A Tale of Two Memes, Part I: Eggs on Toast
After having cooked nothing all week, I told V. that I needed to make dinner yesterday. I didn't tell him that I was doing it partly to participate in two Internet food memes, but that sort of information is released on a need-to-know basis. This post covers the entree that I made for the first meme.
I've never tried any of the Internet food memes before, mainly because I was unaware of their existence, but I enjoy taking a food-related assignment and running with it (One of my favorite cooking shows is Iron Chef, though I like it somewhat less now that I know that before the competition begins, the contestants are given a list of five possible ingredients, and the secret ingredient comes from that list. It is still impressive that they make five dishes featuring that ingredient in one hour, but the development of the dishes under time pressure was always a crucial ingredient for me. I would much prefer that the chefs get an additional five minutes to confer with their sous chefs and not know the secret ingredient in advance, but I was not consulted. Alas.), so why not?
I didn't really make the deadline for this particular meme, since it's called End of the Month Eggs on Toast, and it's past the end of the month, but perhaps they'll see fit to include me, and, if not, it's still a pretty good recipe. V., in fact, had three servings of it. Three large servings. I had two, and there were leftovers, which V. insisted on reheating and serving tonight. I reckon that under ordinary circumstances, it would serve six to eight as a one-dish dinner. I did serve some French bread with it, and we had wine, too.
This month's theme-in-the-meme is Dr. Seuss. As dedicated readers of my column (and other folk who know me from around the 'net) know, my online name comes from my admiration for Dr. Seuss. If you don't know, you can read the whole sordid story here. Sadly, my first and best idea for a Seuss-inspired dish containing eggs and carbs came not from the seminal anapestic tetrameter work of Dr. Seuss (The Cat in the Hat), but from the seminal work in iambic tetrameter. Life is, after all, a series of compromises.
The picture above is the mise en place. There is a bowl of grated cheddar hiding behind the box of ziti. Oops.
Ziti with Greens, Eggs, and Ham
12 ounces fresh spinach
A one-pound box of ziti
2 Tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups milk
1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
10 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 pound ham, cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and put in a tablespoon or so of kosher salt.
Blanch the spinach for two to three minutes, then fish it out with either tongs or a strainer of some sort, and set it aside to cool a bit. When it's cool enough to handle, squeeze as much water as possible out of it. I use a salad spinner to do this, but your hands and/or a kitchen towel will work. When it's reasonably dry, chop it up, roughly.
Meanwhile, bring the water back to the boil, and put the ziti in. Give it a good stir, and set your timer.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, add the garlic, and cook for a minute or two. You do not want the garlic to brown.
Add the milk to the saucepan and then whisk in the mustard. Continue cooking and whisking on low heat until a bit of steam rises from the surface of the milk. It should not be so hot that you can't put your finger in it for a second or two.
In a heatproof bowl, beat the eggs. Take a ladle or two of the hot milk and pour it slowly into the eggs while you whisk. Then whisk the egg-and-milk mixture back into the milk in the saucepan. Continue cooking over low or medium-low heat until the custard coats the back of the spoon. Do not let the mixture boil, or you will have something that looks like scrambled eggs, causing you to swear and then get out your immersion blender to save the day, not, you understand, that it's ever happened to me.
When the custard has thickened, turn off the heat, and stir in eight ounces of the grated cheddar, until it has melted, and the sauce is smooth. Add salt to taste (it will probably take about a teaspoon for the cheddar flavor to sing out) and then pepper, also to taste.
Do your best to have the sauce done at about the same time the ziti finishes cooking. Dump the ziti in a big bowl and dump the sauce on top of it. Add in the cubed hand and the chopped spinach, and stir very well to combine everything. Put the mixture into a large casserole dish (I used a glass 9x13 rectangular cake pan), and put it in the oven for about thirty minutes. It will seem soupy for a while, but in the end, it won't be.
Spread the remaining two ounces of grated cheddar on top, then bake for another five minutes.
A few notes:
Yes, yes, yes, what I've made here is essentially macaroni and cheese with some extras. I am a big fan of homemade macaroni and cheese.
You can probably get away with using a package of frozen spinach, but to my palate, using the fresh spinach made a substantial difference.
I don't think it has to be ziti, but the ziti works very well.
I used, as I always do, large eggs, but you could use extra large or jumbo eggs, without any problems.
I actually used turkey ham for this recipe. It worked very well. There is plenty of richness without the pork because of the eggs. Regular ham would also work, however. Virginia ham would not, but you knew that already.
I think that the extra-sharp cheddar is important here. If you don't like extra-sharp cheddar, you might try substituting something like some emmenthaler punched up with some pecorino romano. But I don't think Dr. Seuss would approve.