This weekend's competition in Wisconsin is a bit more intense than it was in your grade school gym class.
Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst has been seeing eggs everywhere: on salads in bistros and on top of ramen in noodle shops. And she’s a fan herself, as she tells host Robin Young.
“I think in a way, eggs might be the most perfect food around. It’s just this great blast of protein and energy and it’s no longer just for breakfast.”
Kathy’s Note: There are few foods more adaptable and forgiving than a frittata. For those who have a fear of making omelets, a frittata is simple, easy, and produces dramatic results. In this version, I sauté leeks, red peppers, onions and grated tomatoes and mix the eggs with grated Parmesan and cheddar cheese, but the possibilities are endless.
The frittata is baked in a hot oven to produce a slightly puffed dish that is like a cross between a soufflé and crustless quiche. Serve this frittata for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner with crusty bread and a green salad.
There is just one thing to keep in mind when making a frittata: the equipment. A smaller, ovenproof skillet is your best bet. An 8½ inch skillet is ideal for a six egg frittata. You don’t want to use a skillet any larger or the frittata will be too thin, won’t puff up, and can dry out. The smaller skillet produces creamy eggs with a good, thick height.
Use this as a master recipe and substitute different cheeses and vegetables, or add crumbled bacon, ham, sausage, or pancetta. Other favorite combinations: asparagus, red pepper and goat cheese; zucchini, Parmesan and fennel; red, green and yellow pepper strips with grated Gruyere and fresh basil.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, dark green sections removed and the white and pale green part cut in half lengthwise and into thin pieces
1 small red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, cored and cut into thin strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 large tomato, grated on the large holes of a cheese grater
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or basil, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar, Gruyere, or crumbled feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
In a medium size, heavy, ovenproof 8½ inch skillet, heat the oil over moderately-high heat. Add the leek and onions and cook, stirring for about 8 minutes until tender and golden brown. Add the red pepper and salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes. Add the grated tomato and half the herbs and cook over low heat, stirring, for another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, salt, pepper, remaining thyme or basil, and the grated Parmesan and cheddar until frothy.
Raise the heat under the skillet to moderately high and add the egg mixture. Let set 1 minute and place on the middle shelf of the preheated oven. Bake for about 12 to 14 minutes, or until puffed and the eggs don’t look wet. Gently jiggle the skillet to make sure the eggs are not too loose. Remove and let sit about 2 minutes. You can serve the frittata in the skillet or flip it out onto a wooden board or plate and cut into wedges. Serve at room temperature.
Kathy’s Note: I used to think deviled eggs were fussy old lady food, but there are few dishes that take such little effort and give back such a huge pay off. Here, I stuff the bottom of the cooked whites with a few surprises — sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olive tapenade, and a dill-scallion combination, and then top the fillings with a creamy egg mixture, so that each bite reveals a burst of flavor inside. Place the eggs on top of a bed of baby watercress and serve as a salad or first course.
Once you get the hang of these deviled egg surprises, you can create your own flavors; see below for some ideas to get you started.
12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes (the kind packed in oil), plus extra for garnish*
2 tablespoons black or green tapenade, plus extra for garnish*
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill, plus extra for garnish*
1 tablespoon finely chopped scallions, white and green parts, plus extra for garnish*
3 cups baby watercress, or stemmed regular watercress
Using a small, sharp knife, cut each egg in half, lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks and place in a small bowl. Mash the yolks with a fork, and add the mayonnaise, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste.
Divide the sun-dried tomatoes among 8 of the egg white halves. Divide the tapenade among 8 other halves. Mix together the dill and scallions and divide among the remaining 8 halves.
Fill each egg half with a spoonful of the yolk mixture, and then top with its respective garnish.
Place the watercress on a serving plate and arrange all three types of eggs on top.
Serves 8 to 12.
