Passata Baked Eggs

How many times have you been in the kitchen making lunch and doing something else at the same time? We all lead busy lives and the time constraints of work and family can often mean at lunchtime we just make a quick sandwich or buy something on the go. Here’s one of my easy lunch recipes that’s both filing and tasty and leaves you hands free for most of the cooking process.

This dish was given to me by a friend from Calabria a while back and is great for lunch as it’s rather like having a bowl of soup with some added protein to keep you felling satisfied throughout the afternoon.

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The ingredients are very simple, just 400 ml passata, 2 eggs and cheese; I’m using a 24 month aged Parmesan but any hard cheese like Grana Padano will do as will a mature Cheddar.

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Add the passata, to an oven-proof dish and break the eggs into it, gently move the passata so the egg sinks rather than sits on the top. Give the dish a sprinkling of salt and black pepper and pop it into a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees and leave it for 20 minutes. I’m using some of the passata I made a few weeks ago, for the recipe click here.

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To serve add to warmed bowls and sprinkle with the cheese of your choice and serve with a crusty bread roll. It’s equally lovely topped with chopped chives but doesn’t really work with basil. If you want that authentic Calabrian taste add a generous splosh of fiery chilli sauce, my friend adds so much that he calls his, the Devil’s eggs.

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buon appetito

Generosità

I think the Italian people are inherently a generous bunch. Over the past four weeks I’ve been showered with no end of free things. My builder has brought me bags of De Cecco pasta, croissants and pizza. A neighbour dropped by to welcome us with a bag of fresh eggs and I’ve had two litres of home produced olive oil given to me, not to mention my lovely handmade olive wood hanging basket. All of these things have been greatly and graciously received. One thing I have noticed that the Italians are very generous with is advice. Everyone has the answer to any little problem, and despite everyone’s answers being different, theirs is always the definitive one.

I’ve had advice about foraging and had the results for dinner, I’ve been directed to shops that will save me money rather than using the large supermarkets and even had three different people ask if I’d like to buy their house for a very good price. Because I already live here, I am entitled to get it at a discount unlike a foreigner who’ll have to pay more for it. I’ve politely declined all three offers, much to the sellers amazement; Why wouldn’t I want a second house a few kilometres away, Italians have more than one – I really am a pazzo straniero, (crazy foreigner)

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Last night I was watching a DVD when at 9.00 there was a knock at my door, at first I was quite shocked, as we’re so remote you don’t expect visitors to arrive unannounced. I open the door and its Nicolo from the farm down the lane. “Genziana, un regalo per te.” (Genziana, a gift for you). I take the little bottle from him and thank him, he squeezes my hand and wishes me a good night, calling me his new friend. I close the door and say to my other half, “See it pays to be friendly with the locals.” Genziana, is a straw coloured liqueur made from the roots of the gentian plant. It’s drank as a digestivo after dinner and has a bitter, herbal taste. This gift is obviously homemade as it’s in an old beer bottle with a plastic stopper. As I’m not really keen on it, I shall save it for visitors and stick with grappa and my own homemade limoncello.

I was waiting in line today in the post office, when a young girl came in and gave everyone that was waiting a small polystyrene cup with a shot of espresso inside. Now she could obviously have looked at me and assumed that being a foreigner I’d not want a shot of the rocket fuel, but no, she didn’t even enquire if I’d like one, she just handed me my cup and along with the Italians in the queue, I thanked her and enjoyed my mid-morning coffee, feeling very much an accepted part of village life here in Abruzzo.

Later, in the afternoon, a car pulls up and its our builder’s wife, she arrived with dolce (sweet.) So we all tuck into a slice of soft brioche style cake and munch sugar coated almonds as we stand around gabbling away like turkeys, while the iPod shuffles and fortuitously Mac and Katie Kissoon sing Sugar Candy Kisses

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04.05.13: Last night I decided to post this addition to my blog when there was a knock at my door, I opened it to find Michele there with another handful of wild asparagus for me. I’ll have to think of a way of repaying all this kindness.

Time to Admit I’m a Linguistic Liability

Picture this, it’s a chilly morning and the rain is barely making an effort, or as Peter Kay would say, ‘it’s spitting’. I’ve just come inside from standing in the drizzle whilst eating a fried egg sandwich, the iPod shuffles and the Spandau Ballet classic, Gold, 12” remix begins to play. Our builder arrives and tells me he’s going to start on the electrics in the living room, I tell him that’s fine and make him a cup of coffee. He nips out to buy some electricity related things, telling me, if he goes he’ll get a better price because he knows the man in the store. So as his Jeep drives away his coffee cools on top of the cement mixer outside.

