Helen O'Connell once asked her good pal Dean Martin, "How do you like your eggs in the morning?" Mr. Martin, it turns out, liked his with a kiss - the ancient Romans, on the other hand, would have been asking for a whole lot more. This is because eggs were actually quite expensive in the ancient Mediterranean, costing one denarius per egg. If you were buying a dozen of them, as we so often do today, you'd have to fork out 12 denarii, or perhaps 10 if you knew how to barter well. When you consider that the average worker in 300 A.D. was making just 25 denarii per day, you come to recognise that eggs weren't an ingredient to be used with reckless abandon.
If we were a farmer with a few hens running around, we wouldn't need to worry so much, but as it stands we are mere manual labourers who have blown half of our pay packet on a dozen eggs because the fella' at the market convinced us it was a deal we couldn't afford to miss. What we want to know is, how do we make the most of these eggs? Why, we poach them and pour over a pine-nut sauce of course!
The recipe describes the eggs as ova hapala, which means that they ought to be very soft-boiled. I've opted to poach them briefly to achieve this effect. As you will also notice, I've omitted the lovage called for in the recipe. This isn't for any culinary reasons - I simply haven't been able to find any recently!
Poached Eggs with Pine-Nut Sauce
"Serve pepper, lovage, soaked nuts, honey, vinegar, and liquamen." - Apicius, 7.17.3
- 4 Eggs
- 40g Pine-Nuts
- 1 tsp Honey
- 1 tbsp Red-Wine Vinegar
- 1/2 tsp Pepper
- 1 tbsp Liquamen
- Soak the pine-nuts in water for several hours to soften them - this will help us make the sauce later. If you want to be that bit more decadent, soak them in white wine to add some subtle flavour to the dish.
- Pine-nuts suitably soaked, drain them and add them to a mortar (or food processor) with the honey, red-wine vinegar, pepper and liquamen. Crush crush crush. You can make the 'sauce' as smooth as you like.
- Sauce prepared, it's time to poach the eggs. For a good no-nonsense video explaining how to do this, click here. Otherwise:
- Add a few inches of water to a saucepan and bring this to a gentle simmer.
- Once the water is simmering away, add a little bit of white-vinegar - the word on science street is that this stops the egg from falling apart while it cooks. Don't let the water boil.
- Crack an egg into a small bowl or ramekin.
- Stir the water in circles to create a vortex (or invoke Neptune to do it for you). As it swirls, gently pour the egg from the bowl/ramekin into the water. You need to be gentle to prevent it falling apart.
- 4 minutes later and the egg is done. Take it out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set it into your serving dish.
- With your eggs arranged in a serving dish, spoon a little of the sauce over each of them. Finish by sprinkling over some more pepper, then tuck in and enjoy!
Perhaps it's just my predilection for poached eggs, but this dish was thoroughly enjoyable. The earthiness of the pine-nuts combined beautifully with the poached egg, whilst the sharpness of the vinegar cut through the sauce's heavy texture. The recipe is quite reminiscent of Eggs Benedict, albeit an Eggs Benedict with much stronger flavours. If you want to get the most from your expensive eggs, you need look no further.