*Substitute 3 tablespoons of any of the following for any of the fillings above:
Kathy’s Note: A classic bistro-style salad, made with frisée lettuce, bacon, poached eggs, and leeks. Although the salad has a dressing the idea is that when you cut into the poached egg the yolk coats the salad with its delicious, creamy richness. You can prepare the leek, bacon, and vinaigrette several hours ahead of time and poach the egg just before serving.
For the salad:
1 head frisée lettuce, or about 4 cups mesclun greens, or a mix of bitter greens (like arugula, mustard greens and more)
5 slices thick, country-style bacon
4 large leeks or 6 medium sized or 12 scallions, dark green leaves removed, white and pale green section of leek or scallion cut in half lengthwise
A generous grinding of black pepper
For the vinaigrette:
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives, optional
Pinch of salt, or to taste
A few grindings of black pepper
For the poached eggs:
Clean the greens thoroughly and dry with paper towels or a clean tea towel and set aside. In a large skillet, fry the bacon over medium heat until cooked and crisp, about 3 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels.
Remove and discard all but 1 teaspoon of the bacon fat from the skillet. Heat the skillet with the bacon fat over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, for about 6 minutes, or until they are soft and golden. Remove from the heat and set aside.
To make the vinaigrette, whisk together all the ingredients in a small bowl, and set aside. (The recipe can be made several hours ahead of time up to this point; cover and refrigerate the vinaigrette, cooked leeks, greens, and bacon.)
To finish the salad:
Fill a large saucepan or pot with cold water and bring to a boil on high heat.
Meanwhile, place the greens in a large salad bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. (You can serve the salad in the bowl or divide it between four salad plates). Place the leeks on top of the greens and crumble the bacon into 1 inch pieces and scatter on top of the ramps.
Reduce the heat to medium and carefully crack the eggs into the water, one at a time, and cook for 2 minutes. (This will give you poached eggs with a soft, slightly runny yolk; if you want firmer yolks cook another minute or two.)
Kathy’s Note: If a B.L.T. is the perfect sandwich combination then a B.E.L.T. is even better. The meaty crunch of bacon combined with a juicy tomato, slices of hard boiled egg, crunchy, refreshing lettuce, and a simple tarragon and lemon-infused mayonnaise layered on golden brown toast is, in our opinion, perfect breakfast fare.
The idea for this unusual breakfast sandwich came from The Market Basket, a gourmet food take-out shop in Rockport, Maine. The eggs, bacon, and tarragon-flavored mayonnaise can all be made ahead of time, making the sandwich easy to put together in minutes just before serving.
Use any leftover mayonnaise for sandwiches or as the base of a creamy vinaigrette.
2 large eggs
4 strips thick-cut country bacon
⅓ cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 medium-sized, ripe tomato, cut into 4 thick slices, (2½ oz)
4 Romaine lettuce leaves
4 slices white bread
Place the eggs in a medium-size pot and cover with cold water. Hard boil the eggs. Peel the eggs, and cut into thin ⅛ inch slices.
Place the bacon strip in a medium-sized skillet set over moderately low heat and cook about 4 to 6 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness, until cooked through. Drain on paper towel.
To make the tarragon mayonnaise, gently mix the mayonnaise, tarragon, chives, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. (The eggs, bacon, and mayonnaise can be made a day ahead of time. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the sandwiches.)
Assemble the sandwiches: Toast the bread and while it’s toasting, gather all ingredients into a line for assembly.
Spread each piece of the warm toast with 1 tablespoon of the tarragon mayonnaise. Place 2 slices tomato, 2 pieces bacon, 4 slices egg, and 2 pieces lettuce on 2 slices of the bread. Top each piece of toast with a remaining slice of toast and cut the sandwich into two halves.
Makes 2 sandwiches.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
Have you noticed eggs are everywhere? We've noticed and so has HERE AND NOW resident chef Kathy Gunst who says eggs are not just for breakfast anymore. She's seeing them in ramen shops, bistros, pizzerias. She's made some dishes of her own and joins us in the studio to talk eggs. Kathy, good to see you.
