Cocotte refers to the small oval casserole often used in France for baking eggs. Ramekins or custard cups are likely substitutes, but 8-ounce wide-mouth canning jars (without the lids) approximate renowned chef Alain Ducasse's presentation more closely and are large enough to hold two-egg, entree-size portions.
Use the best-quality farm-fresh eggs you can get your hands on; it makes a tremendous difference to the outcome. Serve the eggs, as Ducasses does, with mouillettes, rectangular batons of toasted brioche used for sopping up the egg yolks.
Make Ahead: The curried spinach mixture and the bacon, leek and cheese mixture can be made the day before and brought to room temperature before the eggs are baked.
- For the curried spinach (4 servings)
- 7 cups (11 ounces) baby spinach
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 5 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms
- 1 medium clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- For the bacon filling (4 servings)
- 1 large leek (root end trimmed), white and light-green part only (1 1/4 cups)
- 3 ounces (about 1 cup) finely grated Gruyère cheese
- 6 ounces thick-sliced bacon, cooked, drained and cut into 1/2-inch lengthwise strips
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- For the eggs
- 16 large eggs
- 8 teaspoons heavy cream
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 32 mouillettes, for serving (see NOTE)
To make the spinach filling: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the spinach and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring until the leaves are completely wilted. Drain and rinse under cold running water until cooled.
Working in two batches, use your hands to squeeze all of the water from the spinach. Chop the spinach coarsely on a cutting board to yield 3/4 cup.
Heat the butter in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, add the shiitakes and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until well browned, stirring often. Add the garlic, curry powder, salt and pepper, stirring to combine.
Add the cooked spinach, then the cream, which will bubble up and seem to reduce immediately. Remove from the heat and let cool.
To make the bacon filling: Cut the leek lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Place the slices in a large bowl of water and use your fingers to break up the pieces, releasing any grit. Let the leeks float to the top and then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a separate bowl.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the leeks and cook for 3 minutes, until softened. Drain and rinse them under cold running water until cooled. Use your hands to squeeze all of the water from the leeks and place them in a medium bowl to yield about 1/2 cup. Add the Gruyere, cooked bacon, salt, pepper and nutmeg; mix well.
To make the eggs: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Boil a kettle of water. Have ready eight 8-ounce ramekins or wide-mouth glass canning jars (without lids), and a roasting pan large enough to hold them in a single layer.
Divide the spinach filling and the bacon filling evenly among 4 ramekins each. Deposit the insides of 2 raw eggs in each ramekin. Spoon a teaspoon of heavy cream over the egg whites in each ramekin, leaving the yolks exposed. Season each ramekin lightly with salt and pepper. Place the ramekins in the roasting pan. Transfer the pan with the ramekins to the middle rack of the oven. Pour in enough of the boiled water to come one-third of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 11 to-- minutes or until the whites are set (opaque and firm when tested with the tip of a paring knife) but the yolks are still runny. Serve immediately, with mouillettes on the side.
NOTE: To make mouillettes, trim the crust from a rectangular brioche loaf or cut a traditional round brioche loaf into a rectangle. (Use the leftovers for crumbs or freeze them for stuffing or bread pudding.) Cut the rectangle into sticks, approximately 4 1/2 by 3/4 by 3/4 inches. Place the sticks on a baking sheet and bake them in a 350-degree preheated oven for 10 minutes, until golden brown. Turn the sticks over and bake for 5 minutes. If desired, brush the sticks lightly with softened butter.
From columnist David Hagedorn.
Tested by David Hagedorn.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at email@example.com.