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Archive for the ‘Eggs’ Category

We’re so coddled here, with the wonderful food prepared for and served to us at the Academy.  So it was with real satisfaction last night that I prepared a meal requiring what felt like authentic labor: beheading fish and whisking for a good half hour.

The meal was utterly simple, and maybe that’s why it was so much fun to make.  I started in the morning at the open air market on Via Nicolini, where I bought a pile of fresh sardines.  The fishmonger threw in a handful of parsley too, which is one of the nice gestures these Roman vendors always make.  It’s both generous and bossy of them: “here, have some herbs” and “if you’re going to cook that, you really should have this.”  (This attitude actually seems to be a regional—or even national—trait.)  I bought lemons at another stall, mixed chicories at another, some apples, brocoletti, and then some pizza bianca at Pasticceria Beti.

Here are the fish, before their “dressing”:

There are a few ways to prepare sardines—going from minimally to maximally meticulous.  I chose the middle road.  The minimal would be just to clean the scales off and cook them whole.  The most thorough would be to cut the heads off, clean the guts out, and bone them before cooking.  The middle way, which Robinson Crusoe would have advised, is to break the heads off with your hands; the attached guts follow; and the boning is easier to do when the fish are cooked anyway.

Sardines are very nutritious, as they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in the mercury and other contaminants that settle in the big fish higher up on the food chain. They are very high in selenium and vitamin B12 and high in calcium, niacin, and phosphorus.  Are these good reasons to feel virtuous even when you fry them in butter?

After a good descaling rinse, they’re ready to be dredged in salted flour and fried up in a mixture of butter and olive oil, at high heat.

Before doing that though, I made the aioli with a whisk—and with the assistance of Junior Wells’s Hoo Doo Man Blues, prosecco, and Peter.  I followed Alice Waters’s recipe from The Art of Simple Food.  Start with garlic and a pinch of salt mashed with a mortar-and-pestle; add a 1/4 tsp. of water and an egg yolk. Starting drop by drop, whisk in 1 c. extra virgin olive oil. (When you’re not working with the help of electricity, this takes a good long time.)

The resulting meal was simple, cheap, yummy, and fun.

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There are certain food items my family would be unhappy to do without: eggs, milk, peanut butter, and basil.  Only one of these items is not a regular part of the Italian diet.

I had heard that the big, fancy gourmet food store near the Vatican, Castroni, was the place to find peanut butter.  This store is amazing for its glittering array of precious victuals.  The pleasure is in gazing at the novelties, and not in purchasing.  There is one high shelf in particular that had me staring in dumbstruck awe.  Call it a shrine to American cravings.

Castroni

For the sorry traveler who feels deprived and disappointed by what Rome has to offer in the edible realm, here is his Skippy, her Betty Crocker.  See the size of the Skippy jar? See the price tag, in euros, above it (3.90)?  The cravings must be strong, indeed.  This was not the place for me to buy peanut butter.

I asked my friend Jeannie where to get it.  She told me about Canestra, a health food store in Trastevere, not far from the cheese shop where I got the ricotta.  This is what I’ve been looking for:

peanut butter

It’s organic (biologico) but not local; it’s made in Germany.

The other items on my list of essentials are very local.  The milk and eggs are from the immediate region of Rome.  We buy them from the Rome Sustainable Food Project.  The milk is whole, unpasteurized, and delicious—especially frothed up in the form of a cappuccino made by Alessandro at the Academy bar.

milk & capp

The basil, in a picture here by Jack, is in our window basket.

basil

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Eggs make frequent but unspectacular appearances on this blog.  Like dead metaphors–staples of language we barely notice–eggs are ubiquitous, humble, and very nearly necessary.

Aside from windowsill herbs, eggs are probably the easiest foods to find locally.   In every little region, you’ll find someone who keeps a backyard flock of laying hens.  Just ask around.

We eat eggs often, and of course not just for breakfast.  Like dairy products, eggs are nearly perfect foods, offering a healthy dose of fats and protein in neatly portioned packages.  They are also relatively cheap, when compared to other sources of animal protein.  And to top it off, they cook in minutes. Find fresh, local eggs whenever you can; the difference in taste and quality is huge.

The easiest, and no less delicious, way to cook an egg is to scramble it with some salt and pepper, heat a pan on high, melt a bit of butter, pour in the egg, turn off the heat, move it around a bit, slide it onto a plate, and eat.  Lunch in our house is often a changing combination of vegetables alongside an 8-minute egg.  Jack loves eggs in all forms, which gives us an easy dinner option when he refuses the bluefish or something “smelly” like that. (Though he did eat bluefish “pate” with relish the other day, when he thought it was just some salty spread.)  Fritatta is an easy dinner we have frequently.  Anything can be thrown in–from last night’s steamed broccoli to a bit of frozen bacon or a handful of fresh herbs.

