Jude’s culinary journey

Consider the egg

By JUDE WATERSTON
Posted 10/27/21

There’s a farmer within walking distance from our house who, many years ago, affixed a crooked sign to a tree on his property advertising “Farm eggs 4 Sale.” Getting to those eggs …

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Jude’s culinary journey

Consider the egg

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There’s a farmer within walking distance from our house who, many years ago, affixed a crooked sign to a tree on his property advertising “Farm eggs 4 Sale.” Getting to those eggs was no easy task. In front of the garage were various pieces of equipment, some broken or with dangerous-looking spikes. And there was often a parked vehicle or two around which I must maneuver. Barn kittens came by and zig-zagged through my legs as I tried to pick my way to the heavy metal door of the garage. It took all my strength to get it open, only to find other abandoned equipment littering my way. Afraid the door would slide closed behind me and lock me in the cluttered, dimly lit room, I moved quickly.

There were two ancient refrigerators. One contained apportioned packages of meat the family had either bought, previously shot and killed, or bartered for. The other, more beaten-up fridge, housed the eggs. Sometimes there were none and on other occasions, there were perhaps half a dozen cartons and an old, rusted coffee can in which one dropped three bucks. There were no dates on the egg cartons, so there was no way of knowing when the eggs were gathered.  

Now, I love farm-fresh eggs with their almost orange yolks and pure, earthy flavor. But this farmer’s eggs were—how should I say this?—unfussed over. They were covered with stray feathers, bits of debris, and other disagreeable-looking matter. I had to wipe each one with a piece of damp paper towel before cracking it open. Thus, between the obstacle course to get the eggs and their unsightly condition, I gave up on them after a while.

Instead, we began to buy our eggs at the local farmers’ market. They were sometimes white, for $3, and sometimes brown, for $4. I’ve always preferred, visually, the latter and assumed there was something special about them since they are priced more than the white eggs. I’d also seen an open carton of pale blue, green, cream, and peach-colored eggs at a specialty store where they were being sold for $6 a dozen. I asked a farmer the difference among the colors, and the answer was, “Nothing. That’s just how the chickens lay them.” The market’s eggs were fine but lacked the intensity of the farmer’s up the road.

Recently, we were driving on Beechwoods Road and saw a sign for fresh eggs in front of a house we’ve passed many times. I got out of the car and walked up the drive. There were no chickens on the property. “How long have you been selling eggs?” I asked the woman who met me at the door to her open garage. “Oh, a nearby farmer asked me if I’d mind selling his eggs,” she responded. I asked who the farmer was and learned it was the one near us. The bigger surprise was when I lifted the lid on the cardboard container. Inside were a dozen, pristine, multi-hued beauties, clean as a whistle. And for just $3.

I often prepare omelets for breakfast. I hate French omelets—thick, puffy, and too eggy, with little filling. I use my largest non-stick skillet (12 inches) to make my omelets similar to those made on a grill-top in a diner, slim and packed with lots of high-quality cheese such as Gruyère, gouda, fontina or sharp cheddar. I always add a vegetable, such as torn baby arugula or spinach for a healthful note, or silky caramelized onions; earthy sliced and sauteed cremini mushrooms or a mixture of fresh herbs such as thyme, flat-leaf parsley, chives, and basil. Sometimes I’ll shred thin slices of prosciutto di Parma or crisp up cubes of pancetta (similar to bacon) and add that to the cheese in the pan.

To make an omelet for two I pour four beaten eggs into the skillet on medium heat. After they have just started to set I slip a flat spatula around the eggs, lifting the edges to allow the loose eggs to flow underneath to cook. I lay my ingredients on the bottom half of the omelet and wait until the eggs are set enough to flip the top half over the filling. A moment later I slice the omelet in half with the top of my spatula and slip a portion onto each of two plates.

We love soft, creamy scrambled eggs. These are prepared on a low flame and gently stirred with a rubber spatula. As they are just coming together I throw in a healthy handful of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or the slightly stronger sheep’s milk cheese, Pecorino Romano. If I have some chives or parsley in the garden I mince them and add them for a bright note.

A favorite way to use my farm-fresh eggs is to make a crustless quiche I developed some years ago. It’s much easier than having to bother making a pie crust or use a store-bought variety full of preservatives. I simply lay very thin slices of muenster cheese around the bottom and sides of a glass pie plate. I add cooked and seasoned vegetables such as spinach, kale, onions and/or sautéed mushrooms, a light layer of shredded Gruyère cheese and top the vegetables with an egg custard. Once baked, I let it sit a few minutes until completely set, then slice it into wedges.

These quiches are infinitely versatile. Use any vegetables you would normally use in a typical quiche and throw in any fresh herbs you like, as well. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or a light dinner. Worth a trip to Beechwoods Road.

Kale and leek crustless quiche

Serves 4 – 6

A handful of sautéed cremini mushrooms are a nice addition to this quiche. It’s a versatile quiche, so try other combos of vegetables, as well. You can also drain a package of chopped spinach and squeeze it of all moisture, as a substitute for the kale.

1 bunch flat lacinato (Tuscan) Italian kale

2 medium leeks, trimmed at both ends so they are  6 or 7 inches long

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

8 thin slices Muenster cheese

2 ounces grated Gruyère cheese

4 eggs

1 ½ cups half-and-half

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut off the stems at the base of the kale and discard. Wash kale and dry with paper towels. Remove very large ribs from leaves and discard, but thinner ones may remain. Slice the kale into ½ inch slices.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the kale, little by little, pushing down gently with a wooden spoon until all the kale is in the pot. Boil for 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and run under cold water.

Squeeze the kale as dry as possible with your hands, then blot with a paper towel to further dry it. You can also put the kale in a dish towel, roll it up and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. You want it dry. On a cutting board, coarsely chop the kale. Set aside.

Slice the leeks in half lengthwise, stopping about ¼ inch from the darker end, so they remain intact. Run under cold water to clean, then pat dry. Slice the leeks thinly, cross-wise.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring, about 2 to 3 minutes, until soft but not colored. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.

Line a glass or ceramic pie plate with the slices of Muenster cheese, pressing them all around the edges and laying one piece on the bottom, so the plate is covered with cheese. Distribute the cooked kale evenly over the cheese. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spoon the leeks over the kale. Add a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg, if using. Cover the vegetables with the grated cheese.

In a large bowl, beat the four eggs. Add the half-and-half and beat well. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour the custard evenly over the vegetables and cheese, then place in the oven and bake for about 35 minutes, until the top is firm and golden. Remove from the oven and let sit for 7 or 8 minutes to settle. Cut into wedges and serve.

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