It's Peak Season for Eggs

Plus, variations on tofu pancakes and a quick asparagus pasta

We’re switching things up a bit today by featuring two of my recipes — tofu pancakes four ways and my egg salad (with an emphasis on “salad”), with some timely info about eggs from Melissa. I’m lucky enough to have a few “girl” “friends” (Terry, Dearie, Winona, Jackie, and Buffy) who, in exchange for being probably the best-fed chickens in North America, give us all the eggs we can use.

Then we’ll move along to as seasonal a recipe as you can imagine from one of the best home cooks I’ve ever known, my friend, the veteran food-and-travel writer, Ed Schneider. Ed and I grew up in the same neighborhood but never met until he reached out when The Minimalist appeared. We connected — and have hung out, cooked, and eaten together dozens of times since then. He never ceases to amaze me and we’re going to include as many of his experiences here as we can, moving forward.

So, here we go….

Let’s talk about eggs, particularly those we’re seeing at the farmers market, whether it’s an uptick in those you don’t have to refrigerate ( like New Jersey’s Dutch Hill Farm that leaves the protective coating on) or an emphasis on marigold-colored yolks.

Ages ago, I talked to Anissa Helou about a photo she posted of eggs for sale at a farmers market in Budapest: Brown eggs towered around a small bowl filled with a trio of gloriously plump, orange-yellow yolks. The cookbook author of Feast: Food of the Islamic World, Helou said she’d never seen eggs sold like this. “But it makes sense.” She’s often on a quest for good eggs, especially since she travels for her work so widely and doesn’t always have a go-to source. 

“Really fresh eggs are important,” she says. When they’re not, you can taste that in recipes like a meringue or mayonnaise. “In sweets, in particular, the quality really comes through.”

Yolks are where the nutrition and calories are, food scientist Harold McGee confirms in his book, On Food and Cooking. And the color depends on what the hen eats.

When eggs are more orange than yellow, it’s “a sign they’re eating grasses and foraging,” says Shelly Oswald, a chicken farmer who owns Old Time Farm in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. Bigger industrial producers may spike chicken feed with marigolds to achieve a similar effect, she says. 

The egg test

Fresh eggs are going to be heavier than older ones, McGee confirms. As eggs age, moisture evaporates through the shell.  In his book, he points to a home test of submerging an egg in a bowl of water: the higher the wide end, the older the egg. (An egg that floats is very old and should be discarded.)  

Sometimes you can tell that eggs are heavier in the store by just picking up the container: for example, Vital Farms eggs at Whole Foods or Target. The Texas-based company offers certified humane eggs through a network of 200 farms; it’s is one of the largest producers of pasture-raised eggs in the country. According to my completely unscientific test, their eggs are heavier, clocking in at 68 to over 70 grams an egg. Compare that to 61 grams or so for the Wisconsin-based Blue Sky Farms, and around 57 grams for a dozen Pennsylvania farmers market eggs as well as Giant Eagle grocery store eggs. 

Once an egg is cracked, you’re looking for a certain structure: A firm, rounded yolk, an intact yolk membrane, and thick white denote higher quality. The more the egg spreads and the easier the yolk breaks, the lower the quality. When eggs are really fresh, the whites are almost cloudy, says Oswald, and might even display bubbles of carbon dioxide. An egg-white protein, the ovomucin makes the whites thick when they’re fried, says McGee. And it gradually disintegrates in an egg as it gets older. 

This brings us back to your day-to-day food shopping, to a point we already know: Buying eggs close to the source is the way to go. Once you find good ones, try to maintain a relationship with the farmer.

If that’s not feasible, look at the sell-by or laid-on date, the weight, and the labels. 

At the grocery store, the best quality eggs can be listed as AA and generally have a sell-by date (while farmers market eggs might have a date they were harvested). Cage-free eggs denote birds living in about a square foot; free-range, about 2 feet; and pasture-raised, over 100 square feet per bird. It’s depressing as hell to think about — and it’s the reality of buying eggs at a grocery store. 

