I've cracked it! When you're stuck for what to cook, always turn to egg.
Whenever I’m struggling to think of something to cook, particularly when the fridge and cupboard are on the bare side, eggs are always my first port of call. They’re healthy, tasty, affordable and versatile. This week, two eggy classics: a sformata – a chic, Italian, easy-cheaty soufflé – and a set custard with hot, neon-pink shards of baked rhubarb.
Romanesco broccoli and pecorino sformata
Even though soufflé is not hard to make, this dish is for those evenings when time and energy are not on your side. It’s a recipe to turn to when you feel your hand creeping for the takeaway speed-dial, even though you know you want something more fulfilling. In early spring, use blanched young nettles or wild garlic instead of romanesco. Serves six.
A knob of butter 120g grated pecorino or parmesan (or a mix of both), plus extra for sprinkling 1 small romanesco (about 600g; or normal broccoli or cauliflower), core removed and broken into florets 4 eggs, separated 300ml double cream ¼ nutmeg, finely grated Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6 and rub the butter around a one-litre baking dish. Scatter over a tablespoon of the grated cheese and shake around the dish to coat.
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and blanch the romanesco for four to five minutes, until just tender, then drain and leave to steam dry for five minutes. Once dry, finely chop and transfer to a bowl.
Beat the egg yolks and cream in another bowl until slightly thickened, then stir in the remaining cheese, nutmeg and chopped romanesco, and season well. In a third bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Stir two tablespoons of the egg whites into the romanesco mix and, once incorporated, carefully fold in the rest, taking care not to over-mix and knock out most of the air.
Tip into the baking dish so the mix comes right up to the rim, dust with a little extra cheese, and bake for 30-35 minutes (but check after 25 or so minutes, just in case; you don’t want it to take on too much colour) – when cooked, the sformata should have a slight wobble in the centre and a golden top.
I like to eat this with a crisp green salad dressed in a sharp vinaigrette.
Baked custard with orange-roasted rhubarb
My mother was so put off custard by her school that even now she needs persuading to have that first mouthful. The velvety-smooth, silky feel and, of course, wonderful taste of proper custard soon win her over, but it’s a battle every time. The addition of rhubarb turns this into a sensational pudding that’s also pleasingly easy to make. Serves four to six.
For the rhubarb 500g rhubarb 85g caster sugar The zest of 1 orange, in long, thin strips 100ml Pernod
Heat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3. In a bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks, then put to one side.
Pour the cream into a saucepan and add the vanilla pod and seeds. Place over a medium heat and slowly bring to a boil. As soon as you can see small bubbles forming around the edges, take off the heat. Whisk a generous splash of the hot cream into the egg mix and, once incorporated, slowly whisk in the rest. Discard the vanilla pod, then pour the mixture into a one-litre oven dish that’s about 5cm deep.
Fold a tea towel a couple of times, lay it in the base of a large baking tray and sit the custard dish on top (this will prevent the bottom burning). Pour boiling water into the baking tray so that it comes halfway up the sides of the custard dish and bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, until set but still a bit wobbly in the middle. Immediately remove the custard dish from the tray of hot water and set aside to cool. Turn up the oven to 200C/ 390F/gas mark 6.
While the custard is cooking, put a frying pan on a medium heat and, once warm, toast the almonds, shaking the pan fairly constantly, until pale golden. Take off the heat and tip the nuts out on to a plate to cool. Wipe the rhubarb stalks with a clean, damp cloth, and then cut into thumb-length pieces. Pop the rhubarb in a baking tray, scatter with the sugar and zest, toss to combine, then shake out so that the rhubarb lies in a single layer. Pour over the Pernod and cover the tray with foil.
Roast the rhubarb for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and roast for five minutes more, until completely tender but still holding its shape.
Serve the cooled custard with the warm rhubarb, its gorgeous juices and a sprinkling of toasted almonds.
And for the rest of the week…
Always – and I mean always – make extra rhubarb: it’s great for breakfast with thick yoghurt and a scattering of toasted nuts or seeds (my favourites are chopped almonds or pumpkin seeds). Leftover custard is hard to resist, too, and ideal for those midnight visits to the fridge (I can’t be the only one); use up excess egg whites on pomegranate meringues (see my recipe in the Christmas special). The sformata is surprisingly good warmed through the next day, and will turn colleagues green with envy about your packed lunch; any spare romanesco can be baked à la cauliflower cheese (see my book Chilli Notes for a version with cherry tomatoes and chipotle cream).
Top Photo: Thomasina Miers' romanesco broccoli and pecorino sformata: 'This dish is for when time and energy are not on your side.' Photograph: Johanna Parkin for the Guardian. Food styling: Maud Eden.