The humble egg is a symbol of renewal and rebirth all over the globe. The symbolic egg predates Easter and Passover and even the pre-Christian Saxons celebrated the egg as a symbol of fertility during the spring equinox or life of the new sea- son. So, whether we hard-boil and dye them, scramble and fry them, or bejewel and bedazzle them, eggs have been a constant in most homes around the world for thousands of years during the spring season. Here are some easy but wonderful egg recipes I’ve learned from my travels that you can use for your next brunch, take to your next potluck party, or simply make for your next meal. Let’s celebrate this spring the best way we know how, by eating and entertaining!
ITALY (PASTA FRITTATA)
I don’t know if I’m partial to pasta frittatas because of my Sicilian roots, but I did grow up eating these almost every weekend. However, none ever tasted as good as the ones I’ve eaten in Palermo or Ragusa. I think it’s because of the beautiful ingredients found there. In Italy, eggs and egg dishes are rarely eaten at breakfast. They’re mostly lunch and dinner meals, like the pasta frittata. It really is just a hearty dish that utilizes some left over pasta. Here’s how I make mine:
First thing you want to do is preheat your broiler. While that’s going, whisk five to six large eggs in a bowl and season it with 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt, a few grinds of fresh black pepper, and then add some parsley. Set that aside. Heat some olive oil (not extra-virgin) in a large skillet. Add about a cup and a half of left-over pasta (make some if none on hand) and toss it in the pan until it warms through. I throw in a about a pinch of dried red pep- per flakes at this point for some added “heat” in the dish. After about three minutes or so, pour the eggs over the pasta being careful not to stir it—you want the eggs to set, not scramble. Reduce the heat and cook until the eggs start to firm. You’ll start to see the edges of the pan starting to solidify in about seven minutes. Lift the sides and let the raw eggs in the center roll underneath the edges. When the center appears firm, sprinkle the top with some Parmesan cheese and set the oven-proof skillet underneath the broiler for about three minutes. The top should appear light brown and toasty. Take it out and let stand for at least three more minutes. Cut the frittata into wedges and serve warm or room temperature. I also serve it with a spoonful of warm gravy (that’s tomato sauce) over the top, but in Italy they serve their pasta frittatas atop rich gravy underneath. To add meat, fry up some bacon or some chopped-up pancetta and serve that on top of the frittata as well. I’ve even used diced prosciutto in a pinch.
MEXICO (HUEVOS RANCHEROS)
I believe that we have taken more vacations to Mexico than anywhere else in the world. We absolutely love Mexican culture, Mexican traditions, and Mexican foods, especially huevos rancheros. Whenever we’re in Cancún, Isla Mujeres, or Playa de Carmen, we always check out the places serving the best Mexican ranch-style eggs. The secret to making the best huevos rancheros is making your own simple tomato salsa. Here’s how I do it: To make the salsa, use a box grater and grate two tomatoes and one peeled onion into a bowl. Chop one small jalapeño (omit the seeds to control the heat), dice two garlic cloves and add them to the bowl along with a teaspoon of ground cumin. Add salt and pep- per to your liking and set aside. Heat a skillet over low heat with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil (Spanish olive oil makes a difference if you have some on hand). Add the salsa to the skillet and stir until it thickens—about three minutes. Return the cooked salsa to the bowl. Add a can of drained black beans to the pan with a half cup of warm water. I started using a half cup of fresh chicken stock if I have it on hand, and a half cup of canned chicken stock will do nicely as well as a flavorful alternative to the water. As the beans cook and soften, add a pinch of salt and lightly smash the beans with a fork. Meanwhile, in another skillet, fry about four eggs sunny-side up, add salt and pepper to taste. To serve, place a warm tortilla (I like the corn tortillas, but you may use flour tortillas) on a plate, slather some beans atop of it, then place your fried egg on top. Drizzle spoonfuls of your fresh salsa on top and add a sprinkle of cilantro to garnish. Four eggs make four servings of course. Some non-Mexican variations include adding cheese, but I stick to traditions. Enjoy!