As one would expect, pasture-raised eggs are often the most expensive, like those big Vital Farms eggs that clock in at about $7 a dozen or more. If you care enough about eggs that you’re reading this article, you know they’re worth the few extra bucks. 

I eat eggs quite often, whether it’s as a frittata, souffle, or poached eggs on greens. With good produce, I also like making Mark’s egg salad sandwich, below.

Egg Salad Sandwich with Lots of Vegetables

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Loaded with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, and dressed with olive oil and lemon, this sandwich puts the “salad” back in egg salad.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs

  • 1 medium cucumber

  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes

  • 1 bunch fresh parsley

  • 8 slices of sandwich bread

  • 1 lemon

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

1. Turn the broiler to high; put the rack 6 inches from the heat.

2. Fill a medium saucepan about 2/3 with water and gently submerge the eggs. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and cover. Set the timer for 9 minutes. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Peel the cucumber if necessary, cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, and chop. Put it in a large bowl. Core and chop the tomatoes; add to the bowl. Put 8 slices of bread on a baking sheet.

3. Broil the bread, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides, 2 to 5 minutes total. Grate the lemon zest into a bowl; refrigerate the remaining fruit for another use.

4. When the eggs are done, transfer them to ice water with a slotted spoon. Leave them submerged for at least a minute.

5. Crack and peel the egg, transfer them to a cutting board, and chop. Add them to the bowl.

6. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper to the bowl; toss, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Assemble the sandwiches and serve.

Don’t be shy about getting creative here. You can go in other directions such as making a tuna and egg salad with cucumbers and dill: Combine canned tuna, chopped hard-boiled eggs, and chopped English cucumbers in a salad bowl. Add some mayo, a bit of Dijon mustard, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper, and a good handful of chopped fresh dill, or tarragon, etc. Stir to combine, and serve on a bed of greens, or with toasted bread on the side.

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— Recipe from How to Cook Everything Fast


Tofu Pancakes, 4 Ways

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 30 minutes

These super, unusual, savory (and obviously vegan) pancakes take advantage of the chameleon-like qualities of tofu. See the variations for just a few of the flavor combinations you can use.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds firm tofu, patted dry

  • 1/3 cup soy milk or water

  • 3 tablespoons tahini or any nut butter

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose, rice, or whole wheat flour

  • Salt or soy sauce

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (like parsley, basil, cilantro, dill, or chives; optional)

  • 2-3 tablespoons sesame or good-quality vegetable oil

Instructions

1. Put the tofu, soy milk, and tahini in a food processor and purée until smooth.

2. Transfer to a large bowl and sprinkle with the flour, some salt or soy sauce, and the herbs if you’re using them; stir well to combine. The consistency should be like a thick batter; add more liquid or flour to adjust it if necessary. (You can make the batter in advance up to this point; cover and refrigerate for up to a day. You might have to thin it with a bit of soy milk or water before using.)

3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, spoon the batter into the pan in whatever size cakes you like, but leave enough room to flip them. Cook, undisturbed, until the bottoms turn golden and release easily from the pan, about 4 minutes. Flip carefully and cook until the other side is golden and cooked through, another 3 minutes or so. Serve.

Other options:

Ginger-Scallion Tofu Pancakes: Lovely with Basil Dipping Sauce, or any soy-based sauce. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped scallions and 1 tablespoon each minced garlic and fresh ginger. Use rice flour, season with soy sauce, and cook in sesame oil.

Tofu Pancakes, Thai Style: Best served with peanut sauce: Substitute peanut butter for the tahini. Add 1 tablespoon each minced garlic, fresh ginger, and lemongrass and 1 or 2 Thai chiles, seeded and thinly sliced. Use cilantro for the herb and cook the pancakes in vegetable oil.

Tofu Pancakes with Chutney: Substitute 2 tablespoons chaat masala for the tahini and add 1 tablespoon each minced garlic and fresh ginger. Use cilantro for the herb.

