For those of you who celebrate, I hope you’ve had a wonderful Christmas. For everyone else, I expect you’ll be enjoying some well-deserved time off. I know I am: from the last week of November to just a few days ago, I was sucked into the vortex called ‘the holiday season’, only emerging from it midway through last Friday when it occurred to me that it was finally over. You should have heard the sigh of relief that escaped my lungs!
Which is why Christmas tends to be a quiet affair in my household. Oh, we still exchange presents and have a grander than usual breakfast/brunch, but there is no hoopla, no large gathering, and absolutely no fuss. We save it all for New Year’s. The few days of rest and the distance from the madness allow us to go whole hog in welcoming the New Year. It kind of makes me feel nostalgic for all those childhood Christmases: the magic of it all; the wonder and amazement; the toy display on the fifth floor of the Eaton department store on Sainte-Catherine Street...
The following dish is perfect at anytime of the year, but it is especially suited for the holiday season since almost everything can be prepared well in advance (like weeks!), assembled the day before it is needed, and thrown in the oven minutes before it is to be eaten. Best of all, it is absolutely lovely with leeks, which are still available locally, and cheap as chips -despite the recent hike in grocery bills.
Œuf en cocotte, also known as baked eggs in English, literally means eggs in a heavy pot. They are traditionally baked in miniature lidded pots, but you can use any oven-proof ramekin, lids optional. In its simplest form, eggs are baked with some heavy cream and a generous dash of seasoning, but it can be as elaborate as you wish -some outrageously expensive white truffles, anyone? They are in season at the moment, and I hear it is a good year for them...
Œuf en Cocotte with Leeks
1 leek, trimmed of dark green parts
125ml/ ½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Slice the leek crosswise as thinly as possible.
Was under running cold water if it is gritty.
Over medium heat, melt a tablespoon of butter, and add the leeks.
Sweat out the leeks until they are completely wilted, but are barely coloured. The wilted leeks can be refrigerated for a week at this stage.
Add the cream, and bring to a low simmer: you want the cream to reduce until it is quite thick, but not split, about 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, butter 4 oven-proof ramekins.
Divide the creamy leeks amongst the ramekins, and break one egg into each.
Season with salt and pepper on the eggs, and pop into a 180°C/350°F oven, and bake until the eggs are done to your liking: about 5 minutes for barely set whites, 7 for cooked whites and runny yolks.
Serve the eggs hot from the oven, or barely warm. They are lovely as it, but you can jazz them up a bit to get people talking. A pinch or two of cumin seeds added to the leeks will add warmth and earthiness, all the intensifying the sweetness. If you have them, roasted tomatoes are a zippy addition to the eggs, and will brighten the whole. And if that isn't enough flavour for you, why not top the eggs with some cheese on their way out of the oven? 'Tis the season for Stilton, and it is the holidays after all!