The Spiritual Gardener: Rainy Day Recipe for Egg Baskets With Crab Rolls

This image is no longer available

“Don’t judge me,” pleads the gardener, as he bicycles through the spring landscape, casting a larcenous eye on beautiful plants that might perhaps require relocation to his own garden, by way of clippings, discreet divisions and so on.

The great cycle of the garden year has now begun, with the magical irises fully in bloom everywhere here. My wife and I were bicycling around town late yesterday afternoon and had to stop to admire a huge clump, perhaps four feet square, of irises on yard-tall stems in a dazzling shade of French blue that we do not have in our garden. The late, low sun was back-lighting them magnificently so that each bloom looked like a delicate, luminous Japanese lantern – there were more than a hundred of them.

A wave of petty larceny washed over me, and I had to restrain myself from the urge to quickly nip a specimen from this brilliant group.  It is obviously far too long since this clump has been divided, I told myself, and surely one little offset would never be missed, probably it would do the clump a tiny bit of good. And so on.

Every serious gardener knows that the line between good and bad citizenship is perilously thin. And how thin the veneer of civilization, too, for that matter. I resisted the evil temptation then, but that is possibly only because I had given in to it earlier in the day.

Then, I was walking past a public parking lot and noticed a poor iris growing forlornly in a weed-choked patch of ground in total shade where it would never bloom. I felt sorry for it and it was with me the work of a moment to look quickly around and then to pluck the poor creature and take it with me.  You will be much happier in my sunny garden, I told it reassuringly.

People of a narrow and bureaucratic mentality might call this stealing; I call it simply a part of my emergency iris relocation program. I can’t wait to see what color it is when it blooms, probably next spring.  Don’t judge me.

But Saturday, as I say, it poured rain. We can’t always get out into the garden, even in the peak garden season of May, and we must use our rain days as profitably was we can.

So here is the product of a gray morning on a dull and drippy day in May. Inspiration struck, luckily, I dashed to the grocery store, and I made a delicious new dish.

Usually the food recommendations here strive to be interesting, different, relatively simple and healthy. They are meant to be things real civilians can make, without having to be an extreme foodie or gourmet cook and without having to use difficult to find ingredients, such as fresh lark’s tongue and plover eggs.

Today’s recipe meets all those requirements, but it is not simple. Or rather, none of this is very difficult, although it is a little fussy.  But read for yourself and see if you think it is worth the extra bother. We certainly do. Anyway, we call the result: Egg Baskets with Crab Balls.


Egg Baskets with Crab Balls

For the coating:

½ cup freshly and very finely grated parmesan cheese

½ cup Panko or other bread crumbs

¼ cup searing flour (regular flour will do)

½ tsp. ground black pepper

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

One egg

½ cup cream

For the egg baskets:

1½ cups finely grated parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

For the eggs:

Eight eggs at room temperature

One Tbsp. vinegar

One tsp. salt

For the dressing:

One cup olive oil

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. freshly ground pepper

1 tsp. ground mustard

Two very finely diced cloves of garlic

A generous pinch of sugar

For the salad:

Two heads of romaine lettuce

One cucumber

Grape or cherry tomatoes

For the crab balls:

16 ounces of fine lump crab meat

3 green onions, chopped

One finely minced garlic clove

2/3 cup Panko bread crumbs

2 eggs

Make in advance

  • Combine the first six ingredients in a bowl, cover and set aside.  Whisk the next two ingredients in another bowl, cover and refrigerate.

This is what the process of making the frico baskets looks like. It’s messy but delicious!

  • Make the egg baskets. Season the Parmesan with salt and pepper to taste. Put a silicon baking mat (such as Silpat) on a cookie sheet. Make 8 small piles of Parmesan, an inch or two apart, with heaping tablespoons of cheese. Using the bottom of a fork, spread the mounds out into circles 3-4 inches in diameter. Bake for 5-6 minutes in a 375 degree oven until warm and bubbling, and just a bit golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool very slightly. Working quickly, lift each circle from the mat with a spatula and form it around the outside of an egg shape on the underside of a cardboard egg carton.  The Italians call this cheesy basket a “frico”, and it is a delicious way to present many tidbits.
  • You can think of your own variations for hors d’oeuvres; suppose, for example, you filled one with a piece of smoked salmon, a Kalamata olive and two pieces of cucumber.  You get the idea.  Here, we are using them for edible baskets for soft-boiled eggs.  If you have never made these, drop everything and go make them right now. Your grouchy teenagers will magically appear, saying things like: “What is the source of that fantastic smell and can I have some to eat pronto!” Or instead of shaping them for baskets, you can leave them flat and use them to garnish Caesar salads.
  • Fill a saucepan with enough water to cover the eggs (when you put them in later) with at least one inch of cold water; add the vinegar and the salt (they prevent cracking, make the eggs easier to peel, and prevent the white from leaking if the eggs do crack). Bring water to a gentle boil. Lower the eggs into the water with a slotted spoon and boil for exactly five minutes, to get the slightly runny egg you want for the finished product. With a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to a bowl of cool water; run cool tap water over them, the idea being to stop the cooking process. Refrigerate them for at least an hour, then very gently peel them, taking care to keep the eggs as whole as possible. Make a few extra the first time, in case of breakage.  Return them to the refrigerator.

A close-up of the deep-fried, soft-boiled egg. They are “having a moment” just now in foodie restaurants, and why not? They are fantastic!

  • Make the salad dressing and put aside.
  • Make a salad with the indicated salad ingredients; refrigerate.
  • For the crab balls, whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl.  Finely chop and add the green onions.  Add the garlic, crab and bread crumbs and mix by hand.  Shape the crab mix into balls the size of a small egg. Put them on a plate, cover and refrigerate.


  • Toss the salad with the dressing, and divide the salad onto 4 plates.
  • Pour enough vegetable oil into a deep saucepan or skillet for a depth of about one third of an inch, and heat the oil until it just spatters when you flick a drop or two of water into it, but not so hot that it smokes.
  • Roll the crab balls in the egg and cream mixture, and then in the coating mixture.  Gently lower them into the hot oil and cook for three to four minutes until golden brown, turning only once if possible.
  • Place the crab balls on paper towels to drain, then put two on each salad plate.
  • Heat the soft-boiled eggs in a microwave on low for 30 seconds, then carefully transfer each into a frico egg basket.  Put two egg baskets on each plate.
  • Serve immediately.  Serves four.

Note: This makes a great Mothers’ Day (or Fathers’ Day) brunch, and it is also perfect for Easter.  You can also serve this with toasted English muffins and Hollandaise sauce, instead of salad.  With bacon too, if you eat bacon.  May as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, as the English cheerfully say. Hell, have a Bloody Mary while you are at it, why don’t you?

Simple Hollandaise sauce

Put four egg yolks in a blender with 1 Tbsp. of fresh lemon juice, a dash of your favorite hot sauce and half a teaspoon of salt. Process briefly. Melt a stick of butter over a low heat and pour the butter in a slow stream into the yolk mixture while running the blender on a low speed.  Serve immediately.

Yes, I know fresh Hollandaise sauce is a nuisance to make, but nothing beats it so to speak and besides we already know, do we not, that the good things in life are not for the most part easy to come by.




David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at