I DO LIKE THEM THE PANTRY MAG­PIE

Do you like green eggs and ham? Try them and you might change your mind.

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - FOOD, ANNA KING SHAHAB -

Igrew up en­dur­ing end­less te­dious school­yard jokes about whether I ate green eggs and ham. Sam did not eat green eggs and ham. Clearly I was a deeply la­conic child with no time for dog­gerel.

The adult Sam has changed his tune. Adult Sam does eat green eggs and ham. Well, greens with eggs and pro­sciutto, but let’s not get too pedan­tic here. (And it’s more than per­fectly clear from my prose that now I ab­so­lutely revel in dog­gerel.)

I’m ter­ri­bly fond of baked eggs. They make an im­pres­sive and de­cep­tively easy break­fast dish for large num­bers of peo­ple. Dou­ble or triple the recipe be­low as you see fit. The key is to not overdo the yolks; you want them to run ev­ery­where and act as a sauce, to be mopped up with a bit of good bread.

If you can get hold of some of that Clevedon Buf­falo Curd, go for it. If I’m not care­ful I’ll de­mol­ish an en­tire jar in one sit­ting with ab­so­lutely no re­grets whatsoever.

GREEN EGGS AND HAM

Prep time: 15 mins Cook time: 15-20 mins Serves: 4

Olive oil 4 cloves of gar­lic, finely sliced 1 leek, trimmed, finely sliced and washed

1 red onion, finely sliced

Bunch of as­para­gus, ends re­moved and halved

Hand­ful of broc­col­ini, halved 1 lemon

Sea salt and black pep­per 8 slices of pro­sciutto 8 free-range eggs 100g soft cheese (goat, buf­falo) or feta Small hand­ful of mint

In a large, deep pan or flame­proof casse­role over a medium heat, add a lit­tle olive oil, let it heat up and then add the gar­lic, leek and onion. Saute gen­tly for 6-8 min­utes un­til ev­ery­thing is soft, fra­grant and translu­cent. Throw in the as­para­gus and broc­col­ini and fold ev­ery­thing to­gether. Zest in the lemon and add a squeeze of juice. Sea­son ev­ery­thing well to taste. Scat­ter the pro­sciutto over the top and then crack the eggs over the top of ev­ery­thing. Give the pan a bit of a jig­gle so that the egg set­tles out evenly, then pop a lid on and con­tinue to cook at a low-ish heat for an­other 5-6 min­utes, un­til the egg whites are just set and the yolks are still runny. Sea­son again, driz­zle over a lit­tle olive oil, dot the soft cheese over the top and tear up the mint and scat­ter over. Serve while still lovely and hot, per­haps with some good bread on the side to mop up the good­ness.

Pe­ri­od­i­cally, I en­ter­tain the no­tion of strip­ping my pantry and start­ing again, with a blank can­vas and re­straint. We’re bom­barded with mes­sages these days about scal­ing back, de­clut­ter­ing, be­ing “a min­i­mal­ist”. When I have a new friend over, some­one who maybe doesn’t know me so well, and I open those tall doors in front of them, I’m prone to a brief flush of shame. Shame for not con­form­ing to the cur­rent ideal: new jars neatly lined up and care­fully la­belled (not like mine with their old la­bels cling­ing on for dear life); noth­ing on show in pack­ets; room on the shelves for im­promptu dry-goods, a teddy bear’s pic­nic, small ap­pli­ances.

These fits of dis­con­tent even­tu­ally pass as I al­low my mind to set­tle back into the knowl­edge that the pay-off for a min­i­mal­ist pantry for me would mean a) a min­i­mal cook­ing reper­toire, b) end­less trips to get last-minute sup­plies or c) take­aways or – worse yet – I’d be forced to rely on packet sauces, curry pastes and spice mixes.

So my pantry is full, but I still want it tidy, and therein lies an­other test­ing is­sue: the cat­a­logu­ing of items. Harder than you might think. Vine­gars, Asian sauce, other sauces, oils in rows. But when I have to split a row in half, or encounter a pesky bot­tle too tall to fit in its slot, my self-es­teem wilts. I dilly-dally over whether to group break­fast-es­que items in one area, even if it means the spread col­lec­tion sit­ting a lit­tle out of the kids’ reach, ne­ces­si­tat­ing the end­less drag­ging of a chair across the floor­boards. Where’s best to store the over­flow of lentils (three kinds), quinoa, freekeh, gen­maicha tea bought in bulk? There are no sim­ple an­swers. Each so­lu­tion begets a new dilemma.

But when I want to cook char kuey teow, I know my pantry will yield dark soy, light soy, ke­cap ma­nis, oys­ter sauces. When a win­try day calls for chunky broth, I’ll find bar­ley, split peas, red lentils. I won’t need to nip out to get dark mus­cav­ado, al­mond flour or psyl­lium husk when I’m on a bak­ing roll, and chances are I’ll have the right kind of pasta to carry a par­tic­u­lar sauce.

I’m aware that this sounds like that overused phrase, a “first world prob­lem”, in light of the ap­palling state of food se­cu­rity that plagues the world – and this coun­try. An over­stocked pantry! If me scal­ing back would help any­thing more than scratched floor­boards and buck­ling shelves, I’d throw my­self into it. But it won’t. Now, for the fridge...

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