- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Long ago, when my interest in cooking was first budding, I signed up for weekly lessons with a talented Cordon Bleu-trained teacher. At the

end of one session, I asked my instructor what her favorite ingredient was, and without pause, she responded, “The egg.”

I was stunned. This gifted chef had chosen the lowly egg over chocolate, cream or lobster. When she saw the shocked look on my face, she explained that she had picked eggs because they could be prepared myriad creative ways and could be served any time of the day. It didn’t take me long to recognize the wisdom of her choice.

That distant conversation came to mind this week as I worked on a recipe for poached eggs served on a bed of creamy polenta.

I made a small batch of polenta and then swirled in butter, Parmesan cheese and milk to soften its texture. The polenta was spooned into creme brulee dishes, topped with poached eggs, then garnished with halved grape tomatoes, chopped green onion and crispy bits of prosciutto.

When two assistants and I took our first bites, breaking into the golden yolks and scooping up some of the delicious polenta, we couldn’t believe how well the tastes and textures worked together. The eggs and polenta were mild and soft, while the tomatoes, onions and prosciutto were distinctively flavored and provided some crunch.

This dish could be the star attraction of a spring brunch. Add a platter of sliced melon, a basket of toasted ciabatta, and serve with coffee, tea or chilled prosecco. Or, use these eggs as an entree for a luncheon or light supper accompanied by a green salad, a warm peasant loaf, and some fresh berries for dessert.

A single recipe serves four but can be doubled easily. The polenta can be cooked and put into the dishes a day ahead and the prosciutto garnish combined an hour in advance so that at serving time all you’ll need to do is quickly poach the eggs.

Poached eggs on a bed of creamy polenta

2 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus 2 teaspoons for garnish

1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the baking dishes

1/4 cup milk

Kosher salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 to 5 thin slices (about 2 ounces) prosciutto, coarsely chopped

2/3 cup grape tomatoes (about 16), halved lengthwise

5 to 6 medium green onions, white and light green parts only, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)

3 tablespoons cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

4 large eggs, if possible at room temperature

Freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons chopped chives

Generously butter 4 creme brulee or gratin dishes, about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. (You also can use 1-cup ramekins or custard cups.)

For the polenta, place stock in a medium, heavy saucepan over high heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and gradually, in a thin stream, whisk in the cornmeal. Stir constantly, until mixture starts to thicken, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese and butter and stir until melted. Stir in milk. Taste and add salt, if needed.

Divide polenta evenly among the dishes and smooth with a spatula. Cover each dish with foil to keep warm and set aside. (Polenta can be made one day ahead; cool, then cover with foil and refrigerate. Reheat, covered, in a 300-degree preheated oven until warmed through, 10 minutes or longer.)

For topping, heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When hot, add prosciutto and saute and stir until crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Combine prosciutto, tomatoes and green onions in a small bowl. (Mixture can be prepared 1 hour ahead; leave at room temperature.)

For eggs, use an egg poacher if you have one and follow the manufacturer’s directions. Otherwise, fill a large skillet with 2 to 3 inches of water. Set pan over medium heat and when water is just about to come to a boil, add vinegar. Adjust heat so that water stays at a gentle simmer.

Crack eggs into a saucer, then slide gently into the water. Poach eggs, uncovered, until whites are set and yolks have started to thicken but are not hard, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove each egg with a slotted spoon and place atop a dish with polenta. Salt and pepper eggs generously, then divide the prosciutto mixture evenly among the 4 dishes. Sprinkle each serving with remaining Parmesan cheese and with chives. Makes 4 servings.




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