KATHY GUNST, BYLINE: Great to see you, Robin.
YOUNG: In getting ready for this story, our producer Emiko Tamagawa learned that when birds, amphibians, reptiles have eggs, it's called a clutch.
GUNST: I know. A chicken clutch.
YOUNG: So there you have it. And there's just a clutch of eggs in our line of sight. Why?
GUNST: Well, I think, in a way, eggs might be the most perfect food around. It's just this great blast of protein and energy, and it's no longer, as you mentioned, just for breakfast. I see them everywhere I go. Yes, on top of ramen, the delicious Japanese noodle dish, the Korean dish - I believe I'm saying this correctly - bibimbap, always a fried on top of the Korean beef and the noodles and the grated carrots. Bistro salads, very popular in France for years, a poached egg in the middle of a salad of spicy winter greens like frisee, endive, chicory. You cut the egg open and the yolk just oozes out onto the greens. Wonderful way to perk up a winter salad.
YOUNG: Well, you sound like an ad for the egg industry. And, you know, people were concerned about eggs for a while - cholesterol.
GUNST: Very much concerned. Let's get right to it. Every doctor was saying cut the eggs out, cut the eggs out. But the truth is - cookbook author Marie Simmons wrote a book called "The Good Egg." And she says it's been shown to be erroneous. There is no direct link between the amount of cholesterol in a particular food and the level of cholesterol in the blood. And there've been a lot of studies that have found that the vast majority of people who are not genetically predisposed to coronary disease can eat an egg every day with no increased risk to their health.
The truth is - no connection to the egg industry here - they have an incredible storehouse of nutrients. They are a complete protein. They have amino acids. That's the building blocks of protein. There's vitamin A, there's vitamin B, and egg yolks have vitamin D. So rather than being scared of them, as with just about everything in this world, moderation.
YOUNG: OK. And you can even moderate further - maybe not eat the yolk and just the egg white, which is tons of protein.
YOUNG: But they're beautiful too.
GUNST: They are gorgeous.
YOUNG: Egg colors are gorgeous.
GUNST: One of the beauties about raising your own chickens is that if you have a variety of chickens, you get this rainbow array of colors. We had chickens where we had blue eggs. We had a pale green egg. We had a bright green. We had beige. We had white. They're spectacular. And, of course, when you buy an egg from a farm directly, you are getting an egg that is so much fresher than one that you're going to buy at a grocery store. And does that matter? Well, like everything, it does matter. An egg deteriorates at room temperature very, very quickly. So the fresher it is - and you want to always keep them cool. You want to keep them refrigerated.
YOUNG: Always in the refrigerator. Well, that's some of the background of the some would say lowly, you would say lovely egg.
GUNST: Very lovely.
YOUNG: And you've brought in some dishes. What have you got?
GUNST: I have. Let me start over here. This is a frittata. This is served at room temperature. I sautéed leeks and red pepper, sweet red pepper and red onions and added eggs and popped it into a very hot oven. And it pops up, and then you let it settle down and flip it out. And this is food that you can eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
YOUNG: I have to say the beautiful smell coming from this...
GUNST: It's a wonderful smell. And notice how yellow it is. What you're seeing there is so yellow because when you buy a farm-raised egg, the yolk is much brighter, almost sunflower yellow yolk. And you get this burst of delicious egg flavor, but hopefully you're also tasting the leek and the red pepper. And the Spanish serve this at tapas bars with glasses of Sherry. I would eat this with a shot of espresso, or at lunch with a beautiful green salad or for dinner. But that's just the beginning.
Eggs are the basis of custards and quiche, crème brulee, baked goods, pasta, breads. The other thing that I love to do with them is - it's so old-fashioned, but I have made you deviled eggs, two different types. One of them is with fresh dill and scallions, and the other one is with sundried tomatoes.
YOUNG: Wait a minute. Neither of your eggs here has the red paprika on the top, with the egg looking just a little bit brown.
