Is that an oeuf?: Skye Gyngell's favourite, protein-rich winter meals

By Skye Gyngell
Sunday 21 November 2010 01:00

I think of this comforting little egg dish as something to be eaten for a light, late-night supper. Its simplicity is appealing: if the spinach is prepared beforehand there is very little to do except crack the eggs.

I think of this comforting little egg dish as something to be eaten for a light, late-night supper. Its simplicity is appealing: if the spinach is prepared beforehand there is very little to do except crack the eggs.

Oeufs en cocotte with spinach and Parma ham

I think of this comforting little egg dish (pictured pre-cooking, previous page) as something to be eaten for a light, late-night supper. Its simplicity is appealing: if the spinach is prepared beforehand there is very little to do except crack the eggs.

Serves 4

200g/7oz small, young spinach leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A knob of unsalted butter
8 slices of Parma, San Daniele or Bayonne ham, roughly torn
4 large, fresh, free-range eggs
4 tbsp double cream
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
50g/2oz Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Rustic bread, to serve

Prepare the spinach in advance (in the afternoon, perhaps). Wash the leaves to remove all traces of dirt and drain well. Place a large, dry pan over a low heat and add the spinach. Cook briefly until the spinach has just wilted – no additional water is needed as the water clinging to the leaves after washing is enough. Drain and set aside until the spinach is cold enough to handle. In batches, squeeze it with your hands to get rid of the excess water and place in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then cover and refrigerate.

When you are ready to eat, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Place the blanched spinach in a pan with a knob of butter to warm through. Season with a little more pepper to taste. Divide equally between four ramekins (about 200ml/7fl oz capacity). Arrange the ham on top.

Crack an egg into each ramekin and spoon over the cream. Finish with a sprinkling of nutmeg and Parmesan, and a generous grinding of pepper.

Stand the ramekins in a roasting tin and pour in enough hot water to come two-thirds of the way up the side of the dishes. Cook on the middle shelf of the oven for about eight minutes; the white should be set, with the yolk still soft.

Carefully lift the ramekins out of the bain-marie. Serve on small plates, with a folded napkin underneath the ramekins to secure them, and rustic bread alongside.

Very fresh, free-range organic eggs will make all the difference to this dish. As you crack open each one, the white should be viscous and buoyant, and the yolk glossy and a warm yellow colour.

Shoulder of lamb with sweet paprika and chickpeas

Slow cooking is a lovely, heart-warming and satisfying way to cook. It allows time for flavours to develop and meld together. In essence, this is a one-pot meal. The only accompaniment you will need is a green vegetable, such as slow-cooked courgettes or a lightly dressed salad of seasonal leaves.

Serves 4–6

1.5kg/3lb shoulder of lamb joint
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
11/2 tsp fennel seeds
750ml/11/4 pints dry white wine
2 red onions, peeled and chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly crushed
Small bunch of thyme
1 dried red chilli
1 tsp sweet Spanish paprika
2 red peppers
250g/8oz quality tinned plum tomatoes
250g/8oz cooked chickpeas (tinned ones can be used)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Trim the lamb of all fat and season all over with salt and pepper. Place a large, sturdy roasting tin on the hob over a medium heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil. When hot, add the lamb and brown well all over; this will take 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, put the fennel seeds in a small frying pan over a high heat and warm for a minute, or until they begin to pop and release their aroma. Immediately take off the heat and pound, using a pestle and mortar. Set aside.

Once the lamb is golden-brown, remove it from the roasting tin and set aside. Turn the heat down slightly and deglaze the tin with the wine, stirring to scrape up the sediment. Let the wine bubble and reduce by about a third, then pour it off into a jug.

Add the remaining olive oil to the roasting tin and warm over a low heat. Add the onions, garlic, crushed fennel seeds and thyme and cook gently for 10 minutes until the onions are softened. Crumble in the dried chilli, add the paprika and return the lamb to the tin. Pour over the wine and turn off the heat.

Cover the roasting tin tightly with foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Allow the lamb to cook, undisturbed, for approximately two hours.

Halve and deseed the peppers, then cut each half into eight pieces. Take the lamb out of the oven, uncover and scatter over the sliced peppers and tomatoes. Re-cover and return to the oven for a further hour.

Now take out the roasting tin, uncover and stir in the chickpeas. Turn the oven up to 200C/400F/Gas6 and cook for a final 15 minutes. Discard the thyme. Set aside to rest in a warm place for 20 minutes.

Before serving, tear the meat from the bones – it will come away easily; tongs are the easiest implement to use. Return the meat to the pan and taste for seasoning, adjusting as necessary. Reheat gently to warm through if necessary and serve.

Grilled steaks

Thickly sliced well-aged fillet of beef – generously seasoned and cooked to a firm, salty crust on the outside yet meltingly tender and pink within – really can't be beaten. Here I've served it with mashed potato and gently cooked chard. Place a pot of Dijon mustard on the table for those who wish to smear some on to their steak. This menu is easily adjusted to accommodate your number of diners.

Serves 6

6 thick fillet steaks, about 200g/7oz each
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp mild-tasting olive oil

Season the meat really well on both sides with the salt and pepper; the salt should form a loose crust. Place a heavy-based non-stick pan over a medium-high heat, add the olive oil and allow it to become really hot.

When the oil is almost smoking, lay the steaks in the pan, spacing them well apart, and turn down the heat slightly. Allow to sizzle undisturbed for three minutes, turn and cook on the other side for a further three to four minutes, according to taste.

Transfer the steaks to a warm plate and leave to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes before serving.

