Egg on Your Face …

I favor eggs for dinner. Not for the nutrition (although it's ample), and not for ease, but just because they're there. Eggs are instantaneous, ready to scramble into an omelet, whip into a soufflé or elevate a frozen box of spinach to entree status in minutes.

Eggs are inspirational, transforming a sautéed vegetable, a little salad dressing and a piece of toast into a New Age Benedict. And they're dependable — with nothing in the house save a bit of butter, a slice of bread and a humble egg, dinner's always ready.

Once considered the noblest of ingredients, the egg's reputation had been in decline. Condemned to culinary limbo by the cholesterol cops, eggs had slipped from favor for breakfast. But now that the blame for heart disease has shifted to saturated fats, the nutritional benefits of these wonders of nature are being re-evaluated.

They have always been a nutritional model for protein — not only because the protein in eggs is complete, but because it's nearly 99 percent digestible. And while a poached egg has the same amount of fat and saturated fat as 4 oz. of roasted skinless chicken breast, it contains less than half the calories. Eggs are also a significant source of iron, thiamin, phosphorous, and vitamins A, D, E and K.

Though seeing eggs anew might not return you to weekday breakfasts of hash browns and two over-easy, it could allow you to consider eggs for other more substantial meals. They may be too rich for the morning, and be just right at night.

Eggs can be poached in soup, or coddled atop a simmering pan of greens. Serve fried eggs on polenta with a quick fresh tomato sauce or stir-fried eggs with Chinese vegetables.

Make an open-faced taco — topped with a poached egg — for a new interpretation of huevos rancheros, or make a popular Jewish-inspired omelet of sautéed onions, potatoes and smoked salmon, serving large wedges of the omelet warm, topped with whipped cream cheese.

But a warning: Making perfect eggs isn't as easy as it looks. The techniques are all simple and straightforward, but success takes some understanding of what you're cooking. Too much heat will overtighten an egg's protein, making many of its nutrients less digestible. Too little cooking risks salmonella poisoning.

The secret to an egg that is safe, tender and evenly cooked is controlled temperature. You can either do this by lowering the heat and allowing the eggs to cook undisturbed, or by moving the eggs quickly over a high heat, so that no portion is ever in contact with the heat for more than a few seconds. Each technique gives you different results.

Slow-scrambled eggs, for instance, have creamy, moist, custard-like curds throughout. Raising the temperature produces large, firm curds that can either be cooked until dry, or left with a moist, creamy surface. The absolute creamiest scrambled eggs are made in a double-boiler, in which the heat is so gradual that the eggs set up en masse. There are no visible curds, and the finished product winds up more like a pudding.

An omelet is nothing more than a scrambled egg, in which the scrambling is stopped just before the egg fully sets. This allows the bottom to solidify, permitting the finished product to be folded on itself or around a filling.

But be careful not to let your omelets brown. Browning indicates that an egg has lost all surface moisture, and has already begun to toughen. Keeping your heat low assures that this won't happen, but even with high heat, you can minimize browning by keeping the eggs moving, and by removing the omelet from the heat while it still appears moist.

To eliminate a wet appearance, cover the pan once it's off the heat, which will allow the residual warmth to dry the surface without danger of browning the bottom.

Fried eggs are more of a challenge. Because the egg must remain still while it sets, low heat is essential. Eggs that are fried too fast have a brittle, plastic-like edge that is unpalatable and indigestible. For best results, keep your heat at medium-low. Fry the eggs slowly in whole melted butter just until the white is firm almost to the surface.

Cover and steam for the last half-minute to firm the yolk, or flip the egg yolk-side down using a small headed off-set spatula. If the heat level is correct the white of the egg will be set uniformly, and the yolk will be creamy. The bottom will not be browned, and there will be no fluid albumen surrounding the yolk.

The addition of liquid to an egg encourages the formation of steam, which, when trapped, can make scrambled eggs and omelets fluffier, and fried eggs firmer. A tablespoon or two is all you need. Too much liquid will make scrambled eggs grainy, and make fried eggs taste as if they had been steamed.

To my mind, a nonstick skillet is essential for eggs. I find that unless you have reserved a sacred well-seasoned skillet exclusively for eggs, all other pans will stick unmercifully whenever they get a chance to latch onto an egg. It doesn't matter how well the pan is greased, from what metal it has been forged, or to what kitchen gods you pray — eggs stick to noncoated pans.

Because you've got to break an egg if you want to eat it, I include this tip: Crack eggs on a flat surface, rather than on the edge of a counter or bowl. When you break an egg shell against an edge, shards of shell are forced inward, where they're apt to break the yolk. By cracking the shell on a counter top or the side of a bowl, the shell fissures smoothly, thus allowing you to pull the shell apart without danger of catching the yolk.

The following recipes all combine basic preparations of scrambled, fried and steamed eggs with additional ingredients that make them substantial enough to serve as the main course for an evening meal.

'Stracciatella Verdi'


6 cups vegetable broth
6 oz. fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
3 eggs
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
grating of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup seasoned croutons (optional)

Bring the vegetable broth to a boil over medium high heat.

