I’m never happy unless I’ve got a project on. Whether it’s distilling spirits, making salami, or maturing cheese, I just have to have a folly on the go. I guess I’m just an anticipation sort of person.
My latest backyard venture has been one of the more ambitious [apart from an ill-advised and quickly-abandoned foray into saffron culture] to date. Chickens. I’d always toyed with the idea, rather fancying myself in the Farmer Evetts role, but it never went anywhere because my best beloved was not onboard with whole yard-birds thing. Her head had been filled with alarmist tales about the choking stench of poultry, accompanying clouds of disease-ridden flies and marauding hens destroying gardens. Despite my relentless needling [normally such a successful approach], she was not easily moved.
But in the end all it took was a few freshly laid eggs from a chicken keeping country cousin. Now you may think an egg is an egg is an egg, but scrambled and served on buttery toast these were the creamiest, yellow-est, eggy-est eggs ever to grace our table and my most compelling argument to date. They were of the kind of perfection that just leaves you smiling. Of course I had another reason to smile. I had won.
So I quickly set about designing and building a large pen for the birds [which is most unlike me; I can barely tell one end of a hammer from the other]. I had the good sense to call in a proper builder when it came to making the hen house.
I did much research into the best type of chicken for egg production, toyed with various preposterously-named [and in some case preposterous looking] rare breeds, and eventually settled on the Brown Shaver- the main commercial hybrid egg-bird used in New Zealand. Shavers lay up to 300 eggs per year!! That’s probably more than I’ve eaten in my entire life, but hey, I’m a sucker for big numbers, however impractical they may be. A certain on-line auction site directed me to a salt- of-the-earth country sort who specialises in rearing Shavers for wannabe townie chicken-whisperers like me.
Fast-forward a few weeks and we are care-givers to three happy, friendly and so far odourless bird-girls who have quickly clucked their way into the hearts of the whole family. Ophelia, Becky and Sophie excitedly greet us whenever we venture out into the garden, and get most put out if we don’t reciprocate. They have also formed a curious bond with our cat Lucy who sits lovingly beaming at them for hours at a time. They quietly chatter away to her with a similarly unlikely affection.
Being young birds [a tender 21 weeks], the girls are still a week or so off laying, but seeing as I’m all-a-flutter with excited anticipation, I thought I would share some of my favourite ways with eggs this week.
Those of you who pay close attention to my column [God help you] may recall I have previously mentioned my best beloved’s alleged egg allergy. By pure coincidence this sensitivity evaporated around the time she tasted aforementioned eggy-est of eggs. Funny that.
Tortilla- Spanish omelette
Just to make it very clear I’m not talking about Mexican wraps nor those flabby plant-strewn things so often passed off as ‘Spanish’ omelettes in New Zealand. In Spain, tortilla typically means a type of omelette, not so very far [in appearance] from frittata, but good. Very good.
Made with eggs, thinly sliced potato, roasted peppers, a little onion and plenty of seasoning [a sprinkle of smoked paprika doesn’t go amiss here either], it makes the very best summer lunch or dinner. Just like revenge, tortilla is dish best served cold, but unlike revenge it’s further improved with the addition of crusty sourdough, great dollops of fresh aioli and plenty of wine. Actually I suppose wine could go quite nicely with revenge too. As with quiche, tortilla should be fairly thin- none of this high as Huka falls nonsense one sees about the place.
The better the eggs the better the pasta. It’s just that simple, people. Fresh pasta gets its silky elasticity and dandelion hue from only the very best free range eggs. The steamy fragrance from a colander full of just-drained homemade pasta is the stuff of true contentment.
Mega-famous and much abused, carbonara is really just a humble dish from the grimy coal country of Northern Italy. Typically it’s served on fresh pasta and made with nothing more than eggs, cream, parmigiano, pancetta and a refreshingly laissez-faire attitude towards heart disease. Needless to say, I love it madly. Alla carbonara means ‘in the style of the coal miner’. Nobody’s quite sure if this is a reference to the soot speckled appearance of the well-peppered sauce, or because the dish originated among the coal mining villages of North-West Italy. Who cares? It tastes good.
Don’t start on at me. I know that you know how to make scrambled eggs. Who doesn’t? But they deserve mention here because a well-executed plate of this buttery, barely-set bliss is hands-down the truest expression of the egg, and when made with home-laid eggs is an overwhelming argument for keeping your own hens.
Say after me: zar-by-own-eh. Sabayon basically. Sometimes part of the great, if over-done, tiramisu but drop-dead gorgeous on its own too, and it owes much of that glamour to a few good eggs. In a double boiler whisk together 6+ egg yolks with a teaspoon each of sugar and marsala per yolk until thick, golden and frothy. Serve chilled with some perfect summer fruit and a sliver or two of the very best chocolate.
Another egg based marvel of Latin kitchen chemistry. The basis of real gelato is a sturdy egg and cream-based custard with whatever embellishments tickle your fancy. Call me a bore, but I think it doesn’t get much better than homemade vanilla gelato; saffron-yellow from free range eggs, with a pleasing, palate-coating texture and just the faintest eggy note under that heady vanilla fragrance.
Truffle -baked eggs
Eggs and truffles have a weird primal thing going on. It’s very, very sexy and I don’t mean figuratively. This simple little concoction illustrates that point in full-frontal blushing detail. With a few strips of streaky bacon and a small battalion of toast soldiers it makes a dandy wee repast. Break an egg into a ramekin, top with cream, splash generously with truffle oil, season well and bake until set. If you happen to have a fresh truffle or two lying about the place [who doesn’t?], so much the better.
Now all I need is for my small feathered friends to get their downy little tails into gear and start popping out the goods. In the mean time I could do with some further inspiration on the eggs front. Nine hundred eggs per year is an ambitious challenge to any cook.