When did having hard-boiled eggs at Gatwick airport become a habit? Four years ago? Two years ago? I could probably work it out if I went back over the wads of boarding passes and the receipts of my pendulous life, but let’s say it was three years ago.
Every time I pass through the swishing electric doors into the arrivals hall at Gatwick, while others step into the arms of loved ones, I step into the refrigerated hum of Marks and Spencer’s food hall and buy two hard-boiled eggs. I might also get some water or a sandwich, a stick of cheddar or three packs of Walnut Whips, but these are variables. The tub containing two pearly-white eggs on a squeaky bed of baby spinach is not.
I don’t wait. Rather, I peel off the thin cellophane and eat as I walk to charge up my Oyster card. Too cold, too hard-boiled, and eaten too fast while walking, the eggs almost always give me heartburn. I don’t care. I love my eggs, and in that moment they are the most important and satisfying thing; my welcome committee and edible Talisman before catching the Thameslink to Farringdon.
Eggs meet me on the other side of the trip, too. It is often late or at an inbetween hour when I get home to Rome, but regardless of the time or what’s been eaten that day, walking through the door, dumping bags and hugging my kid makes me hungry. It is often hunger for the eggs that sit in a bowl on the kitchen worktop: perfect, patient, complete, uncomplicated and ready to be cracked into an omelette; boiled or fried for toast; mixed with cubes of bread for egg in a cup; or scrambled into a soft pile and sooted with black pepper.
If someone else needs to eat too, the egg answer is usually frittata; the Italian version of an omelette without the mystique, as food writer Gillian Riley notes. Beaten egg mixed with pre-cooked vegetables, cheese, ham, breadcrumbs or leftover pasta – when it comes to a frittata, the possibilities and variations are endless.
The other day, my ears still hollow with plane popping, we fried some courgettes with some olive oil and salt, until they were soft and slightly golden. We left them to cool a bit before mixing with beaten eggs, ricotta, salt, pepper and a handful of ripped mint.
As is the case with almost every egg recipe, how you like, and therefore cook, your frittata is a personal thing. As with omelettes and scrambled eggs, I like my frittata ever-so-slightly custardy – not raw (shudder) – but more soft than stiff.
Immediate eating is required for a softly set frittata, one that, like me, wobbles slightly in the middle. This frittata of eggs, courgettes and fat flecks of ricotta is complete, but good complemented by a green or harlequin salad of tomato, cucumber, mild red chilli and mint, then dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar.
A friend recently told me about her husband’s particular eating habits and the things he will and won’t touch (there are many). To him, eggs, whether they’re boiled, fried, scrambled, poached or coddled, are soothing, complete and reassuring. And I identify with that.
Courgette, ricotta and mint frittata
Prep 15 min
Cook 25 min
Salt and black pepper
6 large eggs
1 small handful of mint, ripped
Top, tail then slice the courgettes into 3mm-thick rounds and pat dry. In a large, nonstick or cast iron frying pan over a medium-low heat, fry the courgettes in olive oil with a pinch of salt until soft and lightly golden, turning often. Tip on to a plate to cool slightly.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs, ricotta, salt and pepper. Add the courgettes and ripped mint, then stir again.
Wipe the pan clean, pour in a little more oil and put over a low flame. Pour in the egg and courgette mixture, then cook for 15 minutes, agitating the surface with a fork so that it cooks through. Lift the edge to check the bottom is lightly golden then, when the frittata is almost set but still wet on top, use a lid or plate to carefully invert it, and continue to cook for another couple of minutes on the other side. Slice and serve with a tomato, cucumber, red chilli and mint salad.