Spring in the Bay area has brought some beautiful days along with several gray ones, filled with rain, cold and general gloom all around. I’ve had my low days but for the most part, I’ve been very thankful I’m not truly affected by seasons. This past winter and spring would have done quite a number on me.
This hasn’t been the general case though. Our move to a lovely Richmond apartment by Golden Gate Park last year not only brought with it a peaceful neighbourhood and lovely north-facing windows, but also a small, overgrown quadrangle of leftover land its Craigslist ad called a backyard. What a combination of this move and this year’s spring begot was an expansion to our previous humble efforts at gardening.
We’ve tried to get the powers-that-be to clear this up but our ardent requests in this regard have so far gone unheard. So we’ve resorted to container gardening. There’s lots of room for this since, despite being overgrown, this is a huge upgrade from our former tiny kitchen window sill. This sunny piece of decrepit tarmac is great for pots. I’ll tell you all about our urban garden soon.
One of the happiest campers in our backyard pot utopia is this gorgeous sage plant which we planted last summer. While it did marginally well in a starter herb trio planter, it grew by flourishing leaps when it got cozy in its own little pot this spring. It’s been producing the most vivid violet blooms and more importantly, large fuzzy, green leaves with fantastic, fresh and slightly minty flavour. We’ve been spending a happy half-hour or so every weekend with the pots, reveling in how little it takes to grow something tasty in NorCal climes. A little pot, some good soil and judicious watering, and boom – you’re growing all kinds of delicious things. I spent that time in there today, watering my little nursery and giving the pots a serial pruning.
Back upstairs, there was lunch to consider. Sunday lunch is a compromise of meals these days; not luxurious enough to call a brunch but something between breakfast and lunch nevertheless. Eggs make a consistent appearance, mostly scrambled since we can’t be too bothered with anything else on these mostly busy Sunday mornings. I didn’t plan for today to be too different. Scrambled eggs with pesto seemed a good idea. The more I thought about it, the better the idea seemed. Pretty soon, it had to be pesto or nothing.
Rummaging through my cheese box, I found a tiny nugget of Pecorino Romano; a couple of teaspoons at the most, certainly not enough for pesto. The freezer revealed a disheartening lack of pine nuts and the only basil available was in the garden, still teeny tiny seedlings. What on earth had made me think I could have pesto today? Still the stomach heart wants what it wants and the prospect of no-pesto was suddenly all kinds of disappointment.
The aforementioned pruning had been applied most industriously to the sage plant, which left me with a generous glut of these fragrant leaves. Much too much sage to simply chop and use as a seasoning. A sage pesto was the last thing on my mind. I recollect reading about this a few months back and but also recall passing it over for several reasons. For one thing, I’ve never had enough sage to seriously consider this. For another, I’ve faithfully been an only-basil-pine-nuts-and-parmesan-is-pesto kind of gal and have pretty much shunned the idea of variation. Lastly, I had serious misgivings about that minty, musky flavour of sage in a pesto. Boy, have I been clueless or what!
Now, culinarily speaking, as a rule, I colour fairly close to the lines. (I’m the complete opposite in my quest for negative Gs – but that’s another story). I’m ridiculously obedient of rules and look both ways before I cross the street. Comes from a lifetime of trying to please school nuns, granny, mom, dad, neighbour’s dog and a hopeless quest to being the good kid, I guess. But today, I got really brave, the road equivalent of running through traffic. So I’m quite proud of this next bit.
Faced with the reality of a complete lack of any essential pesto ingredient, an unreasonable need for it took over. So I took my meal in a hitherto unexplored direction. All the sage leaves were plucked off their stalks and tossed into the food processor. I really committed to the minty flavour by tossing in some mint leaves for good measure. Some dill, parsley and coriander leaves followed. I found the remnants of Roquefort and some Gjetost (my new cheese obsession) in the cheese box and some toasted walnuts in the fridge. So, caution flying away like a flimsy skirt in a Mephistophelean wind, a couple of chunks of Roquefort were segregated and a good bit of the creamy Gtetost was shredded up. These, along with the walnuts were promptly added to the processor. Going completely rogue, I added three types of oil to the pesto, a bit of habenero oil – for kick, some truffle oil – I thought it might add depth, and some grapeseed to bring it all together. A clove of garlic rounded it all up.
