Monday, July 26, 2010

Simple Pleasures

It is often the simplest things that bring me the most happiness. A leisurely Saturday morning and a cup of coffee, a phone call from a friend I haven’t heard from in a while, or an energizing run after a long week. Likewise, when it comes to food, often the most simple meals are the most pleasurable, both to make and to eat. I am big believer in simplicity in the kitchen: buy excellent ingredients and then try not to mess them up too much. I like to use this lofty reason for making very simple dishes, but in truth I’m also a bit lazy.

Really, I am. If I have a beautiful egg from a farmer who took care to raise a chicken naturally, let it roam about eating bugs and made sure no coyotes got to it first, I think that egg deserves a little respect. There are a myriad of ways to respect an egg. Quiche is a great example, and farm fresh eggs take it over the top. Quiche, however, takes a lot of time, so I reserve it for special occasions, like having girlfriends over for brunch for no other reason than to eat quiche. I do not make quiche when I am feeling lazy, nor do I really make it to celebrate the egg, but rather to celebrate the fact that I’m about to eat every kind of dairy product I can think of in its full-fat glory.

Poached eggs are another story. All you really have is the egg. I love poached eggs for breakfast, but honestly I’m more of a sweet breakfast person – give me fruit, waffles, scones, yogurt or oatmeal – so I end up eating a lot of eggs for dinner. I know, in our meat-and-potatoes culture, eggs are all but extinct from the dinner menu. It’s sad, really. I guess you could say I’m on a one woman mission to show off their versatility, no matter the time of day.

But for dinner, you want something a little more substantial, and maybe a little more balanced, than bacon and poached eggs. As it turns out, eggs can be poached in more than just water: they are excellent in tomato sauce, or even in greens, which is how I prepare them most often. I like to use chard, but you could substitute spinach, braising greens, or even kale or collard greens (though the latter two will take longer to cook). And it is so incredibly easy to do; this is a standby weeknight meal for me.

If you can find it, use rainbow chard; the colors are so bright and pretty. I also use the stems, and am adamant that far too many people throw them out needlessly. I do not know that I’ve ever encountered a recipe for chard that doesn’t start by having you cut the leaves from the ribs and then discard the ribs. I say hogwash: separate them, then chop the stems up and sauté them before adding the greens. They add a tender crunch, plus, aren’t the rainbow ribs the reason we bought them anyway?

The real key, and it cannot be overstated, is to get farm fresh eggs. If your grocery store carries them from a local farm, and they truly are free range and not just cage free, then I am sincerely jealous of you. Use them. If not, seek out a farmer’s market, farm stand, or peruse the internet (I’ve ordered eggs online directly from a farm and they were fabulous!). Yes, you will spend a bit more money. But I can guarantee when you see that bright orange yolk sitting high atop its white, you will be glad you spent the few extra dollars. When you taste them you will probably sigh and moan in delight, wondering where these marvelous eggs have been all your life. At least that’s what I did the first time I had them.

This preparation shows off the egg perfectly. You can still dip a piece of toast in the yolks, and the yolks also make a creamy sauce that tastes oh-so-good with the chard. Adding tomatoes to the greens gives some nice acidity to balance everything out. This is a simple dinner, but one that is immensely enjoyable. It’s the simple pleasures in life that I treasure, and the humble egg truly satisfies.

Farm Eggs Poached in Chard
Serves four small portions or two main course portions

1 pound Swiss Chard, preferably rainbow, or other greens of your choice
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 eggs, preferably free range
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Remove the stems from the leaves of the chard and dice the stems and roughly chop the leaves. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil to coat the pan, then add the chard stems and onion. Season with a bit of salt to soften them. Stirring or tossing regularly, cook them for a few minutes, until the onions are becoming translucent. Add the tomatoes, and re-season with salt and pepper. When the tomatoes have softened, add the garlic and cook for one minute while stirring. Add the leaves, in batches if they don’t all fit at once, and stir them so they start to wilt.

At this point you should have a good amount of moisture in the pan from the vegetables and tomatoes. However, if it all looks a bit dry, you could add a splash of stock, white wine or just water. It doesn’t need to be wet or liquid, but should have enough moisture to be bubbling a little bit. Make four wells in the chard for the eggs; if the pan is still a bit dry then add a bit of olive oil to the holes so the eggs don’t stick. Put the eggs into these wells and cover the pan.

Allow the eggs to poach for about 4 minutes for large eggs, checking them after two minutes to make sure they aren’t completely set. The whites should all be cooked and not clear and runny; remove the pan from the heat as soon as they are set. Using a spatula or large serving spoon, serve up the eggs with the chard.

Serve with whole grain toast for a healthy meal.

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