A few weeks ago, while flipping through a stack of food magazines in the Earthy Delights break room, I stumbled across an unusual recipe for “One-eyed Bouillabaisse”.
While I’d heard of this dish before, I’d never made it. So when our annual cargo container shipment of Italian specialties arrived, including some amazing Italian plum tomatoes, I knew it was time.
However, now that I was ready to cook, I couldn’t find the recipe or the magazine. I had skimmed the recipe and accompanying text and was immediately intrigued by this rustic version of bouillabaisse which is made entirely without seafood. Instead, each portion is served with a single egg, poached right in the soup. It really does look like a big golden eye.
Working only with my somewhat incomplete recollection of the recipe and the contents of our pantry, I had but one choice: wing it.
I’m pretty certain that Provencal country folk improvised when necessary rather than rushing to the supermarket if they happened to be out of one or two ingredients. After all, good cooks are able to work with what they have on hand and don’t necessarily strictly rely on recipes. In that spirit of adventure, I set out to create a creditable rendition of a French country classic.
The resulting recreation may differ from some versions, but I believe it to be true to the spirit of the original dish. The rich, authentic flavor is wonderfully delicious and intensely satisfying.
While I believe in using what you have on hand, several ingredients are important to the flavor and consistency of the soup.
The tomatoes. Go with Italian San Marzano-style plum tomatoes. They simply are better. Packed in nice, thick tomato juice, with no added salt, they actually taste like ripe tomatoes.
The spices. Splurge a little and get some real, honest to goodness saffron. Nothing else comes close. Period.
If you can get it, use fennel pollen. It’s a little more expensive (and harder to find) than fennel seed, but it’s worth it. If you can’t get fennel pollen, you can substitute a few crushed fennel seeds, but use them sparingly – too much can easily overwhelm subtle flavors. Alternatively, try substituting some sliced fresh fennel for part of the celery.
The potatoes. Potatoes add some backbone to this sturdy country soup. Use some decent waxy potatoes instead of floury, bland russets. Yukon Gold or Klondike Rose potatoes are widely available these days, but little fingerlings are even better. They add real potato flavor and texture and hold up well in soups.
The eggs. Use really good, really fresh eggs. Mass produced eggs are flavorless, watery and the yolks break easily. Look for eggs with richly colored, plump yolks and firm whites. They may cost more, but they taste better – and they’re better for you.
You don’t have to buy the most expensive ingredients.
Just buy the best you can afford.
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 4 stalks celery
- 1 lb waxy potatoes (I used Klondike Rose)
- 2 14-oz cans Italian peeled plum tomatoes in juice
- a generous pinch of saffron (about 1/8 tsp)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup water or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp fennel pollen
- 4 large eggs
Peel the onion and dice into 1/4 inch pieces. Wash & trim the celery stalks and slice on the diagonal. Halve the potatoes lengthwise if using larger potatoes or leave whole if using smaller fingerlings. Slice the potatoes about 1/8 inch thick.
Heat the olive oil in a large, non-reactive pot over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 5 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables begin to soften and become translucent, add the tomatoes, water or stock, saffron, bay leaves, salt and pepper and raise the heat to medium.
When the mixture begins to simmer, add the potatoes and stir gently. The liquid should just cover the potatoes. Add a little more water or stock if necessary. Return to a gentle boil, then lower the heat and cover the pot. Cook for about 30 minutes on a low simmer or until the potatoes are barely fork tender. Stir in the fennel pollen. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Use a ladle to create hollows or pools among the vegetables. Crack an egg into each of the hollows you’ve just made. Cover the pot and poach the eggs for 3 -5 minutes, or until the whites are set and the yolk is still soft.
Gently lift each poached egg from the soup and place it in the center of a warm bowl. Carefully ladle soup around the egg. Serve with hot toasted baguette rubbed with a cut clove of raw garlic.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
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