Elizabeth David wrote in her book, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, a collection of pieces she’d written about food and wine over 30 years for magazines and newspapers, that an ‘omelette demands the most straightforward approach … (and) a glass or two of wine as not, obviously, essential but at least as an enormous enhancement of the enjoyment of a well-cooked omelette’. The book, published in 1984, has been on my shelves since about that time. The title always conjures up for me delightful visions of being in France, either in the sun-soaked south with the Mediterranean glistening in the distance, sitting at a small table in the shade, a omelette before me and a glass of chilled Provençal rosé at its side; or the cooler north, a light breeze with the tang of ozone on it, blowing off the Channel and Mont St-Michel in the distance where Madame Poulard made her most famous of all French omelettes. I’ve been to Mont St-Michel many times and have passed Madame Poulard’s restaurant (though she died back in 1931) but have never actually eaten there. I have though eaten omelettes in the area, and indeed with a view of the glorious ‘Mont’.
I’ve always liked omelettes and have written about them here before (click here). They were one of the first things my mother taught me to cook. But I’ve always considered them a light meal, perhaps a snack, ideal for lunch. I tend to eat lightly during the day and by evening need more than a couple of eggs whisked into an omelette to sate my appetite. However, I’ve taken to making them often before my weekly book group as I have to leave the house early and don’t want a big meal. Of late, with all the Italian influenced cooking I do, I more usually make a frittata, to which I can add a few things to bulk out the meal. When my family were living with me for a few months last year, I often made a huge one in a large pan and we’d cut thick slices to eat with salad.
Sometimes, though, the call of a French omelette is irresistible. There’s a glorious lightness and creaminess to it. Elizabeth David in her book talks of Madame Poulard’s having an ‘exquisite lightness and beauty’ but to achieve this is not always quite as easy as it seems. I’m sure we’ve all had terrible omelettes! And I never order them when out – except in France!
I’m not at all sure Mrs David would approve but yesterday I added a filling to my otherwise ‘French’ omelette. I had a bag of spinach, a half used tub of single cream that needed using up, and, as always, a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano (the best Parmesan)in my fridge. I also had a nice crusty baguette from Paul, the French bakery that came to UK a few years ago, and which luckily for me has a branch in Richmond.
I considered Oeufs Florentine, that wonderful dish layering spinach and egg with a topping of cream (or béchamel) with a coating of Parmesan. But then I took the slightly more straightforward route of just making a spinach filling to put into an omelette.
Omelette with Creamy Spinach & Parmesan – Serves 1
- 100g baby spinach leaves
- about 2-3 tablespoons single cream
- a grating of nutmeg
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 eggs
- a dash of milk
- a large knob of butter
I used half a bag of spinach (100g). It always looks a lot but cooks down into a small portion. I don’t like spinach overcooked; more wilted. I squash it into a small saucepan with a lid and add just a very little water, then cook it over a medium heat, with the lid on, stirring from time to time. Once it’s wilted down, drain off the excess water. Return to the pan and add the cream, a grating of nutmeg, salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Stir and mix well together. Leave it to simmer very gently while you make the omelette.
Put the eggs in a bowl and add a dash of milk and seasoning. Whisk well with a fork.
Put a large knob of butter in an omelette pan and melt over a medium heat until bubbling. Pour the egg mixture in. Now – and I use a spatula for this – stir the egg mixture into the middle. As it starts to solidify, carefully lift up an edge with the spatula, tip the pan slightly, and let some of the uncooked egg run underneath. This careful cooking – giving it your full loving attention! – is what creates a wonderfully light omelette.
When it’s not quite, but almost, cooked through, put the spinach in the middle, slightly to one side. Grate over some Parmesan.
Now slide onto a plate, tipping over the top half as you go so you have a half circle shaped omelette with the filling nicely tucked inside. Grate over a little more Parmesan and, if you like, drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil (not very French but certainly a nice little addition at the end).
Serve with green salad on the side and some nice crusty bread – preferably a French baguette.
It was a lovely omelette, all the flavours working well together, and despite its filling, it really did have more of a taste of France than an Italian frittata cooked this way.
I didn’t actually have the glass of wine. I planned to drive into Richmond for my book group meeting and knew a glass of wine would be on offer at a our pre-Christmas meeting and that would be enough … but if I’d been staying at home then I would, without doubt, have followed Elizabeth David’s example and had a glass of wine with my omelette!