Camino's Egg Baked in Cream

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Can a dinner be called adorable? If, say, it consists of one delicate little egg sitting sweetly atop a bed of herbed, tender leeks, bathed in a fillip of cream and gently dusted with salt and pepper, then I would say yes. Besides, anything served in a nice, white ramekin is just so cute. Did I just lose all my male readers with that? I'm sorry, don't leave. You'll want to eat this, too, I promise. Besides, the ramekin was my idea. If you have a cazuela, or other ceramic dish that's a little bigger than a twee little ramekin, you can turn this into a two-or-three egg meal in a flash.

The recipe comes from Camino in Oakland and is just right for those solo dinners at home, though it's also easily multiplied so that everyone at your table can have their own little ramekin. In fact, I recommend that no matter how many people you're cooking for, you make an extra pile of the herbed leeks. (1/4 cup of leeks just feels...unnecessarily fussy.) What do you do with extra cooked leeks? Oh ho ho. Do you have an hour? Stir them into pasta or leftover rice. Use them as sandwich filling or to give scrambled eggs an edge. Mixed with boiled potatoes and milk and puréed, then thinned as desired, you can have anything from leek mashed potatoes to shortcut potage Parmentier (not to mention vichyssoise). They keep well in the fridge for a bit and deepen their flavor as the hours go by and seem to be one of the most useful vegetables ever.

I love useful vegetables.

Anyway, that's about the hardest part of the recipe, cleaning the leeks, that is. I cooked them longer than the recipe called for, about ten minutes, because I like stewy leeks that grow sweeter with each passing minute. Cooking the leeks for just two minutes gives them a bit more bite. Do as you like best. I piled a small amount of the leeks into a ramekin, cracked an egg over the top, poured a few spoonfuls of half-and-half on top and did some artful pepper-cracking. After exactly 12 minutes in a hot oven, I pulled out a savory-sweet baked egg, cream bubbling at the edge, white set just so, and yolk still gorgeously runny.

Ooh, runny yolks. The best part, wouldn't you say?

Armed with a heel of crusty bread, I polished off my adorable dinner in minutes. Eyeing the remaining leeks in the pan, and the oven I'd serendipitously left on, it only took me a few seconds to decide to make a second helping.

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Adorable, schmadorable. These are good.

Egg Baked in Cream
Serves 1 with leftover leeks for many uses

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
4 leeks, sliced, light green and white parts only
Salt
2 sprigs thyme, leaves roughly chopped
2 sprigs parsley, leaves roughly chopped
1 large farm-fresh egg
About 2 tablespoons half-and-half
Coarsely ground black pepper
Grilled or toasted bread slices

1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. In a small sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks, a splash of water and a pinch of salt and cook until the leeks are tender, about 2 minutes. Add the herbs and transfer to a 6-inch cazuela, cocotte or other ceramic dish, covering the bottom with the butter, leeks and herbs.

2. Crack the egg into the middle of the dish. Add enough half-and-half to barely cover the white. Sprinkle with salt and coarsely ground pepper. Cook until the white is set, 8 to 12 minutes. Serve with grilled or toasted bread.


Gabrielle Hamilton's Chickpea Salad with Four-Minute Eggs

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I don't know if it's the cold weather or the darkness or the fact that I'm feeling lazier than usual, but we have been subsisting almost entirely on pantry staples for over a week now. Normally, I go to the grocery store almost every day, just to pick up a fresh bundle of greens or a grapefruit or two, a little bit of fish or chicken, or to get quick inspiration from the aisles before I trundle home. But it's been a rough week, I guess, and I haven't had the energy or the stamina for that. So instead I'm working through the cans and sacks in the kitchen and whatever I can find in the crisper drawer or the fridge.

Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food has been helping us out nicely - I made a seriously abbreviated and yet totally delectable Chicken Tikka Masala on Wednesday that had us hunched over our plates in glee, though we ate it up so quickly I couldn't take a photo for you; and I've got big plans for a bag of frozen peas and an onion come Monday or Tuesday. (The excitement! I know, you can barely stand it.) There are other things, too - our old workhorse: pasta with tomato sauce, and our new favorite, Molly and Brandon's black beans, which has been our Saturday lunch for the past three weeks and counting.

(It's kind of amazing, all the things you can do with well-stocked cupboards and some inspiration...)

