In John Gardner’s Role of Honour (1984) and courtesy of Spectre agent Dr Jay Autem Holy at his residence ‘Endor’, James Bond enjoys what is described as almost a banquet: a Lombardy soup, salmon mousse, venison cooked with berries, wine, ham and lemon, and, to finish, a soufflé.
The soup is described in some detail: ‘hot consommé poured over raw eggs sprinkled with Parmesan and laid on lightly fried bread’. This identifies it as zuppa pavese, one of several soups from the Lombardy region of Italy. Traditionally, the soup is made with meat broth, the consommé being a further refinement. I was curious about the idea of ‘cooking’ the egg in the soup bowl on serving and so thought I’d have a go at preparing the dish myself.
To make the consommé, I put about 200g of finely chopped beef in a large saucepan, along with a carrot (peeled and chopped), an onion (peeled and chopped) and a stick of celery (sliced). I also added half a teaspoon of peppercorns and a bouquet garni of rosemary, thyme and parsley. I poured about three pints (about 1.7 litres) of hot beef stock into the pan and put the pan over a medium heat. I then tipped in an egg white and began whisking in order to create a foam that, in theory, was to sit on top of the liquid. In the event, I didn’t get much of a foam, but I continued with the recipe nonetheless and allowed the pan to sit on the lowest heat for about one and a half hours.
Remarkably, by the end of the cooking time, the egg white had done its job and had settled on the surface of the soup as a sort of frothy scum, taking other bits with it and leaving a clear liquid underneath. I strained the soup into large bowl. Ideally one uses muslin for this, but not having any such thing to hand, I put a couple of sieves together, which sort of did the trick.
I put the consommé back on the heat – a medium heat, this time – to get the liquid nice and steaming, but below boiling point. (At this stage, it’s worth checking the soup for seasoning.) Meanwhile, I sliced a baguette, brushed a mixture of olive oil, basil, oregano and pepper over the slices, and put the slices on a baking tray and into a hot oven for about five minutes. Meanwhile, I grated some Parmesan cheese and made sure I had a couple of eggs to hand.
To assemble the dish, I put a couple of slices of the toast on the base of a bowl, cracked an egg onto the slices, then ladled some soup into the bowl, before sprinkling some cheese over the top. The egg began to cook with the heat of the soup but was still essentially raw. Possibly the soup wasn’t hot enough. It’s sometimes recommended that soup bowls are warmed in the oven. I didn’t do this, but perhaps that also helps with the cooking of the egg.
I assembled a second bowl, this time cracking the egg into the consommé in the saucepan to poach it (having increased the heat to bring the liquid to boiling point). After two minutes, the egg was ready. I spooned the egg onto the toast within the bowl, then ladled the soup over it, following this with the cheese.
For those who like their eggs cooked, I recommend the second method. If you’re after a more authentic Bondian experience, though, stick with the raw egg.