Egging You On
Aug 31, 2015 05:38PM
Almost always, when I open the refrigerator door, my eyes dart to the flip-top egg keeper. I often count the eggs in the carton. “Oh no,” I moan, “only three eggs left.” I feel an odd sense of panic and put a sticky note on the inside of my front door—or perhaps on the car keys on the hall table. “Eggs!” it screams, and I make sure I grab a dozen of them before returning home. Why am I so paranoid? Easy. Eggs are insurance. With them I can always rustle up a meal any time of day.
It’s no secret that these beautifully shaped ovals are the most versatile of all raw ingredients. “No other article of food offers more amplitude for the inventive genius of a creative cook than the egg...one of nature’s supreme gifts to man” (and woman) as well as “one of the least expensive and versatile combinations of nourishment and flavor.” I quote Ann Seranne, a leading food writer in the ’40s and ’50s (a co-founder of Gourmet magazine, no less), and it is from her book The Art of Egg Cookery, published by Doubleday in 1949. She followed this some years later with The Complete Book of Egg Cookery, published by Macmillan in 1983. I treasure both and keep them handy. If you can track down copies, grab them. I also love Rudolph Standish’s book on omelets. He used to make them at pretty swanky affairs back a few generations.
Read the introductory copy in any of the books (and there are many more on “eggs”) and in the case of Complete check out the answers to anticipated questions; you’ll know egg-zactly (ouch) what the egg can do and what the techniques are for bringing out their finer points.
These days we are conscious of the value of sourcing ingredients close to where we live. I’m fortunate to have friends who raise chickens just over the hill from me, and they are generous to a fault in showing up with a dozen eggs when they come over this way. And their chickens are free-range, meaning they peck away at what hides in the turf and get some exercise. You should see the color of the yolks (almost orange) and the taste!!! There is a difference.
And freshness is truly important here. Where to find the freshest eggs? I find that pestering the staff at my local Cornell Cooperative Extension (check your phone book) is one source of info. And many local egg producers set up shop at your nearest farmers market. Interview the farmers. These fine folks know where to find food products, and they can offer wonderful advice on how to cook eggs as well as the produce they sell. Ask and ye shall find.
How Many Eggs Are Too Many?
I can’t keep track of federal nutritional guidelines, can you? But I hear that eggs have been taken off the blacklist (one or two a week I once read) and now you can have them in moderation. I sure flouted the old rule every week because for me, w-hen (help!) I can’t decide what to eat, I fix breakfast, no matter what the hour. More about that in a minute.
I’m told that eggs are an excellent source of Vitamins A, D, and the B vitamins—thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin—as well as fat. As if that wasn’t enough, they are rich in iron and phosphorus and contain some copper and calcium, as well as valuable proteins. The protein in eggs is complete, furnishing all the amino acids essential for building and maintaining body tissues. Perhaps my sometimes-urge for eggs at midnight is because they are easy to digest. There are about seventy- seven calories in each egg, and two eggs supply 17 percent of an adult’s recommended protein allowance. It’s good to know that the special egg compartment in your refrigerator is there for a purpose. Eggs are porous and can pick up the taste of other items in the fridge (sauerkraut or chili, etc.) if stored uncovered. I give in to my paranoia and put the eggs, still in the carton, in the home where they belong.
The Doctor Is Out, the Cook Is In
It’s early morning at my place: I stumble out of bed and head for the kitchen and my Keurig single-cup coffee machine and, while it revs up, I hit the front door to retrieve the paper. It’s no secret that breakfast is my favorite meal whether at home or in a café.
I alternate having fruit-topped cereal one day—and, flying in the face of all the scare headlines, I use whole milk—not a large amount, but just enough to start to soften the cereal. And I reluctantly admit to sometimes dolloping the top with just a smidge of heavy cream. A tiny bit of sugar. The nutrition police are coming any moment. Let ’em.
On alternate days I go for eggs in some form or other. If I feel like it, I separate three eggs and, using a whisk, I beat the yolks and whites separately—I mean beat. I use a smidgen of butter (yup, real butter) in my non-stick eight-inch pan that, after several years’ use, looks like it went through a war zone. I heat the pan briefly and when a drop of water jumps I drop the softened butter and little bits of whipped cream cheese into the pan. I combine the beaten whites and yolks using easy strokes with a rubber spatula and pour this over the pan contents. I continue to softly stir the eggs until they are barely cooked. Onto a plate with some toast or toasted English muffin, top with snipped chives or green onion and—voilà—soft eggs. Often I’m not in fancy mode and just drop the three whole eggs over the cheese and butter and, practically turning off the heat, just slowly stir until they are almost done—no more than about two minutes. Leather eggs are an anathema.
Many (many) years ago my wonderful employer came out with a line of cookware called Visions, and the line included a ten-inch skillet (measured side to side at the top rim) with an integral handle. I was heading for San Francisco to do some in-store programs (most of the department stores are now defunct—or suddenly Macy’s!). I took a sample skillet with me. The store had a newly-hatched supply of these, and I asked my cooking gurus out there what they would cook in these top-of-stove and in-the-oven pans. I hardly had time to stir my coffee when I heard the chorus: “Frittata.”
We raided my friend Loni’s fridge and came up with the vital ingredients—eggs, of course—and all sorts of leftovers—grilled vegetables, a piece of salami here, some prosciutto there, and the fresh herbs that were just outside the kitchen door.
Here’s an approximation of what we cooked, and almost anything goes. In fact, I learned that in Italy leftover pasta is often used as the bottom layer of the dish. Sliced, cooked potatoes work great here, too. If you have a garden reaching its potential, making frittatas is a fabulous way to go (and if you’ve got a hen house out back, that’s even better). Carefully wrapped, a room-temperature frittata can go to a picnic!
I used one of Ann Seranne’s recipes to give you the basic idea. You can vary the ingredients and make the dish your own. Just remember to use one egg for every inch of pan width. To warm refrigerator-cold eggs, place them in a bowl of warm water from the tap for about 10 minutes while you get the vegetables cut, etc. Here’s a good tip: crack the egg on a flat surface rather than the side of a bowl to avoid contamination from a bit of shell. And do each egg separately to be sure they don’t have unwanted bits.
To peel the tomatoes, drop them into a pan of simmering water. Count to 10 and remove them. The skins should slide off.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion finely chopped (or grated)
- 2 small zucchinis, sliced or cut in small cubes
- 1⁄4 c. finely diced ham or Canadian bacon (optional) Big pinch of dry oregano, or basil or tarragon
- 10 eggs, preferably at room temperature
- 1⁄2 c. heavy cream or half and half
- 1⁄4 c. finely diced fontina or provolone
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 large ripe tomato, peeled and thinly sliced Chives and maybe a spritz of Parmigiano cheese
In an ovenproof 10-inch skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, zucchini, and oregano and sauté, stirring often until the zucchini is partially cooked.
Combine eggs, cream, cheese, salt, and pepper until blended. Pour over the zucchini in the pan and move the mixture to allow the eggs to get acquainted with the vegetables.
Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the pan with a lid, and cook for about 12 minutes until the eggs are partially set. Uncover and arrange the tomato slices in a circular pattern on top. (Sprinkle with a little Parmesan or other Italian grating cheese if desired.) Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until the center is firm but the top is still creamy. Loosen the frittata around the side of the pan with a thin spatula; cut into wedges to serve.
Be a good egg—invite the neighbors!