While broth is heating, slice the spinach leaves into thin strips. Set aside.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

When the broth is boiling, add the spinach and stir until spinach wilts about 10 seconds. Add the egg mixture.

Wait about 45 seconds. Stir so that the egg breaks up into many little rags.

Serve in bowls and top with croutons, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.


Coddled Eggs With Rabe and Roasted Pepper


1 bag (about 16 oz.) cleaned and cut broccoli rabe
2 Tbsps. olive oil
pinch of crushed red-pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 roasted red bell pepper, diced
8 eggs

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rabe and boil until bright-green, about 3 minutes. Drain.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large deep skillet. Add the rabe, along with any water still clinging to it. Season with the red-pepper flakes, and liberally with salt and pepper.

Stir in the garlic and red bell pepper, and push the rabe into an even layer. Crack the eggs onto the surface of the rabe, spacing them equally and being careful to keep the yolks from breaking. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook just until the egg whites are set, about 4 minutes.

Using a slotted spatula, serve 2 eggs and the rabe beneath them to each person. Serve with a loaf of warm crusty bread.

Makes 4 servings.


Perfect Scrambled Eggs With Artichoke Pesto


8 eggs, large or extra-large
3 Tbsps. water or milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 recipe Artichoke Pesto (see below)

Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Beat with a large fork or mixing whisk until well-combined.

Add the water or milk, salt, and pepper, and continue beating until foamy.

For soft-cooked scrambled eggs, place a 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the butter and heat just until it melts. Slant the pan to coat the bottom evenly with butter.

Add the beaten eggs to the pan and wait until a thin layer (less than 1/8-inch) sets up across the bottom of the pan. This will take about 45 seconds.

Using a sturdy plastic spatula, scrape this layer from the bottom of the pan. As you do this, liquid egg will run down along the bottom of the pan, where it will set. Keep scraping and waiting until all but a fine film of egg has set. Immediately transfer to a serving plate.

For firmer scrambled eggs, place a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and heat until the butter foams. Slant the pan to coat the bottom evenly with butter.

Add the beaten eggs to the pan. Almost immediately, a thin layer will set up across the bottom of the pan. Using a sturdy plastic spatula, scrape this layer from the bottom of the pan. As you do this, liquid egg will run down along the bottom of the pan, where it will set. Keep scraping until all but a fine film of egg has set. Immediately transfer to a serving plate.

Serve topped with Artichoke Pesto.

Makes 4 servings.


Artichoke Pesto


1 jar (6 oz.) marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 cup chopped basil (about 12 large leaves)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
2 Tbsps. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Chop artichokes finely.

Mix with basil, garlic, feta cheese and Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper,

Use immediately or refrigerate for up to five days.

Makes about 1 cup, or enough for 4 to 6 portions.


Nova, Potato and Eggs


1 large (8 to 10 oz.) baking potato, peeled
3 Tbsps. olive oil
1 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup water
8 eggs
2 Tbsps. finely chopped dill weed
1 tsp. mild hot sauce
1 Tbsps. pareve margarine
4 oz. smoked salmon, coarsely cut

Cut the potato in quarters lengthwise and slice each quarter thinly. Set aside.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.

Add the onion and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.

Add the potatoes, toss to coat with oil, cover and cook for 4 minutes.

Season liberally with salt and pepper. Add the water, stir and toss the potatoes to ensure even cooking. Cover and cook another 5 minutes, until the potatoes are uniformly tender.

While the potatoes are cooking, beat the eggs, dill and hot sauce in a mixing bowl with a fork until slightly foamy. Add salt and pepper; set aside.

Turn the potatoes out onto a serving platter. Keep warm.

Return the skillet to the heat.

Add the butter; heat until it foams. Add eggs and scramble until set, but still visibly moist.

Add the smoked salmon.

Remove from heat and scramble for another 15 seconds.

Spoon the eggs over the potatoes and serve.

Makes 4 servings.


Fried Eggs on Polenta With Fresh Tomato Sauce and Grated Parmesan


For the Polenta:

11/2 cups water
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1/2 cup instant polenta, such as Bellino or Favero
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 clove garlic, minced
2 tsps. mild hot-pepper sauce

For the Tomato Sauce:

2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsps. chopped basil leaves
salt and pepper to taste

For Assembly:

1 Tbsp. butter
8 eggs
1 oz. (whole piece) Parmesan cheese

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the water, salt, pepper and oil to a boil over medium heat.

Stir in the polenta and simmer until thick, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the cheese, one clove of the garlic, and hot sauce; cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil for the sauce.

Add the onion and sauté until softened. Add the tomatoes, the other clove of garlic, basil, salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes and keep warm.

Just before serving, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.

Crack the eggs into the hot butter, cover and cook until egg whites are set, but yolks are still fluid, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

To Serve: Divide the polenta among 4 dinner plates. Flatten into an oblong cake. Place the fried eggs on the polenta and top with tomato sauce.

Shave the Parmesan cheese with a vegetable peeler overtop.

Makes 4 servings.

Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and a cookbook author. His current book is Almost From Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine.


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