To shake the egg situation up, they would be baked. Usually, I’m loathe to switch the oven on for two lonely ramekins. But what the heck, today was a new day. Baking eggs can be achieved by melting some butter in a ramekin, cracking in two eggs, adding a touch of cream and seasoning with salt and pepper. But since this was a day of chances, I kicked it up a… (wait, is that copyrighted? Sorry Emeril.) I took four eggs and separated the yolks and whites. I melted some butter, whipped up a little cream and mixed it into the butter, then proceeded to whip the whites seperately, building up some lovely foam. To give it all even more flavour, I mixed some finely chopped thyme and oregano into the whites, taking the opportunity to generously season with salt and pepper. Everything was assembled into small ramekins, baked for a scant fifteen minutes and served up with toast.
A shot at bravery can often land you with egg on your face. Fortunately this time we ended up with it very satisfactorily in our bellies. The sage-walnut pesto was phenomenal (not my word, it was Amey’s. I gave him my best “I’m too modest to crow about this, but am grateful” look.) The Gjetost and Roquefort worked beautifully together, the sweet creaminess of the Gjetost cutting through the sharp piquancy of the Roquefort. Both of them beautifully mellowed out the herbs, forming a gentle base for their fresh flavours. The chilli and truffle oils chimed in fabulously with this symphony of flavours, the hint of garlic like a lightly tapped cymbal. The baked eggs puffed up like soufflés and were light yet substantial. The recipe couldn’t have been more successful if I’d planned it (okay, I know I’m losing that bid for modesty here.) A couple of simple recipes made with very little frame of reference. Now, I’m only bummed out what I didn’t figure out when I was younger; oh-how-good it feels to break the rules!
Baked Eggs with a kickin’ sage-walnut pesto
Serves two, with leftover pesto for something else
For the eggs
Large Eggs – 4
Cream – 3 tbsp, slightly whipped
Butter – about 1 tbsp.
A tablespoon of chopped herbs of your choice (I used thyme and oregano)
A light sprinkling of Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
Salt and Pepper to taste
For the pesto
Sage leaves – just over a cup, loosely packed
Dill – 1 to 2 tbsp
Parsley or Coriander leaves – 2 tbsp (I had about a tbsp of each)
Mint – 2 tbsp
Gjetost – 1/3 cup, shredded
Roquefort – 1 ½ tbsp
Chilli oil – 1 tbsp (I used a habenero oil.)
Truffle oil – 1 tbsp
Walnuts – 1/3 cup, toasted
Grapeseed oil – ¼ cup (or less, just enough to bring everything together)
To make baked eggs:
– Heat the oven to 350 deg. F
– Crack the eggs and separate the yolk and eggs into two bowls.
– Melt the butter over a low flame, taking it off the flame when melted. Whip the cream slightly in a bowl then add into the butter. Stir to mix.
– Whip the egg whites until foamy. Mix in the cream and butter, them stir in the chopped herbs. Season with salt and pepper.
– Divide the egg white-cream mixture between the two ramekins. Gently slide in the yolks, two yolks per ramekin.
– Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or less if you prefer runnier yolks (I like my yolks well-set)
– Spoon over some pesto before serving.
To make sage-walnut pesto:
– Pulse the herbs, walnut, Roquefort, chilli and truffle oil in the food processor until roughy chopped.
– Add the Gjetost, garlic and process while drizziling in just enough grapeseed oil to make a fluid yet thick paste.
In an uncanny twist, minty was not the first thought I had when I tasted this pesto. It tasted.. like pesto! Albeit, with a certain je ne sais quoi. To attempt to articulate, it’s grassy and earthy at the same time with the slight kick of chilli. The gjetost has a lovely caramelly, creamy flavour which is superlative here. It is fast becoming one of my favourite cheeses as I continue to discover fantastic avenues for its use. (I’m told however that not everyone feels that way.) If you like cheese and haven’t tried this yet, I highly recommend you do and form your own opinion on it. Amazon has it as does Whole Foods. If you can’t find it, I imagine some brie and honey might make an amiable replacement for it. Any sharp blue could replace the Roquefort. I think the slight bitterness of the walnuts brings something to the party too. The culmination of taste and texture is fantastic.
The eggs rise in the oven and come out surprisingly light. You could just have the eggs with thick, well-toasted bread. The herbs in the eggs guarantee some flavour, but the pesto really elevates them. Remember that the eggs will continue to cook a bit even after they come out of the oven, so depending on how well-set you want them, you should start to check in on them at the ten minute mark.
Amey told me it might have all been developed in a restaurant. This makes me ridiculously pleased with myself. At least until the next time I burn toast. Or rice. Or something a third grader could manage with élan.