If you can have Oeufs Florentine, then you can have Oeufs Maltese, or should I say Maltais? Anyway, eggs are the protein ingredient in this dish whose main role is a vehicle for Swiss chard, the Ur-alt varieties of which have been traced to Sicily. Chard has taken an etymological tour round France, Switzerland and Italy before arriving in Malta – where it’s called Selq – for this tasty, easy brunch or supper dish.
I came across Swiss Chard in Jamie Oliver’s recipes years ago, but I’d never tracked it down in Malta until my visit to the Ta’Qali farmers’ market a couple of weeks back. I described it to one stallholder, fulling expecting to draw a blank. I was waxing lyrical about how it looked like a cross between beetroot leaves and spinach when he told me, nonchalantly, to ask around for ‘Selq’. The next week, there it was – and not just in one variety, but in three: red-, yellow- and white-stemmed types. I couldn’t believe my luck, and thought how enterprising our farmers have become.
Reading up on Swiss Chard, I found out that it’s common in Mediterranean cooking and particularly in Arab dishes. This may explains its connections with Sicily. I like to think that it was grown in Malta too all those centuries ago, and am pleased it’s made a come-back on our markets. Chard, also known as Silverbeet or spinach beet, is among the healthiest of vegetables, even among other greens known for their high mineral and vitamin content. With its bitter stems yet slightly sweet leaves (or so my tastebuds divine it), chard is incredibly versatile. Just shred a few leaves in omelettes or to top pizzas, or add to pasta sauces and munch in wraps. I also steam it enough to wilt, then add lemon juice, fresh-ground black pepper, a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil and serve it like the Italians do as simple contorni (side dish).
For this dish, I tossed it in a pan with chorizo and tomato before baking it briefly with eggs and goats cheese on top. I am not a great fan of Oeufs Florentine with Béchamel sauce. This is far quicker to do than the milk sauce variety of baked eggs and can be whipped up from some store cupboard basics using frozen greens if there’s no chard down your way. It’s an ideal, quick week-day supper dish.
All images © Liz Ayling 2013
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Chorizo or other cured ham, diced (you need around 6 inches of chorizo, skin removed)
- 1 can of drained, peeled plum tomatoes, or a fresh beef steak de-skinned and pips removed
- Good handful of Swiss Chard leaves, chopped in shreds, or use spinach (a few cubes of frozen a useful alternative)
- 3 large eggs
- goats’ cheeselets, to crumble up (fresh ideal, but cured good too)
- Fresh or dried thyme, a pinch
- Parmesan to serve
- Pre-heat oven to 180°C.
- Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy-based, oven-proof frying pan (cast iron is good to use, so long as it has no wooden handle).
- Gently fry the onion til softened, then add the garlic and fry for a minute more before adding the chopped chorizo. Fry on a medium heat until the chorizo discolours the onion and crisps up a little.
- Add the tomato and simmer for around 5 minutes until the tomato cooks down. If the mix is drying out, add a little of the tinned tomato juice or a ladle of water.
- Just before the tomatoes are cooked down, add the shredded chard. It needs just a couple of minutes to wilt down into the mix. Don’t worry if the stalks (if using them) aren’t totally tender at this stage as they will cook more in the oven.
- Remove from the heat, crack the eggs onto the mix in the pan, sprinkle over some thyme leaves, give a twist of pepper to top.
- Pop in the oven to bake until the eggs are cooked. Total cooking time is 10-15 minutes, depending the size of the eggs.
- Halfway through cooking, remove the pan to crumble over some goats cheese and return to the oven until the eggs are a desired firmness.
- Serve hot, sprinkled with more thyme, some grated Parmesan and crusty bread if desired. Just miss out the chorizo for a veggie version.