Pillow talk: Yotam Ottolenghi’s scrambled eggs recipes (2024)

A few weeks ago, in a column about steaming, I said that cooking was essentially the transformation of raw food into something completely different, and that it’s usually the application of heat that brings about this wondrous change. Well, nowhere is this transformation more wonderful or dramatic than in eggs, which in my book are the very essence of life.

Uncooked, egg whites and egg yolks are just a runny mass: bland, slimy, unpleasant. But when they’re exposed to heat, particles start to move faster, and chains of protein unfold, come together and coagulate, and in so doing create a structure that’s firm enough to cut with a knife. A delicious little miracle.

The protean nature of eggs makes for a multitude of ways to cook, use and eat them. The yolk alone opens the door to a world rich in custard and cream, the white to a world light with meringues, macaroons and mousse; combine the two, and the feast is complete. Eggs can be all things to all dishes: they are the emulsifier, the reconciler, the enricher, the clarifier, the one that shines, refines and completes. The essence of life indeed.

For me, though, the most appealing configuration is also the simplest. Even my two-year-old is pretty close to mastering (under my watchful eye, of course) the art of scrambling an egg. Well, not quite: if I’m totally honest, good scrambled egg relies on an acute sense of timing, which Max is yet to acquire. You need to identify the right moments gently to stir the eggs, I always tell him, to lift those pillowy curds up to the surface, and to take the pan off the heat the moment the egg sets. Even so, it’s still pretty much as simple as cooking gets.

Lucky Max: he has his best years ahead of him, eating scrambled eggs to his heart’s content. When I was growing up, by contrast, we were allowed only two or three eggs a week, as per the Dietary Guidelines for America recommendations. Fortunately, these have since been revised. Having been pushed from the breakfast table of the 80s and 90s – competition from sweet cereals, health concerns (remember the salmonella panic?) and a phobia of cholesterol all played a part – eggs are now at long last back on the official “healthy to eat” list. I’ve always taken so-called health advice with a pinch of salt but, still, this marks another triumph for common sense and a cause for celebration. And, as with all good celebrations, also a reason to crack something open – in this case, some eggs.

Scrambled eggs with spice-studded rice

Whenever I cook rice, I always have leftovers, so I’m forever looking for new ways to use them up. This dish was inspired by one in Twelve Recipes, a charming book by Chez Panisse’s Cal Peternell. Serves four.

2 tbsp ghee
1 extra-large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
12 black peppercorns, lightly crushed
2 cloves
15 fresh curry leaves
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp urfa chilli flakes (or ¼ tsp regular chilli flakes), plus a pinch to finish
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground turmeric
350g cooked basmati rice (roughly 140g uncooked rice)
5 medium eggs, beaten
70g feta, broken into 1.5cm pieces
1½ tbsp lime juice
5g coriander, roughly chopped
1 spring onion, thinly sliced (optional)

Melt a tablespoon of ghee in a large sauté pan on a medium-high heat. Fry the shallot and garlic for five minutes, until golden-brown and soft, then stir in the cardamoms, peppercorns and cloves, and cook for another minute. Add the curry leaves, mustard seeds, chilli, cumin and turmeric, and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Turn down the heat to medium, add the cooked rice and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Stir, then push the rice to the edge of the pan, leaving a large space in the centre for the eggs.

In a bowl, mix the eggs with an eighth of a teaspoon of salt; spoon the remaining ghee into the space in the pan. When the ghee has melted, pour in the eggs and leave for 30 seconds, until just beginning to set on the bottom, then stir gently, lifting the set egg to the surface. Stop stirring, then repeat after 30 seconds more. Gently fold in the feta, until the eggs are just cooked; don’t worry if some rice gets incorporated into the eggs as they cook, but aim to keep the two as separate as possible.

Drizzle over the lime juice, and sprinkle with the coriander, spring onion and a pinch of chilli. Bring the pan to the table, so everyone can help themselves to eggs and rice in the proportion they desire.

Scrambled eggs with olive oil and roast peppers

The cream cheese on toast is a welcome and hearty addition, but the eggs have enough body to be enjoyed without. Serves four

2 red peppers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
270g new potatoes
100ml olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 tsp cumin seeds, gently crushed
1 tsp hot-smoked paprika
5 eggs, beaten
10g coriander, roughly chopped
60g cream cheese
4 thick slices of sourdough, toasted

Heat the oven to 240C/465F/gas mark 9. Put the peppers on a small baking tray and roast for 30 minutes, turning halfway through, until blackened and blistered all over. Transfer to a small bowl, cover with cling-film and set aside. Once cool enough to handle, peel off and discard the skin, seeds and juice, and cut the flesh into long, 0.5cm-wide strips.

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil, and cook the potatoes for about 10 minutes, until cooked through. Drain, refresh and cut into 0.5cm-wide slices (peel them first, if you prefer; I don’t bother).

Put a large sauté pan on medium-high heat, add the oil and, once hot, the garlic, potatoes and cumin. Cook for six to seven minutes, stirring a few times, until the potatoes start turning golden-brown. Add the strips of roast pepper, paprika, eggs, coriander and half a teaspoon of salt. Leave for about 30 seconds, until the eggs begin to set on the bottom, then stir gently. Stop stirring, and repeat after another 30 seconds. Remove from the heat once the eggs are almost cooked and still runny – they will carry on cooking – and season to taste.

Spread the cream cheese on the toast just before the eggs come off the heat. Spoon the eggs on top and serve at once.

Scrambled eggs with spinach, dukkah and soldiers

Pillow talk: Yotam Ottolenghi’s scrambled eggs recipes (1)

Dukkah is an Egyptian aromatic seed, nut and spice mix. I make it in big batches, for sprinkling on salads and eggs, though you can buy it ready-made from specialist shops and larger supermarkets. Serves four.

250g baby spinach leaves
3 thick slices white bread, crusts removed and discarded, each cut into four 2-3cm-wide soldiers
2 tbsp olive oil
25g unsalted butter
8 eggs, beaten
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
70g soft, rindless goat’s cheese, broken into 2cm pieces
1½ tbsp dukkah

Heat grill to its highest setting. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, blanch the spinach for a minute, then drain. Once it’s cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can.

Lay the bread soldiers on a large baking tray lined with parchment, and brush both sides with oil. Put the tray on the middle shelf of the oven and grill the bread for six to seven minutes, turning halfway through, until crunchy and golden-brown on both sides, then remove from the oven.

While the soldiers are grilling, put the butter in a large sauté pan on a medium-high heat. In a small bowl, mix the eggs with a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Once the butter starts to froth, add the eggs to the pan and leave them be for about 30 seconds, until they’re just beginning to set on the bottom. Stir gently, lifting the set egg to the surface, then add the spinach, separating it into leaves as you go, and goat’s cheese.

Cook for a minute or two only, stirring once or twice, until the eggs are just cooked, then divide the mixture between four plates. Sprinkle each serving with dukkah and serve hot with the soldiers arranged neatly alongside.

Pillow talk: Yotam Ottolenghi’s scrambled eggs recipes (2024)
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