops for a dish that is tasty whilst simultaneously requiring only the minimum of effort in the kitchen.
Breakfast is always one meal that I prefer to be flavoursome and simple, even at weekends, when I have a bit more time to prepare food. Saturday and Sunday morning staples at Scrumptious Scran Towers tend to consist of the likes of a decent bacon buttie (dry cure on sourdough, preferably), maybe scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms, or if I have the ingredients to hand, a ham and cheese omelette. Yet now and again I yearn for something a bit more adventurous that’s still easy to prepare and speedy to cook.
Bring on the toms & eggs…
So this Saturday I decided to rustle up a breakfast dish that certainly packs a flavour punch, is relatively healthy and, most importantly, is a cinch to prepare – my own particular take on huevos rancheros. A staple of rural Mexico, the literal translation of this delicacy is “rancher’s eggs”, as it was staple breakfast fare for those working the fields or tending livestock.
Traditionally, huevos rancheros combines a spicy, tomato-based sauce with fried eggs, maize tortillas, with a side of refried beans. But to be honest, this is a wee bit elaborate for me, especially if I’m cooking on a Sunday morning following a somewhat ‘lively’ Saturday night. So my recipe concentrates on an adapted version of the spicy sauce, which – when ready – is used to poach a couple of fresh eggs. This is all served with ample slices of crusty bread.
The recipe below serves two people generously, and I leave it entirely up to taste as to how spicy or otherwise the sauce is made (think of it as a sort of edible Bloody Mary mixture, but without the vodka). Of course, if you have house guests for breakfast it’s very straightforward to just double or triple the ingredients to ensure everyone is properly fed.
A good glug of olive oil (3-4 tbsp)
1 medium onion, finely sliced
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Half a dozen (or so) large chestnut mushrooms, wiped and sliced
A good pinch (dependent on how spicy, and the preferred level of heat) of dried chilli flakes
A 400g tin or carton of good quality chopped tomatoes
A generous squirt of tomato puree
½ tsp thyme leaves (preferably fresh, and chopped)
1 bay leaf (again, fresh if available)
2 large eggs – hen or duck
Salt and pepper, to taste.
Preparation and cooking
In a medium sized frying pan heat the oil over a medium heat, until hot but not smoking. Add a pinch of salt followed by the onion and pepper. Fry until they begin to soften, stirring to ensure they don’t brown.
Add the garlic, and chilli flakes, give a good stir and cook for a further minute.
Now add the mushrooms and continue to cook for a couple of minutes until softened and just starting to take on some colour.
Pour in the tomatoes, followed by the tomato puree, thyme and bay leaf. Give the ingredients a good mix and when bubbling turn down the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens. Check the seasoning.
With the back of a tablespoon, make two indents in the tomato sauce and crack an egg into each of these. Place a lid or plate over the frying pan and cook until the eggs just set.
Serve at once with lots of sliced bread, or tortillas and refried beans, depending on your mood…
For me, spring is one of my favourite times for cooking with seasonal produce. Don’t get me wrong, I also love autumn for its rich abundance of fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. Yet after a long winter – where the choice of fresh produce can be limited – there is something revitalising about being able to once again cook with a harvest of fresh, green ingredients.
So having purchased some “just from the sea” fresh monkfish cheeks from Clark Brothers fishmongers, I decided to keep things clean-tasting by simply sautéing the fish and pairing it with a salad of spring vegetables and vibrant green salsa verde. This classic, Italian sauce makes a great accompaniment for meat and fish, with the fresh flavours of the parsley and basil being complimented by savoury background tones provided by the capers and anchovy, and the acidity of the lemon juice.
For the salad, I turned once again to British asparagus – I always try and make the most of this vegetable during its all too short season – matching this with the first of this season’s tender broad beans, and roast baby plum tomatoes. I also added a few toasted walnuts to provide some crunch and flavour contrast to the zippy freshness of the other salad ingredients.
With all those fresh flavours this certainly is a recipe that should put a spring to anyone’s step.
(This recipe should serve four as a substantial lunch or light supper)
A few leaves of fresh wild garlic, finely sliced, or one clove of garlic, crushed
A bunch of basil leaves – a good handful
A bunch of flat leaf parsley – also a good handful
5 or 6 tinned anchovy fillets
A teaspoon of capers – drained of brine or washed of salt
A good squeeze of lemon – around a tablespoon, to taste
Half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard (optional).
Olive oil – good quality extra virgin
Ground pepper, and salt.
A large bunch, or two smaller bunches, of British asparagus
A good cupful of broad beans, podded and outer skins removed
Around a dozen baby plum or cherry tomatoes, more if preferred, halved
A handful of walnuts, coarsely chopped
Around 45ml of good quality balsamic vinegar
Around 50ml extra virgin olive oil – sufficient to make a vinaigrette with the vinegar
Half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
Half a kilogram of monkfish cheeks, rinsed, dried and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.
Two cloves of garlic, unpeeled
Olive oil for shallow frying.
Preparation and cooking
Start by preparing the salsa verde by coarsely chopping the parsley and basil.
Place the herbs in a food processor and add the garlic, capers and anchovies (if you don’t have a food processor, continue chopping these ingredients until finely chopped, then place in a bowl).
Add the lemon juice and mustard and whilst whisking/whizzing drizzle in the olive oil until a thick, shiny sauce forms. If using a food processor, be careful not to overdo it!
When the sauce has formed, check the seasoning – due to the salt in the anchovies and capers, you may only need to add pepper. Transfer to the fridge until ready to plate up.
In a large saucepan, bring sufficient salted water to cover the asparagus to the boil.
Trim the ends from the asparagus spears and cut stems into thirds. Place in the boiling water and cook until the asparagus just turns tender. Drain and refresh the spears in cold water to stop them cooking further.
Preheat an oven to around 180 degrees Celsius. Drizzle a little olive oil onto a roasting tray. Place the tomatoes on the tray and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and allow to roast until just soft – this should take around eight to 10 minutes depending on the size of the tomatoes, but do keep an eye on them to ensure they do not overcook.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the broad beans until they are just turn tender – if they are small this will be a matter of just a few minutes. Drain and refresh with cold water to prevent further cooking.
In a heavy based frying pan dry toast the walnuts for a couple of minutes, then set aside.
In a small saucepan, place the balsamic vinegar over a medium heat and reduce by half – this intensifies the flavour and means less oil is required to make the dressing.
When cooled, add the Dijon mustard to the vinegar and whisk in sufficient olive oil to create a smooth vinaigrette – season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Heat a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat and add sufficient olive oil for shallow frying. Add the whole, skin-on garlic cloves and move around the pan occasionally for a few minutes, so that the oil becomes flavoured. Do not let the garlic burn, as this will make the oil bitter. Remove the garlic cloves.
Fry the monkfish cheeks – in batches if necessary – until slightly golden on each side and just cooked on the inside. As the cheek meat is not too thick, this should only take a few minutes. Cover the fried cheeks with foil and keep warm while the salad is assembled.
In a bowl, combine the asparagus, broad beans and walnuts, pour over ¾ of the vinaigrette and toss. Divide the salad between each of the serving plates and place the roast tomatoes on top, drizzling these with the remaining dressing.
Place a portion of the monkfish cheeks on each serving plate and spoon a generous serving of the salsa verde next to these.
Serve, placing the remaining salsa verde in a dish on the table.
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