These basil-wrapped hardboiled Green Eggs are perfect hot-weather picnic food, a simple little recipe inspired by Viana La Place in her latest book My Italian Garden. The recipe was bookmarked at the same time as the order for Lettuce Leaf Basil went in, and though historically a hopeless grower of basil, I live as ever in hope that, come autumn, I can try the recipe out with the correct, large-leafed variety. Know, though, that ordinary basil behaves just fine. La Place genuinely champions basic but beautiful food, and the spine of this illustrated little book sits proudly next to that of her earlier Kitchen Unplugged on the Good Shelf, the one reserved for the books a bored hand like mine reaches for almost automatically when inspiration evaporates. No matter how I try of late, bold but simple flavours are what ends up on the table in a heat-hazed summer. Fun to make, these are, I think, best made in the cool of the early morning summer kitchen.
basil-wrapped green eggs
You'll need: good quality eggs, as many as you like; salt; pepper; a nice, rich olive oil; and 5-6 big basil leaves per egg
Hard-boil eggs. (Slip eggs into a saucepan of cold water, slowly bring up to a boil. Squash a lid on tight, turn the heat off and walk away for 10 minutes.) Cool, then peel - Jules has some excellent thoughts on this process, so I'll send you over to her. Dry peeled eggs on a clean tea towel.
Slice eggs in half, top to bottom. Season each half generously with salt and pepper, then dribble over a little olive oil. Press the halves back together as best you can.
Bring a little pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the basil leaves for 1-2 seconds only. Fish out and carefully arrange them on another clean tea towel. The should be slightly - only slightly - moist.
Tear off a piece of plastic wrap. Gently wrap each egg in enough basil leaves to completely (as possible) cover. Bring the sides of the plastic up and twist at the top, an action that presses the leaves into place as you go. Repeat until done. Refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving with black olives.
This morning on 3RRR Bhakthi and I talked about Ian McEwan's Saturday, a book to read for the economy and grace of his language as much as anything else (and yes, there is much else). The promise of a recipe is guaranteed to keep me going in any novel; McEwan's Henry Perowne describes the process of making a bouillabaisse across 4-pages really, really sexy from a cook's point of view. I love it when a fiction writer approaches a recipe, find the freedom of not being tied to conventional home economics can be hugely enjoyable as both a reader and unconventional cook, and McEwan's own - thankfully for cooking purposes - shortened recipe you'll find right here. To make it vegetarian dump the fish and simply quarter waxy potatoes (leave that skin on) and par-boil for 5 minutes. (Oh, and use a good quality veg stock cube or powder in place of all that bone-wrangling). I would, if I had some, add in a couple of trimmed, cored and thickly sliced bulbs of fennel which I'd add just after the onions and garlic have melted. Add the potatoes as you add the wine and simmer until done.
PLUS, a bowl of every good Provencal stew needs a spoonful of rouille stirred into it - a garlicky, cayenne-peppery mayonnaise. 2 cloves-worth crushed to a paste and a teaspoon of the firey stuff should see you right if stirred into 3/4 cup of good quality bought mayo, but go on. Make it yourself from scratch.