Sometimes it's sold as organic, which means the chicken feed was certified organic and the hens weren't fed prophylactic antibiotics. Sometimes local farmers sell both organic and non; the guy I buy the most incredibly large and tasty eggs I've ever found describes the difference as: chicken feed. "Sometimes I run out of the organic and have to give the other hens ordinary grains." My theory is: if that's the worst of it, stick with the local farmer's non-organic before you even think about the supermarket shelf.
Free-range is supposed to mean the chicken got to walkabout. But in truth, there's no telling whether that means the chicken got out of its cage for sixty seconds or actually spent its days in the great outdoors free to peck and claw. Chances are from a local farm, it's the latter.
One of the reasons the egg is nature's most perfect food is its packing case. That seemingly thin, vulnerable shell is a marvel of insulation. Eggs do not need to be continually refrigerated to be clean. It's widely known in the baking business how much better it is for separating the white from the yolk to leave eggs on the counter for a few hours. It's also true that if you keep them on a windowsill where the average temperature is, say, 55º , they'll stay fresh for two to three days. Unless the weather is torrid, a hard boiled egg in its shell can be carried in your pocket all day long for an evening snack.
So boil, scramble, fry and bake. Here's a very colorful, flavorful and unusual way to enjoy eggs right now:
poached in spicy tomato sauce.
NORTH AFRICAN SHAKSHOUKA
for 2 (all amounts are variable except the eggs)
3 tbsp fruity olive oil
2 lg garlic cloves, minced
1 sm red onion, diced
1 sm green bell pepper, seeded and chunked
1 sm yellow bell pepper, seeded and chunked
1 chili pepper like Serrano, seeded and minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp caraway seeds, smashed or ground
1-2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp dried mint leaves
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp ground cayenne or arbol chili powder
pinch ground cinnamon
1 tsp wine/balsamic vinegar
½ tsp honey
1 tsp tomato paste
3-31/2 cups chopped tomatoes in their juice
salt to your taste
black pepper to taste
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed, washed and chopped for garnish
optional add ons: feta cheese, pitted black kalamata olives, chopped spinach
In a large heavy-gauge sauté pan that has a lid, heat olive oil. Sauté onions, bell and chili peppers and garlic over medium heat til soft, about 5 minutes. Add the spices—cumin through cinnamon—and heat until fragrant, maybe 60-90 seconds.
Stir in vinegar, tomato paste, honey and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook until the sauce thickens, maybe 10-12 minutes depending on how juicy the tomatoes were. Taste for flavor and add seasonings to your taste.
Get the sauce very hot and bubbly over medium heat and have the pan lid handy. Carefully create 4 small pockets in the sauce and crack an egg into each one. Try to nudge a little sauce into the eggwhites. Lightly salt the eggs Cover and continue cooking to poach the eggs to your liking, usually they're done in 3-4 minutes.
Uncover the pan. Add the optionals you desire. Remove pan from heat. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve right out of the pan.
Serve with crusty or pita bread to mop up the plentiful, thick sauce.
A more prosaic way to celebrate farm products still available at this point in time is an old European dish, noodle pudding, which can be served as a main or side dish, snack or dessert, warm or room temperature. It keeps in the fridge several days and is perfect for potluck and parties.
1/2 lb wide egg noodles, cooked and drained
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 stick/1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 lb cottage cheese or fromage blank
4 oz cream cheese or mascarpone
5 oz sour cream or creme fraiche
salt to taste
1/2 c raisins
5 extra large eggs
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 doz dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/4 c dried cranberries
1/2 c Graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375º. Lightly butter an 8" sq baking pan.
In a very large bowl, put the cooked noodles and add all other ingredients down through cranberries. Mix well. Pour into prepared pan and smooth into a level layer.
Make topping by adding melted butter to the cracker crumbs. Blend well. Sprinkle this topping lightly over the pudding.
Bake at 375º about 45 minutes or until pudding is set: a cake tester should come out clean.
Cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting to serve.