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— Recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Completely Revised Tenth Anniversary Edition


Three Faces of Spring at the Farmers Market

Linguine with asparagus, leeks, and new-season garlic

By Edward Schneider

In the farmers’ market, seasons change tentatively. Here in New York in June, we’re still seeing leeks, spring garlic, and asparagus. Asparagus, is, of course, a big event and has kept us busy.

Here's a June pasta dinner for two. You could say that asparagus is the star, but you'd be wrong: The asparagus and pasta alone, cooked in the same way, make a good dish, but the alliums add an extra dimension.

Note that I used olive oil throughout the cooking. You could certainly use butter — except for the final drizzle of oil over the finished dish: You wouldn’t want to miss out on that irreplaceable aroma of good olive oil warming as it hits steaming pasta fresh out of the pan.

Put some salted water up to boil for the pasta (I used 150 grams of linguine; this would be just as good with spaghetti or one of its slightly thicker subspecies such as spaghetttoni or the square-cut spaghetti alla chitarra). I’ve taken to cooking dry pasta in less water than I did for the first half-century of my cooking life; this gives you a nice starchy liquid to finish your sauce with. You can go along with that, or you can do it the way you always do.

Heat a serving bowl and two soup plates or individual bowls. The serving bowl is optional: You can dole out the portions in the kitchen.

Cut the white and palest green parts of a small leek into thin slices, cutting on the bias. If you have only a big leek, as I did, use about 3-1/2 ounces (100 grams) and save the rest for another day. If the leek is gritty, wash the slices in a bowl of cold water and lift them out with your hands into a strainer; repeat until you cannot feel a single grain of sand at the bottom of the bowl. Let the leeks drain in the strainer if you’ve had to wash them.

If your spring garlic is so young that the skin on the cloves hasn’t even begun to form, cut a whole head crosswise into thin slices. If it is bigger and more mature than that, with soft (but not dry and papery) skins on the cloves, pull the cloves apart, peel off the skins and slice each clove; in this case, use about a third of a head or a little less. If you have only regular garlic, don’t go overboard: Use just two average-sized cloves. I can be imprecise with the amount of garlic because it (a) is a matter of taste and (b) this dish will be good with a whole range of quantities, even zero: The leeks are more important.

Prepare the asparagus, about half a pound (230 grams) of it: Wash it thoroughly, as you did the leek slices. Cut off any woody parts at the base of the stalks. Cut off the tips; if they are thin leave them whole; if they are thicker than, say, 3/8 inch (just shy of 1 cm), cut them in half lengthwise. Set the tips aside. Use a vegetable peeler first to peel the stalks, then to plane them into thin strips. There will come a time for each stalk when this becomes impossible unless you are far defter than I am (not a very high bar to surmount), but don’t worry: If there are thicker strips or little matchsticks among the ribbons, they’ll be fine.

Over low heat, in a frying pan or saute pan big enough to eventually hold the pasta, sweat the leeks and garlic, sprinkled with salt, in 3 tablespoons olive oil, stirring from time to time. When they are tender but not browned, about 7 or 8 minutes, stir in the asparagus tips and a few seconds later turn off the heat.

Put the pasta into the boiling salted water; stir occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the pan. When the pasta is a couple of minutes from being done, turn on the heat under the vegetables (to medium). When you can hear them gently sizzling, add the pasta to the pan, using tongs or one of those spaghetti-wranglers that look like back-scratchers. Using tongs, stir/toss to combine. Add the asparagus strips to the pan and use the tongs to integrate them into the panful of pasta; they will cook sufficiently in almost no time and will remain a little crisp (as will the tips).

Add pasta water as needed to keep everything very moist and loose; it may take as much as 3/4 cup (180 ml), but start with half that amount. Taste for salt — and also to decide whether you want to add pepper and/or a handful of parsley leaves. (I added neither in this case.) Finish with a well-distributed drizzle of your best olive oil and serve as warm as possible.