Fillet steak is an expensive rare treat, so make sure your butcher gives you a really good, well-aged piece. Look for meat that is dark-red in colour, with a light, even marbling of creamy fat through the flesh.

Buttermilk mashed potato

6 medium potatoes, peeled and washed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g/2oz unsalted butter
180ml-200ml/6fl oz-7fl oz buttermilk or crème fraîche
50g/2oz Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Cut the potatoes into small, even-sized pieces and place in a saucepan containing enough cold water to cover them. Add one-and-a-half teaspoons of salt. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then turn down the heat, put the lid on and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are really tender. The water will become cloudy and the potatoes should literally crumble and fall apart when pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes and set aside.

Add the butter and the buttermilk or crème fraîche to the pan in which the potatoes were cooked and place over a low heat until the butter is melted and the milk is almost simmering. Take off the heat.

Return the potatoes to the pan and mash thoroughly, using a hand-held potato masher, until really smooth. Add a little more buttermilk if the mash feels a little firm, but it must be warmed through before adding. Stir in the Parmesan and season with plenty of pepper.

Serve piping hot – this is a must. If not serving at once, you can reheat the mash carefully over a low heat, stirring to avoid it catching and burning on the bottom, which gives an unpleasant smoky flavour.

Slow-cooked chard

Cooked slowly in olive oil, the chard leaves turn inky black, contrasting with the creamy stalks beautifully.

2 bunches of Swiss chard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Put a large saucepan of well-salted water on to boil. Wash the chard well under cold, running water and shake off the excess, then cut the leaves from the stalks into short lengths.

Once the water is boiling, plunge in the stalks and cook for three minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Now add the leaves to the boiling water (in which the stalks were cooked) and cook for one minute, then drain thoroughly. Chop the leaves when they are cool enough to handle.

Place a clean, dry saucepan on a low heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is warm, add all the chard and a good pinch of salt. Put on the lid and cook gently for 30 minutes until very soft, stirring from time to time. Taste for seasoning, adding a little salt if necessary; a good grinding of pepper is essential. Serve hot.

Chicken pie

This is a deeply satisfying weekday supper dish. Lovely on a winter's evening, it will warm you right to your core. I like to serve the pie simply with a mound of buttered, wilted spinach. You can prepare the pie in advance and keep it in the fridge, ready to glaze and bake – just allow an extra 10 minutes in the oven. Or you might prefer to make just the pastry ahead – wrap well and keep in the fridge for a few days, or in the freezer for a couple of weeks.

Serves 6

For the shortcrust pastry

500g/1lb plain white flour, plus extra to dust
A generous pinch of sea salt
250g/8oz unsalted butter, well chilled, cut into little cubes
1 large egg yolk
2–3 tbsp cool water
1 egg, lightly beaten, to glaze

For the filling

1 chicken, about 1.5kg/3lb
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
6 carrots, peeled and chopped
10 black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
Small bunch of thyme
Small bunch of parsley
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp plain flour
150ml/5fl oz crème fraîche
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bunch of flat-leaf parsley, stalks removed, roughly chopped

To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter lightly and evenly until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Lightly beat the yolk with the water, then sprinkle over the flour. Work gently with your fingertips to form a dough, adding a little more water if necessary. Form into a ball and knead lightly on a floured surface. Wrap in baking parchment and rest in the fridge for an hour, or until needed.

Now wash and pat dry the chicken, removing any giblets and fat deposits from inside the cavity. Place the chicken in a pot large enough to hold it comfortably and add the celery, two of the carrots, the peppercorns and herbs. Pour on enough water to cover the chicken and place over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then immediately lower to a simmer and poach for an hour. Remove from the heat and leave the chicken to cool in its liquor.

Now simmer the rest of the carrots in a pan of salted water until just tender, which will take about seven to 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Once the chicken is cooled, lift it out on to a board. Strain the liquor and reserve 500ml/17fl oz for the pie (keep the rest for stock). Tear the chicken into generous pieces, discarding the skin. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour and cook, stirring, over a very low heat for a minute or so, without colouring. Slowly stir in the reserved liquor and cook, stirring, for five minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Add the crème fraîche, season generously and take off the heat. If the sauce is at all lumpy, pass through a sieve. Stir through the chopped parsley and leave to cool.

Divide the pastry in two, making one portion slightly bigger than the other. Re-wrap the smaller one (for the lid) and return to the fridge. Roll out the other portion on a floured surface to a round, large enough to line a 20cm fluted pie tin, about 3cm deep; the round will need to be at least 28cm in diameter. Press the pastry firmly into the flutes of the tin, being careful not to stretch it – I find this easiest to do using my thumbs. Then, using a sharp knife, cut away the excess pastry so that the pastry is level with the rim of the tin. To line a flan tin, drape the pastry round over the tin and ease it in, leaving the excess overhanging the rim. Always prick the pastry base gently with a fork after lining the tin – this helps to prevent air bubbles from forming.

Chill the pastry for 15 minutes and preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

Now, line the pastry case with a piece of baking parchment and half-fill with baking beans. Bake the pastry case on the middle shelf of the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the paper and beans and bake for a further five minutes to slightly dry out the base. Set aside to cool a little.

Roll out the other piece of pastry thinly to a round, 5mm thick, for the pie lid.

Spoon the chicken mixture into the case, then, using a rolling pin, lift the second pastry over the top to cover. Press the edges together to seal and mark a cross in the centre. Brush generously with beaten egg and bake for 30 minutes until the pastry is golden-brown and the filling is bubbling. Leave to stand on a wire rack for five minutes before serving.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments