It’s an ‘egg’ time of year. One thing we are really long on is ‘Easter’ eggs, no surprises there, and ‘hens’ eggs. Exactly a year ago Mr.P in his wisdom generously gave me 1 cockerel and 8 hens, thankfully we still have the rather fine cockerel, a few more hens and a lot of eggs. I love my chickens and I particularly love their eggs. Free range and organic, they are without question quite delicious, the down side is I have become a complete egg snob. The supply of fresh eggs is a real luxury and we consume a lot of eggs. We date our eggs but have never kept count of how many our hens lay. I really should as it is quite fascinating. Needless to say not all eggs make it back to the house, the race by the pink and blue to collect and deliver has meant a few casualties but that aside in chicken speak, we have some ‘good layers’!
Happily my chickens are laying about 8 to 9 eggs a day. That seems an awful lot of eggs yet somehow we seem to consume every last one. Naturally there have been some quieter months, typically the colder and darker ones, but what with the warmth and light of spring the entourage appear to have gone into overdrive and are laying for Britain! Amazingly, and I may be tempting fate, Mr.Fox has kept his distance, though the blighter has had a feast on our lambs, 2 in one week is just rude, enough said. Alas we have a few woeful tales, we inherited 5 ‘Buff Orpingtons’, and 2 literally fell off their perch, the heat of last summer seemed to get the better of them, 1 of my ‘Light Sussex’ got munched by the hunt followers and 1 ‘Copper Maran’ had a stroke!! So current inhabitants at Blackberry Farm look like this: 2 golden Buff Orpingtons, 1 matronly Black Buff Orpington, 3 Light Sussex, 4 Marans, 1 Copper Maran and 1 very fine cockerel! The result, a fully integrated PC flock, though the pecking order still mystifies me, I’ve got my bets on the matronly black buff. The eggs come in every shape and size, some are beige, some brown, some white, some speckled, some big, some medium and some small. How very diplomatic of our hens!
Scrambled, poached or baked, omelette, tarts, cakes, custards, carbonnara,; you name it our eggs always find a home. The ‘blue’ one rather shockingly has scrambled for breakfast every morning, and I mean every morning, the wheels literally come off if we are eggless! I adore a scrambled egg however my recent discovery of ‘shakshuka’ has changed my ways. This is my new favorite egg recipe. ‘Shakshuka’, is allegedly Tunisian in origin or was it invented in the Ottoman Empire? The food jury is out, but what cannot be denied is its’ populairty from North Africa to the Middle East, Turkey, Yemen and with me. It is quite simply, ‘poached eggs in spiced tomato sauce’, the recipe changes wherever you are but the foundations remain the same; eggs and tomatoes. Cumin, harissa and chilli are the favored spices but there are other additions, to name but a few; feta works well crumbled on top, spicy sausage is ‘Nigel Slaters’ choice, ‘Ottolenghi’ uses peppers, and rather randomly I used cavolo nero. I know it sounds peculiar, and frankly ‘poached eggs in spiced tomato’, is pretty odd to our rather pallid palletes; I grant you it is foreign but I promise this is a triumph, once eaten you will return to it again and again. Unctuous and comforting, hearty and punchy, it is really good ‘agricultural’ fare but something you rarely ever see in this country. It makes a great brunch or lunch and a wicked sunday night supper. You can spice it up or tone it down, it is remarkably accomodating and tolerant of change! One only has to peep online to see how many ways this dish has been written, tweeked, interpreted and changed. Like its’ history it is rich and interesting and well worth the effort.
Shakshuka (adapted from Jerusalem by Ottolenghi)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp harissa paste
2 tsp tomato puree
1 large red pepper cut into strips
1 large yellow pepper cut into strips
1 red onion sliced
4 garlic cloves finely sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
5 large ripe tomatoes – failing that I have used tinned
4 free range organic eggs
2 large handfuls of chopped coriander
3 handfuls of Cavolo nero blanched – optional
4 tablespoons of natural yogurt
2 tablespoons of fresh mint
1 tablespoon of tahini
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the harrissa, puree, peppers, red onion, garlic, cumin and a pinch of salt. Stir and cook on a moderate heat for 10 minutes to get the peppers to soften. Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer amd cook for a further 20 minutes till you have quite a thick sauce.
- Mix in the cavolo nero into the spiced tomato sauce and then make 4 dips and break the eggs into the dips. Simmer gently for 5-8 minutes ideally with a lid on, till the egg whites are set but the yolks still runny. Remove from the heat and serve.
- To make the yogurt mix the tahini and mint with the yogurt with a squeeze of lime juice if you have. Serve the yogurt piled on top of the ‘Shakshuka’, sprinkle with some coriander and serve with some crunchy bread.