I used to eat at Zucco, a French “diner” on the lower east side, like once a week. Sometimes, in college, I’d stop in just for cafe au lait and bread with nutella (the cheapest item on the menu) and chat with the manager and the interesting ex-pats at the bar. The owner, Zucco, was a little aloof, but I loved to watch him chat with the kitchen staff and chain smoke American Spirits (and, sometimes, joints) on Orchard Street outside the restaurant. The manager was friendlier; he watched me break up with one boyfriend, fight with another, and fall in love with my husband (he told me to “be nice to that one” the first time I brought Chris with me). I ran into the manager in Brooklyn last week and he told me that the proprietor, Zucco himself, died a few months ago. The manager now works elsewhere. I can’t imagine going back there, knowing that Zucco has died. I didn’t know the man, but the spot seemed so intimate and personal that it’s hard to fathom it being run with the same spirit by anyone else. So, tonight, I’ve made something to remember him by.
One of my favorite dishes at Zucco was a delicious ratatouille, topped with phyllo wrapped goat cheese. Tonight I’ve made a simple variation: I poached two eggs (my first time!) and served them over ratatouille with the rest of the fresh bread I bought yesterday.
I’ve used Mark Bittman’s recipe for ratatouille, halved for two, and substituted canned tomatoes (the ones in my grocery store didn’t look so hot). I’ve also had to substitute dried for fresh thyme, also a matter of necessity. I don’t have a casserole dish, so the stew was baked in my roasting pan and served in bowls, topped with the poached egg. Next time I think I’ll cut the veggies into wedges instead of slices, to make them easier to eat, and I might try serving it with some goat cheese or feta. But when you slice your fork into the poached egg, if it’s done right, the yolk should run into the hearty vegetable stew, a creamy complement to roasted vegetables. And even my seriously carnivorous husband said he was “stuffed” when we were done.
FYI: The trick of poaching eggs is to add a teaspoon of white vinegar to the water; it’s tasteless, but helps the whites hold together in the water, or so I’m told. This was my first poached egg (!), and I found it fairly easy– the whites stayed together and it cooked perfectly.