And then there is this chickpea salad, which does an amazing job of cleaning out your entire fridge (what do you mean, you don't have a bundle of parsley, a handful of green olives, a couple of eggs, and some dodgy-looking radishes hanging around like a bunch of thugs in the back? Who are you?) in addition to tasting pretty darn good, packing a nutritional punch and looking much like spring on a plate, which is a highly desirable thing in the miserable depths of winter when all you can do is think long and hard about how uncomfortably hot it will surely get, once again, just be patient, mmhm, mmhm.

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You layer smashed and unsmashed chickpeas, dressed with a sharp lemon vinaigrette, with a spiky little salad of parsley leaves, quartered radishes, green olives and some scallions for good measure (though those were the one things that I didn't have, and I wasn't exactly going to go out and buy some, was I, so I did without - you can, too). Then you balance wobbly eggs cooked to molten-yolk perfection on top. With crusty bread waiting in the sidelines, you gleefully use your fork to split open the egg and watch the yolk ooze around the plate, dressing the salad with its sweet, sticky, yellow self.

It's quite a strange little meal, and I mean that in the best way possible. It's a kitchen-sink salad, and though I don't usually like kitchen-sink salads, this one's different, somewhat special, weird and funky, strange but tasty. More than anything, it's fresh. Which might seem funny considering that all of the ingredients had been knocking around my kitchen for longer than anyone would care to think, but that's the odd genius of it.

So tell me, readers: what are your favorite pantry meals? What do you cook when you just can't bear going outside to the store again and you have to make do with what you've got?

Chickpea Salad with Four-Minute Eggs
Serves 4

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
One 19-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup small green olives, pitted
10 small red radishes, quartered
2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 scallions, white and light green parts, finely chopped
4 large eggs, at room temperature

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. In another medium bowl, lightly crush half of the chickpeas; mix in the whole chickpeas. Add half of the vinaigrette to the chickpeas and toss. Add the olives, radishes, parsley and scallions to the rest of the vinaigrette and toss. Spoon the chickpea salad onto 4 plates and top with the parsley salad.

2. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the eggs and boil over moderately high heat for 4 minutes. Drain, then rinse the eggs under cool water for 1 minute. Using the back of a spoon, gently crack the eggs all over and peel the shell off.

3. Set an egg on each salad and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the salads with salt and pepper and serve immediately.


Judy Rodgers's Mizuna with Potatoes and Shallot Vinaigrette

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Nostalgia for the Italian countryside is all well and good, but some things can happen only in New York.

Consider this: walking down 17th Street at dusk last night, I saw a group of people clustered in front of a rug store. As I got closer, I heard strains of choral music and before I knew it, I was standing in the gutter in front of The Renaissance Street Singers, listening to a 15th century hymnal as pretty young things in bright frocks passed us by and a toddler noodled around on the sidewalk. I'd come from Union Square, populated by  21st century skateboarders and leggy models and red-faced suits, and passed directly into another time. A few minutes later, the singers dispersed and I headed home in the setting sun.

It was kind of magical.

All week long, I've been waking early in the morning, still adjusting to Eastern Standard Time. And each morning, I've rolled over and reached for a slim little book sitting on my bedside table. Edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler (who was kind enough to send me a copy), it's a collection of essays about eating and cooking for one. Sandwiched between Laurie Colwin's famous "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant" and Rosa Jurjevics's "Food Nomad" (Jurjevics is Colwin's daughter), the essays range from the strictly utilitarian (Marcella Hazan) to the unabashedly literary (Haruki Murakami).

The collection's pretty charming: M.F.K. Fisher complains about her too-oft reliance on the "occasional egg" for dinner, Steve Almond waxes rhapsodic about an odd concoction called the Quesarito and Mary Cantwell fights for her right to dine out alone. Each essay is a pleasantly voyeuristic snapshot, like looking into someone's grocery basket. And it got me thinking about my own habits when I'm home alone, looking for dinner. Sometimes it means I get to buy the stingingly spicy hot & sour soup from the Sichuan restaurant up the street. Other times, it means I can make the sauteed cherry tomato-canned tuna pasta sauce that Ben just doesn't like. A simple green salad and a wedge of cheese, a broiled steak, or baked beans and broccoli - all of these, too, are my dinners for one.

Last night, inspired by your comments and armed with a recipe that Judy Rodgers published in the New York Times five years ago, I made a funny little salad of spiky mizuna leaves, creamy potatoes, sharp slivers of shallots, boiled eggs, and a tangy dressing to bind it all together. I'll be honest, this wasn't my favorite meal. The mizuna was full-grown and untameable, so even cut into bite-sized pieces, I found myself fighting the leaves all the way. I think I'm more of a frisee kind of girl. Also, raw shallots leave me interminably thirsty. Anyone else? It's so odd. I prefer to avoid them.