Twenty minutes later he returns to show us the spoils of his trip to the electrical store on the industrial estate. He’s pleased with the black fascia he’s purchased for our fuse box, telling us it’s nicer than a boring white one. We have to agree, and I ask if we can have a red light switch. He then asks for his coffee and I say it’ll be cold now, “That’s okay,” he says, and drinks the cold brown liquid. I tell him I like cold tea but not cold coffee unless it’s coffee with ice. He looks at me bemused, “Perche?” he asks, which is another of those dual meaning Italian words, meaning either why or because. I understand he’s asking me why I like iced coffee, I tell him because it’s great on a hot day, and I as I don’t know how to say it cools me down, I rub my hands over my body in a pathetic attempt to mime cooling down. He responds with more facial contortions and a louder, higher pitched, “Perche?”  I say because it tastes nice and he laughs, his face reddens and tears form in the corners of his creased eyelids. Then it dawns on me, the S-word expletive leaves my mouth and I laugh too. Once again I’ve used the wrong word, instead of saying ghiaccio (ice) I’ve said ghioco, which means play. So I ended up telling him I like to play with coffee, and my mime gave the impression I rub it all over myself. His laughing has stopped and as he wipes his eyes, he calls me a plonker. (I blame Only Fools and Horses.)

On the previous day I had another incident of brain to mouth disconnection. This time, it wasn’t so much the language that was at fault, it was the grammar. Michele was passing and looked in to see how the house restoration was coming along. As we have no windows in the bedroom, we’ve been sleeping in the living room. In The Tempest, Trinculo says, Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. If Shakespeare was in Abruzzo and happened to pass my makeshift bedroom he’d have written, cement bags and wheelbarrows acquaint a man etc… MIchele looks into the room and says, “You English and your upstairs bedrooms.” Instead of explaining the situation, I meant to say to my friend of three weeks, No, come with me, we’ll go down to the bedroom, Instead my clumsily constructed sentence is blurted out as, “No, come with me to the bedroom and I’ll go down on you.” Yet another Italian face contorts, and the builder laughs before correcting my error. Michele’s eyebrows rise and he sighs, meanwhile I apologise for my linguistic lobotomy and the iPod shuffles and Marina and the Diamonds play, Oh No! – my words exactly.

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The epic search for an egg bowl

On a recent trip into town a search that has been going on for an age ended. I love eggs, they’re wonderful little packages of goodness, and I’m lucky enough to get mine from a friend who keeps chickens, so I know they’re from free range, happy chucks.

Its the storage of these little natural parcels of goodness that poses a problem. I never keep them in a fridge, it’s the manufacturers of fridges that added egg shaped holders, which convinced people to store their eggs in this manner. The shell is permeable and when stored in a fridge it absorbs the smells inside, so if you have fish in there, you’ll taint the eggs with a fishy smell. Also the cold temperature damages the cuticle allowing water vapour into the egg and this in turn breaks the yolk down. Ask yourself this: When you buy your eggs are they in the refrigerators in the supermarket?… No.

So I always make sure my eggs are stored at room temperature, and in summer they are covered to prevent flies landing on them; there’s that pesky permeable shell again. I used to store them in one of those chicken shaped wire baskets, however as it had been crushed in a house move back in February 2012, so it ended up in the recycling and the search for a new receptacle began. Over the past twelve months I’ve scoured kitchen shops for another suitable storage solution, but without luck. Next it was the kitchenware departments of major stores, but I had no joy there. Eventually it was the turn of charity shops to be visited by a wide-eyed-loon searching for… Well, here’s the rub, I wasn’t sure what it was I was looking for. All I knew, was when I found it I’d know.

I was browsing through the window of a charity shop in a small town nearby: A place I’ve only visited once before. I was taken by a picture inside the shop, so went inside. I was looking at the framed print when something on a shelf caught my eye. The picture was soon forgotten and a voice inside my head said, “It’s the egg bowl.” There it was, my twelve month search was over. I 100_5402handed over my £1.49 and left the shop with a smile.

Of course, I can understand that many people would think that I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on something that doesn’t really change my life, I’d agree, but when you have odd flashes of OCD, like I do, getting it right means I’m happy.

Heaven forbid, I ever let you see the ordered shelves of my kitchen cupboards, or I told you about the different types of cutlery for different types of meals saga, that plays out regularly in our house.