Thick-sliced ham and tenderly boiled eggs in a parsley béchamel sauce, with a bubbly golden crust. This is a singularly comforting dish that I like so much I've made it three times in ten days, using the excuse that it's okay to hoover protein and fat when one is following the now-famous Tim Noakes low-carb diet*. I ate this as a child, but I don't remember who made it for me. My granny Peggy, I think, who knew how to fry an egg and make proper crumpets and coleslaw.
panko crumbs, paprika, freshly milled white pepper - and the result sent me into raptures.
Old-Fashioned Ham and Eggs Au Gratin
8 extra-large free-range eggs
400 g sliced, good ham (about 6 slices, each cut 7 mm thick)
4 T (60 ml) butter
4 T (60 ml) flour
2½ cups (375 ml) whole milk
1 T (15 ml) Dijon mustard
2 tsp (10 ml) fresh lemon juice
5 T (75 ml) finely chopped curly parsley
2 tsp (10 ml) Tabasco sauce [optional]
flaky sea salt
a pinch of white pepper
6 T (90 ml) freshly grated Parmesan or Grana Padano
6 T (90 ml) fine dry breadcrumbs
1 tsp (5 ml) fresh paprika, or cayenne pepper if you'd like extra tingle
4 T (60 ml) melted butter
First boil the eggs. Bring a pot of water to a gentle, burbling boil, slip in the eggs and boil them for exactly eight minutes (set a timer). Drain the eggs and place the pot under a cold trickling tap for 7-8 minutes, or until they are cool.
Set the oven to 200 ºC. Generously butter a shallow ovenproof dish; it should be just big enough to hold all the ham slices (it's fine if they overlap). Arrange the ham on the bottom of the dish. To make the béchamel (white) sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and tip in all the flour. Cook over a medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for a minute, without letting the flour brown. Pour in the milk, all in one go, and beat with a wire whisk to break up any lumps. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring constantly. When the sauce is thick and smooth, turn down the heat and let it burble very gently for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat, let it cool for a few minutes and then whisk in the mustard, lemon juice, chopped parsley and Tabasco. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
Peel the boiled eggs and cut each one, crossways, into four thick slices. Arrange these neatly on top of the ham. Pour the warm béchamel sauce evenly over the top. Sprinkle the surface of the sauce with the Parmesan, bread crumbs and paprika (or cayenne pepper) and drizzle the melted butter on top.
Bake, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes, or until the crumb topping is golden, and the filling is gently bubbling. Serve hot.
With a salad, serves 6.
* This isn't a strictly carb-free dish, as it contains four tablespoons of flour. But that's not much, split between six people.