But, you know, despite the salad, it was a satisfying evening nonetheless. Sometimes it's just the little things. I had the apartment to myself, I was eating up the greens in my CSA box, clearing the pantry of old shallots and even older potatoes, I could giggle with my mouth full at The Office reruns, and daydream happily for the weekend. I had dinner on the table and a full sensation in my soul.

And you? Tell me what you make when you're home alone with an eggplant, or without. I'd love to know. Something tells me you've got some interesting meals to share.

Baby Mustard Greens with Potatoes and Shallot Vinaigrette
Serves 4

3/8 pound Yellow Finn, Bintje or German butterball potatoes, peeled and cut in irregular bite-size chunks
Sea salt
6 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Champagne or white wine vinegar
1 large shallot, slivered
4 ounces baby red mustard greens or mizuna, rinsed and dried
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
1 teaspoon freshly crushed black peppercorns

1. Place potatoes in a saucepan with cold water to cover. Season water liberally with salt. Bring to a simmer, cook just until potatoes are tender, 6 to 8 minutes, then drain. When potatoes stop steaming, transfer them to a wide bowl.

2. Combine oil, vinegar and salt to taste, and drizzle about one-third of this dressing over potatoes. Add shallot. Fold together with a rubber spatula. Dressing will pick up creaminess from potatoes. Set aside.

3. Place mustard greens or mizuna in a second wide bowl suitable for serving. Toss with half of the remaining dressing. Add potato mixture, and fold in gently. Halve eggs lengthwise, then cut in crosswise slices  1/8-inch thick. Scatter over salad, add remaining dressing, and fold once or twice very gently. Dust with crushed pepper, and serve.


Abuela Margarita's Flan

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It's always so difficult, isn't it? To find yourself on the wrong end of a holiday, trying desperately to remember the sight and texture of everything that had been in front of you just hours before: the glint of sun on the acacia leaves, the tiny lizard shimmying along the terracotta patio, the sweet-smelling breeze brushing up against your skin, salty from a morning at the beach.

On the drive to the train station yesterday morning, I told myself sternly to memorize every bump in the road, every burnished field we passed, every not-yet-entirely-unfurled sunflower head, every quiet farm stand selling peaches, every putt-putting motorcycle, every touch from my mother's hand. Like pearls on a broken string, I can feel the sensation of these things falling away in little pops. It's funny what distance does - makes everything you had so clearly in front of you turn blurry. Sharp edges turn soft, warmth fades to cool, the storm that is love and grief at taking leave becomes a gentle lump somewhere in your chest that you try your best to ignore.

I sat in my bed this morning, the window pulled open and New York City trucks rattling the frame as they drove by. Suddenly, a whiff of linden blossoms blew in, the very smell that had been hanging in the air all week in Italy. There I sat, very much in one place, when the scent of another came in. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I could see my grandfather sitting on the top stoop of his house in his slippers, my mother with the garden hose by the roses, my aunt waving from the gate, the tree tops rippling in the wind. Then I breathed out and they were gone.

Sometimes, I wonder at my life. Is this how it will always be? Being in one place and wanting another, not knowing how to accept that a body cannot be divided and sent in diverging directions. Here and there, near and far. I think I am lucky to have both.

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Lucky, too, to have spent a week eating milky-sweet ricotta, firm cherries from the orchard, stewy roast peppers with four generations of my family at the dinner table, boozy pistachio gelato in Urbino's main piazza before a warm afternoon thunderstorm, flaky crescia sfogliata filled with stewed chard after a few diligent hours in the Ducal palace, drippy, sun-warmed melons on the back patio.

And with Ben's brother-in-law joining my aunt in the kitchen at times, we had paella and flan as well. Lucky us, indeed. One night, after a Marchigianian feast of homemade tagliatelle with pigeon ragu, tomatoes stuffed with wild fennel-scented bread crumbs, and rosemary-roasted rabbit, Francisco brought out his abuela Margarita's flan, eggy and cool and spiced just so with cinnamon and lemon. We ate slices of it, sauced with gently bitter caramel, under the starry night sky.

