Sarah Lemon

Journalist and food-writer turned cooking instructor.

Farm-fresh eggs are eat-local essentials

by | Uncategorized

Eat-local enthusiasts hunger for springtime’s start to local open-air farmers markets. 

The calorie payoff, however, is still months in the making as leafy greens, herbs and even garden starts constitute the vast majority of freshly grown items for sale. 

Asparagus is still a good two months off. Peas? About three months in the making. Don’t even mention tomatoes or cucumbers … Even the most seasoned of seasonal eaters are guilty of unrealistic expectations at early spring markets. 

So I’m never more thankful for eggs, among the most plentiful items at the first spring farmers markets. Perfect little parcels of protein, eggs achieve their nutrient density from hens’ wholesome feed, fresh air and space to do what their species naturally do. 

Growing a seasonal garden has taught me more about food, cooking, economy and kitchen improvisation than any other influence in my life to date. Keeping backyard hens only reinforced those lessons and contradicted the perpetual bounty of supermarkets’ cooler cases. 

The life cycles of everything on this planet entail periods of rest. Hens are a prime example. Daylight — about 14 or 15 hours — triggers their egg production. When daylight wanes in the fall, egg production falls off, a primary reason why egg availability tapers through fall farmers markets. 

Almost like clockwork, when the calendar page flips to March, flock rouse from their winter stupor to lay again. Backyard poultry enthusiasts and small farmers can light their coops to artificially stimulate laying, as factory farms do. But hens’ productive years can be shortened by that approach. 

Regardless of their provenance, eggs — pound for pound — are the most economical, wholesome form of protein. And spring in the ideal season to revel in the delicate texture yet versatile flavor potential of eggs. It should go without saying that eggs effortlessly anchor lunch and dinner, when I appreciate them far more than in the morning. 

Quiche and frittata are go-tos, meals that I can pull together quickly with whatever ingredients easily come to hand. They accommodate just about any vegetable, give new life to leftovers and can stretch a little bit of meat among several people. 

If those dishes are multifaceted mealtime solutions, soufflé is the intentional approach to the pinnacle of eggs’ potential. As with many classic recipes, soufflé is much more accessible than novice cooks assume. 

I confess that I came late to soufflé in my development as a cook. Perhaps it was this concise, straightforward method from the 299-recipe tome “French Feasts,” by Stephane Reynaud, that shored up my confidence. Maybe some innate finesse spurred these cheese soufflés to glorious puffiness. Either way, I wondered what took me so long to finally make them.

If you can get your hands on some duck eggs, almost exclusively available at farmers markets, you’ll be rewarded with the ultimate in eggs’ unctuousness, owing to larger yolks in comparison with whites. Duck eggs make supremely moist baked goods and decadent sauces and custards. But recipes, like soufflé, that rely on whipped egg whites may require an additional duck-egg white or two.

Consider coating the greased soufflé ramekins with grated Parmesan, flour or breadcrumbs to prevent sticking and make cleanup easier. Or keep it simple with frittata in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet for a no-stick egg dish that has everyday appeal.

Only one other flavor could vie for my affections toward cheese in soufflé. Lemon keeps eggs’ innate character light. The subtle citrus tang of Meyer lemons, in particular, foreshadows brighter days still to come for farmers, gardeners and everyone who values their local food sources.  

Cheese Soufflé

6 eggs

2 tablespoons butter, divided

1/4 cup flour

1 1/4 cups grated Swiss-type cheese, including Gruyere, Emmental or Comte

7 ounces whole milk

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Salt and white pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F. 

Separate the egg whites from yolks. 

Make a roux by melting 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter in a pan and stirring in the flour. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat without browning. Remove from heat and add the milk and cream; return to medium heat and cook, stirring continuously, until mixture thickens.

Remove pan from heat and stir in the grated cheese, allowing it to melt. Stir in egg yolks and the nutmeg. Season to taste and pour mixture into a cold dish.    

With remaining butter, grease a soufflé mold, or 6 to 8 individual ramekins, from top to bottom. Using an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites into very firm, shiny peaks. Fold them delicately into egg mixture. Fill prepared mold or ramekins until one-quarter to one-third full.     

If using ramekins, arrange on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, less time for individual ramekins, until puffed and golden. Serve immediately. 

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Meyer Lemon Soufflés

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided, plus more for preparing ramekins

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut up, plus more for preparing ramekins

4 or 5 large Meyer lemons

4 eggs, separated

Butter and sugar 6 (1/2-cup) ramekins; set them on a rimmed baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Zest 2 of the lemons. Squeeze as many lemons as needed to measure 3/4 cup strained juice.

In a heavy medium saucepan, whisk the egg yolks with lemon zest and juice, 3/4 cup of the sugar and the butter. Whisk over medium heat until thick, for 10 to 12 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large, clean bowl. Let cool a few minutes.

Using a heavy-duty mixer with whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until foamy. With mixer running, sprinkle in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and continue whipping to glossy, white peaks, for about 1 to 2 minutes.

Whisk a big spoonful of whites into lemon curd to lighten it. Scrape in remaining whites. Using a flexible spatula, fold curd into whites. Do this gently, so as not to crush meringue and thoroughly, so as not to leave any white blobs. Ladle into prepared ramekins.

Slide sheet of ramekins into preheated oven and bake until golden and dramatically puffed, for 8 to 9 minutes. Taking care with hot ramekins, serve and eat right away.

Makes 6 small soufflés.

Springtime Frittata

2 small leeks

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

1/2 cup finely chopped fennel, fronds, stem or bulb

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 eggs

3 tablespoons cream

1/4 cup crumbled mild feta cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons pine nuts

Halve the leeks lengthwise and then slice crosswise into 1/4-inch thick crescents. You’ll have about 5 cups. Using a salad spinner (or a colander set inside a pot), soak in 2 or 3 changes of cool water until clean. No need to dry.

In a wide (10- to 12-inch) skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-heat. Scatter on the fennel seeds. Toast until fragrant, for a few seconds. Slide in leeks and the chopped fresh fennel. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Cover. Cook, stirring now and then, until tender, for 12 to 13 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream. Stir in the feta, dill and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in cooked vegetables.

Set broiler rack about 6 inches from heat source. Heat broiler on high.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter into an 8-inch, nonstick, ovenproof skillet set over medium heat. Pour in egg mixture. Using a soft spatula, pull set edges toward center a few times. Let cook undisturbed until frittata is set on bottom and not on top, for about 5 minutes.

Scatter nuts across surface; press them in gently. Broil in oven until nuts have browned and frittata puffs, for about 3 minutes.

Let frittata rest in pan for a few minutes. Loosen edges with a soft spatula and slide frittata onto a cutting board. Let rest. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings.


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