USA (EGGS BENEDICT)
Although there are many claims to the origins of this dish, eggs Benedict was popularized in New York City. One story claims that it was a breakfast cure for a hangover for Lemuel Benedict, a retired Wall Street stock broker, at the famed Waldorf-Astoria in 1942. Other stories claim that Edward P. Montgomery wrote a letter to the New York Times with a recipe he learned from his uncle, Commodore E. C. Benedict. There are other stories out there claiming where the dish came from, but they’re all set in New York City. The true secret to a great tasting eggs Benedict is in the hollandaise sauce. This dish is nothing more than a toasted English muffin with a slice of cooked Canadian bacon, a poached egg, and hollandaise sauce on top. The only thing that may be difficult is the poaching and the sauce, but after I show you my tricks you’ll be making these in no time. Here it goes:
Preheat your broiler and in a large pot, start boiling some water. Instead of using a toaster for the English muffins, I toast the buttered bread and warm the bacon on one half-sheet pan in the broiler for about three minutes, giving you just enough time to poach your eggs. As the water starts to boil, I simply use a long- handled slotted spoon and swirl the water in a rapid circular motion, that’s right no vinegar needed. Once your water starts to really spiral, drop in an egg. I usually crack an egg into a small glass bowl, then drop the egg from the bowl into the water (no pieces of egg shells to deal with this way). This spiral technique envelopes the egg whites around the yolk to a perfectly poached egg in about two to three minutes. Lift out the eggs with the same slotted spoon and place on a plate. As you get better, you can poach two to three eggs at a time. Be sure to take out your English muffins and Canadian bacon from the broiler by this time. Melt one stick of butter in a pan over low heat for the hollandaise sauce. While that’s melting away, whisk four egg yolks (separated from the whites) in a bowl until completely combined with a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Slowly drizzle the completely melted butter into the bowl while whisking as if your life depended on it. The mixture should double in volume. If the sauce gets too thick just whisk in a drizzle of warm water before serving, however the sauce should be thick and velvety. Assemble your meal, that’s the toasted English muffin, the Canadian bacon, then the poached egg, then topped with your beautiful hollandaise sauce.
Sprinkle some fresh herbs on top (I like to use parsley). There you have it—eggs Benedict like the pros make it. For a vegetarian version, substitute the bacon with cooked chopped spinach and you have eggs Florentine.
This Greek classic egg soup is a recipe I’ve written about before for Passport, but with some new springtime twists that I like to share. I was over my friend Marie-Eleni’s home during Passover, and she made the most amazing soup served in teacups as an appetizer. It was so funny because I exclaimed as soon as I tasted it, “This is avgolemono!” I had no idea that the traditional Greek soup was also served at Passover. I think it’s delicious enough to make anytime. Here’s my new variation of avgolemono. Bring six cups of your home- made or good quality store-bought broth to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat so that the broth stays at a simmer. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk three eggs thoroughly until they are thin as water. Then, whisk about two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice into the already- whisked eggs. Very slowly, drizzle some of the broth into the eggs, whisking vigorously all the way. This is called tempering. Finally, whisk the egg mixture back into the hot pot of soup to thicken it. Add salt and pepper and possibly more lemon juice if needed. I pour them into glass teacups, the same way as Marie-Eleni presented them. For garnish, I crumble some matzo on top and a combination of chopped up herbs: mint, cilantro, and chives. Sometimes I add a bit of lavender for a pretty and effervescent mini-cup of springtime soup.
FRANCE (CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉ)
There’s nothing more beautiful than Paris in springtime, unless of course it’s a French chocolate soufflé on the edge of your spoon. It’s decadent, sexy, light, and airy—definitely an impressive dessert. When I bake this con- coction, I’m immediately transported back to Paris with my partner, where the nights were filled with bliss. I know that my evening (wher- ever I am) is going to end very well if I bake him a chocolate soufflé. Now, I know you may have heard stories of how difficult it is to pre- pare one, so let me show you how easy it can be and hopefully you’ll have a blissful time too. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Lightly coat two ten-ounce ramekins with a generous amount of butter (you may use cooking spray). Now coat the insides of each ramekin with one teaspoon of sugar and a half tea- spoon of cocoa powder. Set those aside. The priority list easiest way to temper chocolate is to use the microwave. Place one and a half ounces of semi-sweet chocolate and one ounce of milk chocolate in a small bowl. Set the microwave on high for two minutes total time. However, you are going to stop the microwave and stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula every 15 seconds. Then press start on the microwave again and stop after another 15 seconds, repeat. Stop when the chocolate is complete- ly melted, which may take just a minute and a half or so. If it gets to thick or clumpy, stir in two tablespoons of milk. In a medium bowl, whisk one egg yolk and just one tablespoon of cream until combined. Whisk in the melted chocolate until completely smooth, then whisk in just a teaspoon of flour and a pinch of cinnamon until fully incorporated. My secret ingredient is to add a teaspoon of instant espresso to the mix. It’s completely optional but the coffee taste improves the chocolate flavor in some way. Add two egg whites and a good pinch of salt in a medium bowl. With an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add a tablespoon of sugar and continue beating for about 20 seconds. Then add another tablespoon of sugar and beat again until stiff, glossy peaks form. With a very clean rubber spatula, gently fold half the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture until fairly smooth; then fold this combined mixture back into the remaining egg whites until no white streaks remain. Distribute equal amounts of the entire mixture into your but- tered and dusted ramekins. Put them on a baking sheet and place inside your preheated oven. Bakes about 20 minutes until the souf- flé looks puffed and firm. Serve immediately and let the good times roll.