Though all good things, maddeningly, must come to an end, at least the clothes in our suitcase still smell of the herbs my mother cut from my grandfather's garden, a jar of our neighbor's acacia honey fills my kitchen with sunshine, 903 photographs from the last ten days clog my computer and I've got a few prized recipes to recreate in my own kitchen. Best of all, when I close my eyes, I can still see red poppies lining the road and feel my mother hug me tightly. That'll have to do until next time. Which can't come soon enough. 

Flan
Serves 10-12


200 grams of granulated sugar, plus 5 tablespoons
1/2 liter of milk (whole is preferred, but 1% works)
1 organic lemon
1 cinnamon stick
4 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle 5 tablespoons of sugar at the bottom of a cake pan, and add a judicious squeeze of lemon juice. Place the pan over medium heat and swirl the pan occasionally, until the sugar melts and then caramelizes. Let the sugar turn a deep brown, then turn off the heat. Don't let the sugar burn, but do let it color substantially. Set aside

2. Heat the milk in a heavy saucepan with a 1-inch piece of lemon peel and the cinnamon stick. When the milk comes to a boil, turn off the heat and let the milk sit for a few minutes. While the milk is steeping, whisk together the eggs and the remaining sugar until the mixture is frothy and pale.

3. Discard the lemon peel and cinnamon stick and very slowly pour a thin stream of hot milk into the beaten egg mixture, taking care not to let the eggs curdle. When the milk has been entirely incorporated into the eggs, pour the custard through a strainer into the caramel-lined pan. Place the pan carefully on a rimmed cookie sheet. Pour water into the cookie sheet until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan.

4. Put the pan in the hot oven and bake for an hour, or until the top of the custard is burnished and the custard has set. (A cake tester inserted into the custard should come out clean.) Carefully remove the cake pan from the cookie sheet and let it cool on a rack. When the custard has cooled, store the pan in the fridge. Before serving, place a large plate over the cake pan, then flip the pan so that the caramel is on top of the custard. Cut into wedges and serve.


Amanda Hesser's Revueltos con Chorizo

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This is the only thing I've cooked since Thursday (not including Ben's birthday cake, but more on that later). It's been a busy couple of days around here! Surprise out-of-town birthday guests, a dinner for 24 people, the advent (at last!) of spring so glorious that I felt like a puppy when we went outside, just itching to rub my body up against the sunshine.

But back to the eggs. I can't find the actual recipe (from the NY Times Magazine a few years ago, when Amanda also wrote about Fluffy Orange Shortcake, remember?) for these that I clipped and then stashed away somewhere. It's driving me a little nuts. But I sort of remember the general gist of it and I keep telling myself you won't mind if I wing it for you. You won't, will you? It tasted awfully good when I winged it (wung it?) on Thursday, so here goes nothing.

You take some of your dried Spanish chorizo lying in your fridge. (Doesn't everyone have a link of Palacios chorizo hanging out in there? If not, you should. Don't make the mistake I made once of letting my chorizo sit in the cupboard for a week or two or three only to find it then entirely covered in an even white layer of fuzzy mold. Right as I was about to start cooking.) You slice 9 or 10 small discs of the stuff. You put these in a pan (nonstick or stainless steel, whatever your poison), turn the heat on low and let the fragrant, orange fat render out for a bit. In the meantime, you very lightly beat together two or three eggs (depending on your age, height and sex, I suppose). Let there still be some nicely separated globs of yolk and white. When there looks to be enough fat in the pan, pour in the eggs. Using a rubber spatula, turn the eggs and the chorizo together a few times. Let the curds develop on the larger side, then turn off the heat when the eggs still look moist. The whole process shouldn't take more than a minute or two.

The scrambled eggs will be plump and streaked with orange. The dark red chorizo discs will peek out from the billowy folds of egg. You'll pile the lot on a plate (for me, it goes without saying that this is a single-girl's or guy's dinner, but I'm sure there are many of you out there with partners who would happily eat this for dinner, too), settle down on the couch with a glass of wine (or a heel of crusty bread), and dig into the creamy, salty, porky eggs that have soft pockets and crispy edges and satisfy your hunger entirely.

Delicious.

And that birthday cake? Comes courtesy of Martha Stewart, and fulfills many people's expectations of the quintessential chocolate birthday cake (three layers, glossy frosting, crazy chocolate flavor). The first time I made this, I brought it to Central Park for my friend Emily's birthday. The Met was performing in the park and the place was crammed with people. Near where my friends and I had set up camp, a few couples sat and entertained a toddler. After I pulled out the candle-bedecked cake, we realized that the little toddler had waddled over to us and was standing behind our circle, transfixed by the towering cake. Mesmerized.  Couldn't take her eyes off the thing. We asked her parents if we could give her a piece of the cake, and they said it was fine as long as they got to have some as well.