One of the best, and simplest, fritattas I’ve had was made by a friend of a friend of the family’s whose apartment we were staying in for a night in Paris.  Peter and I were on a post-college trip, crashing for free when possible.  These friends of friends, whom we’d only just met that weekend, invited us to stay with them on the night before our early flight home.  They had a two-year-old daughter, Chloe, who had to be fed and put to bed before dinner.  They’d just arrived back home on a Sunday evening after a weekend at their parents’ in a suburb of Bordeaux.  It had been a long day, and a quick meal was in order.  The meal Valerie cooked up was a fritatta made with whole sage leaves spread in a six-pointed circle.  The eggy texture was perfect–set but still moist in the middle.  There was also a bit of salad and baguette.  Perfectly simple.

Fresh Herb Fritatta

6 eggs
6 fresh sage leaves
butter
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350.  Whisk eggs with salt and pepper until foamy. Heat an oven-proof skillet over moderately high heat, and melt a bit of butter, spreading it evenly and thinly over the whole pan.  Pour in the eggs and cook until it starts to bubble and form a skin on the bottom.  Lay in the sage leaves.  Pop it in the oven for about 10 minutes or until set.  When set, invert onto a serving plate, slice, and serve.

Or, introduce and endless variety of other ingredients….

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This summer, while we live–on extended visits–with various units of extended family, my cooking life has been tyrannized.  Not by non-omnivores or picky children so much as by the need to please everyone.  How to do so?  In our family, it’s with the Square Meal.  Protein, veg, “starch,” bev.

Last night, I said, “forget it, I’m making what I want and I’m not cooking.”  Well, I did cook, but just two 8-minute eggs for Jack and a handful of green beans.  We ate a cold and warm assortment of fresh, ripe, local foods.  Remember those heirloom tomatoes I bought on Saturday?  Black and pink brandywines.  I sliced them thick and sprinkled them with fresh mozzarella, basil chiffonade, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  I cooked the green and yellow wax beans just a bit, and tossed them with leftover sweet corn that had been cut off the cob, and with an assortment of chopped herbs from the back yard.  We also had Tarentaise, the cheese made by the Putnams of Thistle Hill Farm in North Pomfret.  A bowlful of mixed greens with mustardy vinaigrette.  A King Arthur baguette.  Vinho Verde, the effervescent, airy as seagrass Portuguese white that I love.

I know, doesn’t sound like a very adventurous escape.  Ah, well.  It was a good meal.

And escape from the tyranny of square meals is a topic that warrants discussion.  We eat that way quite a bit more at home, and not just because we’re busy parents of a busy four-year-old.  It’s refreshing to eat picnics inside, or to make a meal of the humble egg.

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On our way home from the strawberry festival, after driving through the little downtown of Norwich in which all was quiet (it’s Sunday) except for Dan & Whit’s general store (“If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”), we drove up Turnpike Road, kept going until it turned to dirt, and saw a sign: “eggs.”   We slowed down, and stopped at the table where a young neighbor was selling eggs and chocolate chunk cookies.

eggs 4 sale
We bought a dozen eggs and two cookies.  The eggs came from two breeds of chicken: New Hampshire Reds and Araucana.  The Araucana’s eggs are a pale greenish blue.  I boiled two for lunch, and found when I peeled them that the inner shells are a deeper turquoise.  The yolks were the color of black-eyed Susan petals.

My parents’ house is about a half-mile further on Turnpike Road.  It’s satisfying to eat a lunch so fresh, and in hues I’d love to paint.

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We went to the first farmers’ market of the year at “Ag Heritage Park” today in the drizzle.  I and everyone else there seemed to be wondering the same thing: why aren’t there more farmers around here?  The line for the most varied vegetable selection was almost thirty minutes long. The berry farm stand ran out of strawberries at ten past the opening hour.  Peaches were gone by the time Jack and I made it out of the veggie line.   Hundreds of people arrived in the first hour and stood around in the rain, beaming at each other as they hefted canvas bags full of local lettuce, peaches, cucumbers, honey, cheese, and eggs—if they were lucky enough to get some before it all sold out. There’s so much pent up demand for fresh local food, and too few CSAs and small farmers to meet it with their supply. This may be because the market is young in relation to the agricultural history of the state, in which commodity crops like cotton and lumber dominated.

The exciting thing, though, is that small farms are popping up or remaking themselves to meet this demand.  And if you ask around enough you find out about other producers who have been in the area, quietly serving up their grass fed beef or organic greens for decades. (For example, the Ritches of Goose Pond Farm, one of whose scrumptious chickens we enjoyed with friends the other night.)
fm haul
Jack and I took home a small haul: red leaf and butter lettuces, an armful of baby summer squashes, veggie goat cheese from Bulger Creek Farm in Notasulga, and some honey.

Eggs were available, but we already had a dozen of the local “Frank’s Famous Eggs” in the fridge.  (Their yolks are molten orange! And if you happen to eat a supermarket egg when you’re used to the density and flavor of these, you’ll say: what’s this tasteless rubber?)
frank'sThe lettuces made a crisp bed for some eight-minute eggs.

salad

I roasted the summer squash in a skillet with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a sprig of backyard rosemary.  Jack insisted he didn’t like “fwash” but he ate every sweet and salty morsel.

squash

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