We’re still struggling through over temperatures well into the 90s, and the last thing I feel like doing is cooking; even starting up the grill is fatiguing. So I’ve been thinking about summer appetizers, those light, fresh, simple nibbles that highlight one or two ingredients and delight the eye and tongue with something unusual, and thought I’d feature a few of these beauties in the upcoming weeks.
These recipes will contain some ingredients which aren’t available widely, but they are fun to play with if you can get your hands on them. I’ll suggest substitutes when I can. What’s most important is to experiment consciously and purposefully with just one or two flavor combinations.
The first in my series of summer appetizers is an adaptation from the Culinaria Italy cookbook. Inspired by the fabled gourmand of ancient Rome, Apicius, who was likely a composite figure that is credited with creating the world’s first cookbook, this recipe takes what was originally a sauce for soft-boiled eggs and returns it to the egg — in a deviled-egg-type sweet and sour stuffing of pinenuts and lovage.
I love the idea of lounging about in white togas with broad purple edging, and eating beautifully prepared, local stuffed eggs, with, say, peacocks strutting to and fro and slaves to refresh your gin-n-tonics (which were not Roman, but the British have Roman blood, and well, it’s *my* fantasy, ok?).
The fish sauce might be the strangest item in this recipe, but it approximates the popular Roman fermented fish condiment, garum or liquamen. If it wigs you out, just use salt, and in all cases, use it sparingly.
Lovage is one of those perennial herbs that takes a while to get started but then stubbornly persists on little water and filtered light, year after year. It has the taste of strong, sweet, lemony celery. It can easily overwhelm a dish with its perfumey, vegetal bitterness. In short, we don’t see it much in American recipes except for the occasional soup. But as a main attraction in a simple small dish, it can be refreshing. You might choose to substitute celery leaves, or even tarragon, which would work well but change the character of the dish.
To make the perfect hardboiled eggs, follow my recipe below. You won’t get the hard, dry yolks or the greenish cast that comes from overcooking the eggs.
Pinenut and Lovage-Stuffed Eggs
In ovis hapalis: piper, ligusticum, nucleos infusos. Suffundes mel, acetum, liquamine temperabis. (Original recipe in Latin)
- 12 hard boiled eggs
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, soaked in verjus, or a sweet wine such as Riesling, for 15-20 minutes
- 2 tablespoon finely chopped lovage, or substitute equal amounts celery and parsley leaves
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoon cider vinegar
- Several dashes Thai fish sauce or salt to taste
Prepare hard boiled eggs by placing eggs in cold water and turn heat on medium high. When water starts to boil vigorously, remove eggs from heat and place in bowl of cool water to stop cooking. Cool eggs and peel.
Slice eggs in half lengthwise and carefully remove egg yolks to bowl, reserving egg whites for stuffing. Combine pine nuts, lovage, honey and egg yolks. Using a mortar and pestle (or, less satisfactorily, a food processor), crush the mixture until pine nuts are mostly smashed and have released their oils into the yolks. Add pepper, vinegar and fish sauce or salt to taste, mix well, and stuff the eggs. Garnish each egg with a lovage leaf or a few reserved pinenuts that you have roasted until light brown. Refrigerate eggs until serving.
AND…for your picnicking pleasure…
Bonus Potato Salad with Eggs, Pinenuts and Lovage
This preparation also makes a great potato salad, according to Retrogrouch, who ate it all as I was cleaning up the kitchen.
Boil 2-3 medium waxy potatoes. Cool potatoes and slice or cube while still warm. Combine potatoes with the crushed pinenut and herb preparation above, then add 3-4 chopped hardboiled eggs. Add a handful of parsley and more lovage, if you have it. Blend with 1/4 cup mayonnaise, or to taste, and salt and pepper. Chill for a couple of hours before serving and keep cold in cooler if you plan to serve it outdoors or after a Roman orgy, since it is highly perishable.