Eggs: Beyond Breakfast
Though eggs are usually relegated to breakfast in this country, in most of the world they’re an around-the-clock food. In France, a poached egg turns a salad into a meal, and "farmer’s omelet," with bacon and potatoes, is a popular dinner in Germany. Japanese cooks swirl raw egg into hot soups or whisk them into delicate omelets to top sushi.
If you think about it, other proteins are a lot more perishable than eggs; that chicken, steak or even tofu you buy can go off quickly if you don’t use them. Eggs can be happily stored for weeks in the fridge, ready for an impromptu supper or lunch. That is, unless you buy my favorite type, local pasture-raised eggs, which are available super-fresh when their flavor is at its peak, and spoil a little more quickly due to their higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. For more on different types of eggs, see The Chicken and the Egg: Egg Labels and Production Methods.
I’m lucky that my brother, sister-in-law, and parents raise pastured chickens on their off-the-grid farm in Northern California, about a four-hour drive north from where I live with my family in San Francisco. The chickens don’t always produce a lot of eggs, depending on the age of the flock and the time of year. But when eggs are plentiful, my family has a few favorite ways to take advantage of their intense flavor, beautiful orange yolks and rich texture—all a result of their freshness as well as a diet that includes foraged greens and bugs and generous table scraps.
My brother stirs the eggs into his fresh pasta dough for spectacular ravioli or tortellini, while my dad often prepares a Mediterranean vegetable stew full of fresh vegetables like red bell peppers, onions and potatoes. He cooks it in a wide casserole dish with a lid, and when it’s about time to serve, he cracks eggs on top, places the lid on, and returns the stew to the oven until the whites are opaque. You could use this same technique for any vegetable-based or bean stew; just make sure everything is cooked completely, then add the eggs in one layer, cover and bake for about 15 minutes.
At home, where I don’t have access to their incredible eggs, I still love to put eggs at the center of meals. A favorite dinner salad is inspired by the French salade lyonnaise, which usually stars frisee, a slightly bitter frizzy-leafed salad; lardons, chunks of sautéed pancetta or bacon; and a poached egg. You can use any salad green with hearty texture and bold flavor, such as dandelion greens or even romaine hearts. If you can, buy pancetta from a deli cut 1/4-inch thick and chop it into 1/4-inch dice, then sauté it and add it to the lettuce. Begin poaching the eggs, then make the vinaigrette in the same pan in which you cooked the pancetta, adding a teaspoon or so of Dijon or country-style mustard and a tablespoon or two of vinegar, then enough olive oil to balance it out. Add the warm dressing to the greens, and top each plate of salad with a poached egg.
Some other egg-based dinners at our house include carbonara pasta, which just requires whisking a few eggs with cream, lots of black pepper, grated Pecorino and Parmesan cheese, and small pieces of sautéed bacon. When you add the hot-out-of-the pot spaghetti to the bowl and stir, the sauce thickens and coats the pasta in creaminess.
I’m also a big fan of frittatas, the Italian omelets that can be a base for whatever vegetables, cooked or uncooked, I have around. First, whisk eggs together with salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Chop the vegetables into bite-size pieces, then sauté them in enough olive oil to coat a nonstick frying pan until tender (if using cooked veggies, just rewarm them in a little bit of oil). If you'd like to give your frittata more heft, add roasted potatoes or cooked rice to the vegetable mixture. Add a knob of butter (optional), and once it’s melted, pour the eggs evenly over the vegetables. Sprinkle with grated or crumbled cheese, if you like, then cook on low heat for 10 minutes, and bake in a 350 degree oven until set, about 20 minutes.
Since we almost always have tortillas, beans and salsa in the house, we can pretty much make huevos rancheros any time. You can make a simple ranchero sauce by simmering chopped canned tomatoes with about half as much of your favorite salsa for 10 to 15 minutes. Fry eggs, place them on top of warmed tortillas, ladle the sauce over the eggs, top with grated cheese, and serve with beans on the side.
When the dinner hour arrives and our refrigerator is in need of restocking, I might ask my husband to make his incredibly creamy, just-set eggs. He whisks the raw eggs only lightly with a fork, which he says is the secret to the big, fluffy curds. He preheats a nonstick frying pan well, then adds butter and swirls it until it’s foamy, adds the eggs, and then lowers the heat. He gently scrambles the eggs and then removes the pan from the heat just before they are completely done. With toast, this simple mixture of broken eggs, salt, pepper and butter is pretty much the world’s most perfect dinner.
Need more egg inspiration? Check out some fabulous egg recipes.