Before long, the cake was being eaten by a far larger crowd than I had originally expected. My head got fat with everyone's compliments while opera singers warbled in the background and New York felt like a little village filled with happy people. It was Emily's birthday, but I felt like I had won the lottery.

It was July 2001.


Nancy Silverton's Pappardelle with Bagna Cauda, Wilted Radicchio and an Olive-Oil-Fried Egg

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I've been eating pretty well lately. More than pretty well, spectacularly even. You already know all about my delicious adventures in Los Angeles and, frankly, my kitchen's been quite good to me lately, too. It's almost too good to be true. From honey dates and kumquats to gai lan and braised fennel, I have been bandying about the superlatives with an uncharacteristically heavy hand. Which makes me a little nervous. Because what if you, my dear readers, start to question all this enthusiasm? Have I been waxing too rhapsodic lately? Am I still credible if I rave, yet again, about something that might be the most delicious thing I've ever tasted?

I guess I have to hope that you trust me. And tell you that if you don't listen to me on this one, you will seriously be missing out on a meal that had me practically laughing with glee as I ate it last night. Is that the corniest thing you've ever read? I swear it's true. It was that good. Unbelievably good.

I-can't-believe-my-taste-buds good.

I got the recipe from Sunday's New York Times Magazine, where Christine Muhlke reviewed Nancy Silverton's latest book, A Twist of the Wrist. I now covet this book with a burning lust. (Well, to be honest, I did before I tried the recipe, too. But now? My lust has reached alarming heights.) Because if this dish was so ridiculously good, who knows what else is hiding in there? I have to find out. I simply have to.

But while I'm off ghosting around the aisles of the bookstore, do me a favor and get yourselves to the kitchen, post-haste, to make this for dinner. Even you anchovy-haters! I promise up, down and side-to-side that you will love this, too. I know it. (Just make someone else cook it for you, so you don't get all squee-ed out by the hairy fish factor.)

You melt a bunch of anchovies into some olive oil (I left out the butter - it seemed like too much fat for me) with what seems like an inordinate amount of minced garlic. The key is to do this over low heat, so the garlic barely colors and the anchovies really disintegrate. One minute little fish fillets are fizzing about in your pan, the next minute they've just...melted into aromatic nothingness. You turn off the heat, add lemon zest, lemon juice, minced parsley and shredded radicchio and stir it around until the radicchio is slick with oil and everything is well-combined.

You then toss boiled noodles (I used regular egg noodles, in the spirit of Nancy's "convenience cooking") in the pan with the anchovied radicchio until the sauce is fragrant and the radicchio is wilted (extra pasta water ensures that nothing dries out). Each plate is topped with grated Parmigiano and a fried egg with a molten yolk. This means that when you use your fork to break the egg, the yolk oozes all over the pasta and binds it together with this luscious, golden, savory sauce. The salty anchovies, the sweet garlic, the acidic lemon, the fragrant peel, the bitter radicchio, and the rich egg all meld into a spectacular combination of flavors that you can't really identify when they're harmonizing together in your mouth.

It's quite remarkable. In fact, I'm really kind of in awe. How did Nancy figure this one out? This creation is proof (if the myriad restaurants and bakeries, previous books, and other related ventures weren't already) of serious, serious talent. Trust me when I say this is among the best things to ever come out of my kitchen. I'm laminating, Hall-of-Faming this one. Oh, yes. I think you will, too.

You won't be able to help yourself.

Egg Pappardelle With Bagna Cauda, Wilted Radicchio and an Olive-Oil-Fried Egg
Serves 4

For the pappardelle and bagna cauda:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
15 anchovy fillets
8 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
12 radicchio leaves, torn into small pieces
Grated zest and juice of half a lemon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces egg pappardelle

For finishing the dish:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
Parmesan cheese
1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. To make the bagna cauda, place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, anchovies and garlic and cook, breaking up the anchovies with a fork and stirring constantly, until the anchovies dissolve and the garlic is soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the parsley, radicchio and lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Prepare the pasta by bringing a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add enough kosher salt until the water tastes salty and return to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.

