Thursday, 21 March 2013

Oeuf en Cocotte with Spinach, Mushrooms, Smoked Cheddar and Pancetta

Spring may be here in a calendar sense, but the Edinburgh weather says otherwise. Snow, a bitter wind chill and driving rain are keeping me wrapped up inside and the heating at full. But after months of winter I'm getting a bit tired of hearty rich stews, root vegetables and other seasonal fare. It's not quite time for a salad (though really, when is it ever) but for something a bit lighter, something that says "hi glass of crisp white wine" but still comes out of the oven.

Les Cocottes, all the way from France
I'm lucky enough to have received a gift of some individual oven dishes, baby casseroles if you will or cocotte as the French call them. They lend their name to the traditional French dish of Oeuf en Cocotte, where a whole egg is cracked into each dish, seasoned and baked to soft, creamy perfection in the oven using a bain marie. Sometimes butter, cream or cheese are added to make a luxe version, or maybe herbs or wilted spinach. You delve into the baked oeuf with a spoon or some posh sourdough soldiers and savour the rich yet delicate flavours inside.

I made this version with baby spinach, mushrooms and smoked cheddar. These flavours work really well together, the earthiness of the spinach and mushrooms, the richness of the cheese and the lightness of the egg. I fry up some salty pancetta to finish the oeufs off; it brings out the smokiness of the cheddar and adds texture but it's not essential.

Perfect for a cosy late supper or a starter. Double or triple the recipe for more or hungrier people

Serves 2

2 Very large free range eggs, the biggest and free-est you can find. I had some straight from a local farm where you buy them from an honesty box. They're usually double yolkers the colour of marigolds.
Couple of handfuls baby spinach
3 cubes of butter
70g white mushrooms, stalks discarded
2 tbsp creme fraiche
50g smoked chedder, grated
4 rashers of pancetta
Decent bread
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Ground paprika (to serve)

2 small individual baking dishes/cocottes/ramekins with lids (or use foil)
Roasting tin to cook them in, deep enough to be used as a bain marie

  1. Preheat the oven to Gasmark 3
  2. Wilt the spinach with seasoning and cube of butter in a saucepan. Drain and press out all of the liquid
  3. Discard the stalks of the mushrooms and slice them finely. Heat a frying pan, add the butter till sizzling then fry the mushrooms till browned. While they're cooking, boil the kettle.
  4. Grease each dish with butter, then add a layer of spinach, then the mushrooms. Pat them down quite firmly.
  5. Break an egg carefully into each dish over the mushrooms. You can break it into a cup or measuring jug first if that helps. Add a tiny pinch of seasoning. Pour over the creme fraiche and cover with the cheese.
  6. Put the lids or foil on and place in the roasting tin. Pour boiling water into the tin so it comes up to about two thirds of the sides of the little dishes. Bake for 15-20 minutes depending how set you like the eggs. I take the lids off for a few minutes at the end to get a bit of colour on the cheese.
  7. When they're nearly cooked fry the pancetta and drain on kitchen paper. Slice and butter some bread. Serve the eggs with a sprinkling of paprika and the pancetta on top.

Oeuf en Cocotte

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Slow Food Edinburgh AGM February 2013

Slow Food is an international movement that brings together producers, chefs and enthusiasts all with an interest in preserving and promoting the pleasure of good food. Started in Italy in the 1980s, it has grown worldwide to thousands of members all with an interest in sharing and enjoying the best local produce their region has to offer. In contrast to the industrialisation of food production, mass agribusiness, supermarkets and fast food, Slow Food seeks to encourage people to reconnect with their food and where it comes from. Sustainability and provenance are key and at Ballymaloe they are big supporters of the movement, with Darina Allen speaking at the biannual Terre Madre event, a gathering of producers from all over the world held in Turin.

Slow Food is organised regionally in local grassroots groups set up by their members called convivia (from the latin 'with life'. In Edinburgh the Slow Food convivium is one of the largest in the UK and I attended their Annual General Meeting in February to find out more about the work they're doing in Scotland. It was held at the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School so I got to have a look at their lovely demo kitchen complete with glossy black aga!

Delicious Cake from The Edinburgh Larder

Before the serious business of the AGM a supper was served of organic chicken soup, tasty chicken served in a broth with vegetables, herbs and potatoes and slices of freshly baked onion bread. There was also sharp crumbly cheese made by St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese using unpasturised milk.

For dessert we ate chocolate cake made with beer from The food was provided by a local business The Edinburgh Larder who are passionate about using the best of Scottish produce. We also had some delicious pies from Acanthus Hand Made Pies. They were quality raised pies filled with haggis, neeps and tatties and chicken curry.

Acanthus Pies
Jane Stewart

The AGM covered a review of 2012 and the visit to the afformentioned Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto. Running alongside Terra Madre, the Salone del Gusto is a a food market on a massive scale, where wonderful producers from all over the world have the chance to display and sell their wares. I would love to go in 2014! Jane Stewart from St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese told us about it and some of the wide range of fabulous foods that were on offer, the producers and the similarities and shared values they found in common despite coming from different corners of the world.


We also found out about some of the work Slow Food Edinburgh has been doing in the community, with schools, allotments and universities with Slow Food on Campus. There's lots going on and it was great to see so many people there and so many great producers so close to home. Hopefully that interest and enthusiasm can be maintained and built upon to encourage more people to think about where their food comes from. In the current climate of the horse meat scandal there was an interesting discussion about how Slow Food can do more to tackle the issues which have come out of that. It was no surprise to me and the people there that things like this happen when selling very cheap processed food at the end of a long supply chain, but what can be done next to convince others of the problems and risks inherent in such as system?