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