3. To finish the dish, heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat until the oil is almost smoking, about 2 minutes. Break 1 egg into a small bowl and pour into the skillet. When it just begins to set around the edges, break the second egg into the bowl and pour into the skillet. (By waiting a moment before adding the next egg, the eggs won’t stick together.) Repeat with the remaining 2 eggs. Cook until the edges are golden, the whites are set and the yolks are still runny.

4. Use tongs to lift the pasta out of the water and transfer it quickly, while it’s dripping with water, to the skillet with the bagna cauda. Place the skillet over high heat. Toss the pasta to combine the ingredients and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more.

5. Using tongs, divide the pasta among 4 plates, twisting it into mounds. Grate a generous layer of cheese over each. Place an egg over the cheese. Sprinkle the parsley over the pasta and serve with more grated cheese and pepper.


Julie Powell's Garlic Soup with Poached Eggs

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I'm surprised that it's taken me this long to get around to cooking something by Julie Powell (and thereby, of course, Julia Child). I probably don't need to introduce Julie to you lot, but just in case there's a poor soul among my readers who hasn't discovered the side-splitting misadventures of Julie Powell as she cooked her way through Every Single Recipe In Mastering The Art of French Cooking, then stop reading this right now and head on over to settle in for a long day of catch-up.

Several months ago, Julie wrote an article in the NY Times Magazine about a temporary separation she and her husband Eric endured, and the cooking she did in those lonely days to keep herself distracted and fed. Like many of her former bleaders who had read her blog so devotedly they started to think that Julie was a close personal friend, I found myself shocked - just shocked! - that her marriage to her husband was on the rocks. After all, Eric had been just as much a part of the Julie/Julia Project as anything else. He washed dishes selflessly, he made spicy Tex-Mex when neither of them could look at another stick of butter, and he brought Julie to her senses when she wallowed a bit too long in self-pity.

Why, then, would this seemingly perfectly matched pair feel the need to take a break? I couldn't imagine Julie without Eric, perhaps just as Julia couldn't be imagined without Paul. The separation was long over by the time the article went to press, and I felt palpable relief when Julie assured her readers that she and Eric were back together. But the melancholy that Julie described about being alone after a long period of, well, not being alone, stayed with me.

Last night, I was at home by myself, with little appetite to speak of and no energy for grocery shopping. I'd have to make dinner with what was left in the house, and it was precious little, I knew. (Well, there was a full jar of this ridiculous stuff that I brought back from Berlin, but I hadn't stooped to the point where that'd be acceptable for dinner. There have been nights when that would be the case, but last night it wasn't. Thank God.) When I spied Julie's soup recipe, I knew that'd have to be it

I filled a small pot with the requisite water and pinches of herbs and a spoonful of oil and before long the kitchen filled with a lushly aromatic scent. After the broth had steeped long enough, I drained the clear liquid into a clean pot and pressed all the creamy juice out of the garlic cloves, rendering the broth a milky white. The eggs I had were just two days old (fresh, fresh eggs are key here), and when I cracked them into the hot broth, the whites barely separated. After just a minute of poaching, I spooned the quivering egg and some broth into a bowl, grated Parmigiano on top and settled down to eat my one-bowl meal.

It was like the best-tasting medicine ever, medicine for heartbreak or disillusionment or depression or gluttony. It was warming and soothing, but nourishing, too. You know you're doing something good for your soul when you eat this soup. It wasn't necessarily pretty to look at (in fact, I hope you don't find the picture of that glowing orb of a yolk too gruesome - it was exceedingly difficult to photograph), but it had huge amounts of flavor. And maybe a little bit of magic, too.

Garlic Soup With Poached Eggs
Makes 6 servings

1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried sage
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
4 parsley sprigs
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 eggs, as needed
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Crusty bread, optional

1. In a large saucepan, combine the garlic, salt, pepper, sage, thyme, bay leaf, parsley sprigs and olive oil. Add 2 quarts of water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil; then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

2. Pour through a fine-meshed strainer into a heatproof bowl, pressing on the garlic to squeeze out as much flavor into the broth as possible. Let cool and then transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until needed.

3. To prepare a serving for one, ladle about 1 1/3 cups of broth into a small saucepan. Place over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer. Carefully break an egg into the broth (do not break the yolk) and poach until the white is just set, about 1 ½ minutes. (It will continue to cook off the heat.) Transfer the egg to a soup bowl and pour the broth gently over it. Garnish with parsley and cheese. If desired, serve with crusty bread.