Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Great Friday Night Experiment

Last night I was home with no dance class, no rehearsal, no invitation to join my popular coworkers for drinks (I'm sure it was just oversight), and no more leftover turkey bucati. I needed to make a nice, simple dinner.

Michelle can take credit for my inspiration. As soon as I saw her poached eggs resting upon a bed of mushrooms and spring onions, I knew I had a winner for nights like this when I didn't feel much like cooking a fancy meal, but I had to cook something. I was off to the market to find some spring onions and mushrooms of my own.

I headed to Whole Paychec-I mean Whole Foods and my simple dish took on a surprising detour.

I had some trouble finding the spring onions. They weren't on display with the regular onions. Once I found them, I was quite impressed with their great beauty. I didn't know if I should eat them or just photograph them. Since I am still without a digital camera, I had to settle for eating them. (Quick update on that topic. I have the full intention of buying one, but my husband says I should wait until we get the Best Buy gift certificate that Verizon promised to send us as some kind of reward for having FIOS installed. The gift continues to fail to materialize, so I remain without my own camera and the blog remains unillustrated.)

At least I knew where the mushrooms were. I headed to the back of the produce department and grabbed a package of cremini. That's when something caught my eye. Nestled in a bed of chives were these speckled things that didn't appear to be vegetables. Upon further inspection I saw that they were quail eggs. I had trouble believing that they were quail eggs (what were they doing in the produce department?) but there were signs about unspecified sizes and grades and signs about safe egg storage, so I had to believe them. I had never eaten quail eggs before. I had the crazy idea that I would use poached quail eggs instead of chicken eggs that night.

But wait...there's more!

Right beneath the quail eggs were fiddlehead ferns. I had never tried them before and I know the season is short. I figured this was the perfect time to try them. I would add them to the mushrooms and onions for a totally new experience.

I had no idea how to cook fiddleheads. A little research online told me I had to boil them for at least 10 minutes. I'm loath to boil any vegetable, but it seemed to be the only way. When I got them home to prepare them, they looked sort of scary. I cleaned them well because they do look sort of dirty and sort of like contorted alien insects. I boiled them as directed. Eight minutes was all I needed to get them tender and they looked sadly far less green when they came out of the pot as they did when they went in. I must investigate further cooking methods for these things.

I bought some prosciutto too. Michelle used crisped up prosciutto in her dish. I figured I could at least have some proscuitto in my portion. My rationale was simple. If everything else ended up tasting bad, at least I'd have prosciutto. I can always know that tastes good. I used 4 slices. That would be enough for two people. Oops. Kevin doesn't eat it. More for me. Oh and the rest of the slices in the package? Um...they went to good use. I mean, I'm sure those competely uneaten slices in the package will go to a good use in the future. Yeah. That's the ticket.

The overall result was pretty good. The mushroom-fiddlehead-onion mixture benefitted greatly by the addition of lemon juice, white wine, and fresh thyme. (I love fresh time. It's my favorite herb. Is there an herb on the planet that smells better than fresh thyme? I didn't think so.) I'm not sure how I feel about the fiddleheads. I was a bit shocked that Kevin picked one up, asked me what it was, and calmly ate it. All I can say is they taste like - plants. They taste like what you might think picking up the stalk of a houseplant or some plant you pick up in the woods would taste like. But it wasn't unpleasant. They weren't at all bitter. They were just plant-like. The quail eggs weren't radically different from chicken eggs. They are VERY hard to crack because the shells are sort of leathery. You have to just break a hole and squeeze the egg out. That's okay. They're pretty sturdy. I only broke one yolk doing this. I'm a terrible egg poacher (yes, I know about the vinegar thing), so they didn't have much shape, but it was kind of cool in a gross way to pop a whole poached yolk in your mouth and let it ooze around. I might try these again.

The testament to the succes of the dish came was when it was eaten. Kevin grabbed some slices of the fresh baguette I bought to go with it and began sopping up the juices. I did the same. I wasn't sure how he would react to the spring onions. The key to making anything with onions with him is to chop them small and cook them long. Nonetheless, he did leave a small pile of the more scallion-like bits on his plate. I expected him to do that, so I decided he must have liked the dinner.

Onward to the recipe. Measurements are inexact as always. Use your judgment.

Poached Quail Eggs in Mushroom-Fiddlehead-Spring Onion Compote (with optional proscuitto)

10 quail eggs
2Tbp each butter and olive oil
2 cups fiddlehead ferns (Okay. I just grabbed what looked like enough for two people at the store. This is totally inexact. I never measured or weighed, but I think it looked like about 2 cups)
4 slices prosciutto
10 oz. cremini mushrooms (or mushrooms of your choice) sliced
2 spring onions finely chopped, white and green parts
1 Tbl fresh thyme
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add fiddleheads. Cook about 8 minutes or until tender. Set aside.

If using prosciutto, put the slices in a hot pan until the fat has rendered a bit and the slices are crisp. Set aside.

Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet and add spring onions. Cook till soft and add mushrooms until they are soft and brown. Add cooked fiddleheads. Pour in wine, juice, and thyme. Stir well to get all vegetables coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste and allow to reduce a few minutes. Finish off with the cream.

Meanwhile poach the quail eggs.

When eggs are cooked, put the mushroom mixture on a plate and top with prosciutto slices and eggs. Serve with a nice crusty baguette for soaking up the sauce .


michelle @ TNS said...

i just had fiddlehead ferns for the first time thursday night at a fancy pants restaurant, and i was underwhelmed. the color was dark and dull, i guess from the boiling, and they just tasted blandly vegetal.

speaking of fancy pants - poached quail eggs? look at you!

Emiline said...

-Whole paycheck, heh.

-Maybe your husband used the gift certificate already. You may want to look into that.

-I love fresh thyme.

- This seems really elegant. I've never seen crimini, fiddleheads, or quail eggs before.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Michelle - Those quail eggs just called to me in the store. I've been beating myself up lately about my lack of adventurouness and new ingredients in cooking.

Eating an entire poached yolk in one bite reminds me of the episode of (GEEK ALERT) Star Trek TNG where Captain PIcard was taken prisoner by the Cardassians and woke up one morning to a breakfast of what looked like an egg, but when he cracked it open, it contained a bunch of living wormy things. Since he was hungry and didn't want to appear weak in front of his captor, he downed it. (But it was like that in a good way)

Em - I hope he didn't use that cert already. Every time I tell him I'm buying a digital camera he tells me, "Wait until we get the gift certificate." Maybe he's afraid I"ll use the camera for nefarious purposes?

While I was on line buying the eggs, people kept asking me if they were chocolate. They are small and speckled. They're very pretty.