This summer I am learning that my thumb may be greener than I had thought. Herbs, lettuce, tomatoes and zucchini are slowly taking over my balcony. Some plants are beginning to get between me and the view, but any obstruction is well worth it as it is a mere consequence of the pleasures of growing something from a seed. And the pleasures of not killing it - a rut that I just could not get out of for a very long time.
I am growing all of the usual suspects - the herbs that used to overcrowd the tiny shelf in my kitchen and that feature heavily in my cooking: basil, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage. I am also growing herbs that previously I cooked with less often: chervil and tarragon. I find that the best way to get to know a herb is to buy a good-sized bundle or plant, taste the herb directly off the stem and then keep it within arm's reach while cooking so that you throw it into whatever you're making to get a sense of what foods it loves and what foods masks its own flavour.
I was always slightly unsure of tarragon because of its anise flavour. Licorise and its whole extended faimly represent one of the few tastes that I have never liked. Licorice candies, no thanks. Sambuca, pastis, or ouzo? No, I'll pass thank you. But then I got rather obsessed with a vegetable that made me reconsider anise: fennel. I'll still pass on any anise flavoured drink or candy, but I have made peace with its vegetable and herb relatives.
Oeufs en Cocotte is a very simple way to cook eggs, yet despite its simplicity it still retains some elegance. Creme fraiche adds some creamy luxury and together with the eggs it is the perfect background, neutral yet rich, for fresh tarragon and lots of it. Oeufs en Cocotte - translated directly as Chick Eggs, but better translated as eggs in pots - are similar to baked eggs (also known as shirred eggs). The difference is that baked eggs are just baked directly in the oven and oeufs en cocotte are baked in a water bath.
This recipe serves 2, but it is easy to half it to serve 1 or to double it to serve 4 (or even more if you want to serve it to a crowd). Because I am always on the lookout for new breakfasts, I like to eat oeufs en cocotte for the first meal of the day. However, they also make a nice lunch served with a green salad or even an appetizer before dinner.
You can also add vegetables such as tomatoes or spinach, some butter or olive oil, some ham or bacon, or a bit of cheese, but for me sometimes all a dish truly needs is some creme fraiche and tarragon. Extras are always nice, but never necessary.
Oeufs en Cocotte with Tarragon
2 eggs, preferably organic
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
2-4 tbsp creme fraiche
a generous amount of fresh tarragon
Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C / gas mark 4.
Mix together the creme fraiche, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Dollop half or a full tablespoon (depending on how much your prefer) into the bottom of each ramekin or an ovenproof teacup and then add some tarragon. Break an egg into each ramekin and then top with a second tablespoon (or as much as your prefer) of creme fraiche. Season with a tad more salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Place the ramekins into a baking dish and then into the oven. Pour hot water into the dish so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake until the eggs are set, about 15-18 minutes (the former if you prefer runnier eggs and the latter if you want them a bit firmer). Remove from the oven and top with a generous amount of fresh tarragon. Serve immediately with crusty bread for dipping.