GUNST: Yes. I'm sorry to disappoint you with that. But what I do is I hard-boiled the eggs. Now, can I give you a tip on that?
GUNST: Because a lot of people have trouble with this. First of all, if you have super fresh eggs, they're going to be harder to peel. So when you're hard-boiling, I cover the egg with cold water. I bring it to a boil. Take it off the heat, cover it and let it sit for about 14 minutes. OK. So just to the boil...
YOUNG: OK. So bring it to a boil and then take it off.
GUNST: Right, 14 minutes. Then I drain it. Now, here's the trick: When the pot is empty, I shake it, right? Back and forth, back and forth so that the eggs crack a little against the side of the pan. And then I pour cold water on it. And what happens is that the cold water forces the egg to separate from the shell. Voila.
GUNST: Comes time, the shell - easy, easy. The other trick of this is I take out the yolks. I mash them. I do add a little bit of mayonnaise. But in the bottom of the white, I put the filling. So in the dill and scallion at the bottom of the white, there's some fresh dill and scallion. Then I put the yolk filling on top. So every time you take a bite of the deviled egg, you're getting these layers of flavor. Same with the sundried tomatoes. There are zillion variations of this.
YOUNG: This is so good. But - well, the dill, it tastes more like the traditional. The sundried tomatoes...
GUNST: Isn't that nice?
YOUNG: That is wonderful in a deviled egg. Delicious.
GUNST: All right. I have a few more tips for you. Go to a supermarket and there are all these eggs there. And you're like, the heck is a nutrient-enhanced egg? What's an organic egg versus a free range? So let me tell you a little bit about it. There are these nutrient-enhanced eggs. Little bit scary to me. The hens are on special diets, these nutrient-rich feeds, and they're looking to decrease the saturated fat content and add Omega-3 fatty acid to the diet. Personally, I don't want my chicken feed messed with, but that's what that's about.
Organic eggs, clearly hens are fed an organic diet. They tend to be more expensive. Many people feel they taste better, but it's nice to know what the hens had been eating and that it's OK. A free range egg is what it sounds like. The hens are raised outdoors or with access to outdoors and their roaming area. And these organic and free range eggs tend to have much yellower yolks because they - the chickens have a much more varied diet.
YOUNG: Well, and, of course, the thinking is they have a better life...
YOUNG: ...while they're making new eggs.
GUNST: Happy eggs. And then there are fertile eggs, which many swear by, and that's produced by a hen who has made it with a rooster.
YOUNG: When on the - when you get an egg, should you wash them? I mean, usually you're going to boil them or peel them.
GUNST: Susie Middleton, who lives on Martha's Vineyard and is author of the upcoming book "Fresh from the Farm," has 500 chickens. And I went to visit her this past summer. And she was explaining to me that when a hen lays an egg, it's automatically covered with these thin membrane called a bloom. And this keep eggs that are unwashed fresh for several weeks.
So if you're buying eggs from a farm, you don't want to bring them home and immediately wash them. That would be our instinct. Warm or hot-ish water will signal the pores in the egg shell to close up, whereas cold water opens them. So if you are washing dirty eggs in cold water, you run the risk of allowing whatever bacteria was there to travel through the shell.
YOUNG: Who knew?
GUNST: So don't wash for a while. And if you do wash, you definitely want to use warm-ish water.
YOUNG: One last favorite way of using an egg.
GUNST: Oh, boy, favorite way. Well, I talked about the bistro salads. I love that. But I love to make what I call a BELT sandwich, not a BLT but a bacon, egg, lettuce, and tomato sandwich with a tarragon-lemon mayonnaise. I could eat this all day. You've got the recipe.
YOUNG: HERE AND NOW resident chef Kathy Gunst. You want her to invite you over for lunch. Her most recent book is "Notes from a Maine Kitchen," seasonally inspired recipes. Today, she talked of the egg. Kathy, thanks so much.
GUNST: Great to be here.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
YOUNG: Thanks to the hens. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.