I suppose it’s daft to be kind to caterpillars, especially if you are growing vegetables. It’s just that this little one had struggled so manfully (or womanfully) up the side of the sink, that I couldn’t, I simply couldn’t, rinse it once again down the drain.
I’d been washing a load of lettuce leave for one of those wonderful recipes that start ‘take a pound of lettuce leaves…’ The lettuces here had been part of a cut-and-come-again patch under the Victorian cloche, had survived its removal, and made an abundant and handsome stand of frilly, yellow-green, leaves (the variety is ‘Gentilina’ from Seeds of Italy ….).
The caterpillar, an inch long, was grass green at one end, lettuce green at t’other. It also had a handsome buttercup yellow stripe along each side. Very pretty. What would you have done? I found it a piece of discarded lettuce stem, scooped it off the side of the sink, and took it into the garden. At first it seemed surprised, then relaxed, and began to speed around the edge of it saviour support. I confess that rather than return it to the lettuce patch, I put it in the bin of weeds, rhubarb and chard leaves due for the compost heap. I thought it needed variety.
Anway, the recipe. Well, pretty delicious, and derived from Elizabeth David’s ‘Summer Cooking’, page 66, for something she calls ~(well, called), surprisingly, Eggs with Lettuce. ED, if you haven’t heard of her, was a grand, difficult, lady with a huge talent for good writing, good food, high cholesterol levels, and slight overelaboration. Basically, for two folk, you need half a pound of lettuce, a little butter, a dash of olive oil, a dessert spoon of cornflour, a biggish dollop of cream (howevermuch you are happy with), a couple of spoonfuls of chopped parsley (I added a few sprigs of French tarragon), and six hard boiled eggs sliced lengthwise into quarters. Oh, and breadcrumbs. No cheese.
Braise the lettuce in the butter for ten minutes – long enough to soften the stems – sprinkle over the flour, stir in immediately, then add the cream, or milk for the er… faint hearted. Season and add chopped herbs. Tranfer to a nice gratin dish, push the egg quarters into the sauce, then cover with a goodly layer of bread crumbs. Bake for twenty minutes or so…. long enough to cook some fresh dug potatoes, over which steam some very young courgettes cut lengthwise in half.
Simple. Good. And there will be less lettuce to dispose of next time you are down in the vegetable patch amongst the caterpillars.