The fresher they are, the better poached eggs will be, with a creamy, textured white and a compact shape. If possible, use eggs that you know were only laid in the last day or so. This way of serving them is a wonderful mingling of gentle flavours; the garlic is cooked until it is soft and mild.
Boil the unpeeled cloves of garlic in water for 10-15 minutes until soft. Put the tomatoes in a bowl, pour boiling water over them and leave for about 2 minutes, then drain, cut them in half crossways and peel. Using a curved grapefruit knife or a small, sharp-sided spoon, carefully scoop out the tomato flesh.
Put the tomato shells on a large serving plate or 4 individual ones. Pop the soft cloves of garlic out of their skins into a food processor, add the scooped-out tomato flesh, caster sugar, tomato purée and lemon juice and whizz until very smooth. Then sieve the mixture into a bowl, pressing it through with a wooden spoon. Using a small, sharp knife, cut the basil leaves across in thin strips and stir them into the sauce. Put in the fridge to chill well.
Meanwhile, poach the eggs: bring a large, deep-sided frying pan of water to the boil, adding the vinegar to it. When it is boiling fiercely, break one of the eggs into a cup and then slide it into the boiling water. Spoon any white that is spreading back towards the yolk. Poach for 3-5 minutes; the white should be just set and the yolk still soft — test by gently pressing the centre with your finger. Remove the egg with a slotted spatula and leave on some absorbent paper to drain. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Carefully transfer an egg into each tomato shell.
When the tomato mixture is well chilled and you are almost ready to eat, whisk the cream until it holds soft peaks and then fold the tomato mixture into it. Season to taste with cayenne pepper and salt; be generous, as the sauce has to season both the egg and the tomato shell, just before serving, spoon the sauce over the top of the eggs and add a tiny sprinkling of cayenne pepper over the centre of each. Garnish the serving plates with a few pretty leaves.
© 1997 Josceline Dimbleby. All rights reserved.