Aren't eggs the most perfectly designed and packaged prop for performing kitchen magic? Starting with fried, poached, boiled and scrambled you can move on to perform even greater culinary feats, classic and modern. There's the greatest brunch dish ever, eggs Benedict; oeuf poché bourgignon, a poached egg served in a tartlet with a rich red wine sauce with bacon and wild mushrooms; poached eggs served in artichoke hearts; and eggs Florentine.
If I switch to scrambled I can conjure up a whole lot more favourite egg experiences, not fancy culinary stunts, just terrific simple combinations of the freshest eggs with something else, such as the scrambled egg and sea urchin I served at a friend's house in Kerry. Over to fried and I'm back at El Quim at the Boquería market in Barcelona eating fried egg with baby squid. Huevos rancheros, the Mexican breakfast of fried eggs with chilli tomato sauce had always intrigued me. Then I had it for breakfast in Costa Rica and by God that's one egg dish that gives you a good kick start to the day.
In Japan they have a more delicate way with eggs, like the classic rolled omelette filled with peas then sliced like sushi rolls.
And although I promise not to teach you how to suck eggs, I'll still pass on one of the not-exactly-secret recipes for an indulgent and spectacular-looking hors d'oeuvre that we serve at summer events laid on by our company Urban Caprice. We put out large bowls of mixed quail, bantam, gull and pheasant eggs in the middle of the table. Let guests peel them and dip in mayonnaise and celery salt. What could be more beautifully simple. See, it's one of the tricks of the trade - all you have to do is boil an egg.
Spring vegetable and herb omelette
A light, fluffy flat omelette can be varied throughout the year, as you add seasonal ingredients to it. Now is the time for a scattering of green spring vegetables and fragrant herbs. The vegetables can vary depending on what's around - sprue asparagus, or maybe young tender hop shoots. Peas and broad beans, then some samphire when it comes into season in a month or so, are other ways to make in a complete supper.
4 eggs, beaten
A knob of butter
25-30g cooked peas
40-45g cooked broad beans, skinned if they are large
30-30g French beans, cooked and finely chopped
Or up to 100g of any other seasonal vegetables such as spring onions, leeks, runner beans
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp chopped soft green herbs like chives, chervil, parsley and tarragon
1tbsp finely grated Parmesan (optional)
A good non-stick frying pan is an essential for omelette-making. Gone are the days of proving your pan for hours with salt and oil.
Timing is also essential; if you're making more than one omelette, keep them a little undercooked to allow for reheating.
Season the eggs with salt and pepper then rub a little butter into a non-stick frying pan, heat gently then add the egg mixture, vegetables and herbs. Stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until the egg begins to set. Remove the pan from the heat and slide the omelette flat on to a cold plate to prevent it cooking any further. Cut in half and serve immediately.
Fried duck's egg with sprue asparagus and brown shrimps
Our native asparagus is coming to an end, and this summer brunch or lunch for two is a good way of eating the last of the crop. At the end of the season farmers may sell on the little skinny off shoots, which are just right with a fried egg, or partnered with something tasty like these brown shrimps or crevette gris, or even some diced-up cooking chorizo. If you like the idea of the brown shrimps and can't find them, cheat by buying a tub of potted shrimps.
4 duck eggs
250g sprue or extra fine asparagus
50g brown shrimps or a tub of potted shrimps
1tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of good knobs of butter if you're not using potted shrimps
Cut the woody ends from the asparagus and cut the rest of the spears in half if they are long. Cook them in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes or until tender and drain.
Lightly fry the eggs in the olive oil, meanwhile melt the butter in a pan (or the potted shrimps if using), add the shrimps and asparagus, season and heat for a minute or so until hot. Transfer the eggs on to plates and spoon the asparagus, shrimps and butter over.
Rhubarb and custard tart
Outdoor rhubarb is a little more robust than the indoor forced that was with us earlier in the year and a rich sweet custard is a perfect match for it. It'll be nothing like the combination of sour, stringy grey rhubarb and robust custard with a rubbery skin that some of us remember from school. I wonder how many schools serve rhubarb these days - very few I reckon as rhubarb doesn't lend itself to being coated in breadcrumbs and frozen in bulk boxes. In fact, you're more likely to find rhubarb and custard on the menu of a restaurant that appreciates classic British cooking than you are in a school dinner hall.
You will be left with some spare egg whites here, but that's what happens with cooking and you can use up the excess making meringues or even macaroons to keep in your biscuit tin. Or freeze the whites until you're in a meringue or biscuit-making mood.
I've used a rectangular tart tin here to make a change and if you are keen on baking, it's probably worth investing three or four quid in one. They're useful for sweet and savoury tarts, which can be more easily cut into slices for picnics and so on.
120g caster sugar
for the custard
third of a vanilla pod
500ml double cream
6 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
for the pastry
60g unsalted butter
30g caster sugar
1 small egg, beaten
125g plain flour
flour for dusting
First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth.
Slowly add the beaten egg, mixing until it's all well combined, then slowly fold in the flour and mould the dough into a ball.
Lightly grease an 18-20cm wide, 3cm deep, straight-sided flan ring or rectangular tart tin with a removable bottom (if your tin doesn't have a separate base use a buttered, bottomless flan ring on a buttered tray). Roll out the pastry on a floured surface until it's about 3mm thick, then lay it into the tin or flan ring. The best way to do this is to roll the pastry around the rolling pin then unroll it over the tin and ease the pastry into the tin with your hands. Press the pastry firmly into the corners of the tin and patch up any holes by pinching the pastry together, or by patching in some of the excess pastry. This pastry is quite fragile but forgiving and a bit of patchwork won't be noticeable once it's cooked.
Roll the rolling pin across the top of the tin to trim off the excess pastry, then neaten up the edges by going round and pinching them with your thumb and forefinger. Leave to rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile make the custard: split the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds with the point of a knife. Put the cream, vanilla pod and seeds into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes. In a bowl mix the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together. Remove the vanilla pod from the cream and pour on to the egg mixture and mix well with a whisk. Return to the pan and cook gently over a low heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens; don't let it boil. Remove from the heat and give a final mix with a whisk and transfer to a clean bowl and press some clingfilm on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin forming.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Cut the rhubarb into 3-4 cm lengths or sticks the width of the tin. Lay them in a tray and scatter with the sugar. Cook for 15-20 minutes, basting with any juices, or until the rhubarb is tender. Leave to cool a little, drain off any juice into a sauce pan and simmer it until you have 2-3 tablespoons.
Line the flan ring with a large disc of greaseproof paper or foil and fill with baking beans.
Bake the pastry for 25 minutes, or until lightly coloured, then remove from the oven and leave to cool a little.
Remove the pastry case from the flan ring on to a serving dish and spoon the custard into the base. Arrange the rhubarb on top and brush the syrup over the rhubarb.