Eggs in a dish at Readers Books in Sonoma. Photo by Laiko Bahrs
I love the smell of Paas and vinegar in the morning! Really, who knew those little tablets, so ubiquitous at this time of year, were invented by a savvy colorful-egg-lover in Newark, New Jersey in 1880?
So happy Easter, all, and here's to the rituals celebrating birth, rebirth, resurrection and the arrival of spring. The chicks are pecking, the lambs are frolicking, and in my house, the return of warmth and sunshine (in between the April showers) means gathering friends and family for brunch.
And brunch, of course, means eggs. Now, you could serve your meal at one p.m. and call it Easter dinner, bring out the ham and peas, salmon and hollandaise, leg of lamb with electric-green mint jelly, with a basket of soft white rolls alongside and strawberries to follow. All perfectly lovely food that I've enjoyed at my mother's family's table many a time, and all dishes that any edition of The Joy of Cooking could tell you how to make in neat and foolproof detail.
Eggs and Easter, however, are inextricably linked, and since you'll be getting a dozen for dyeing, why not get a few more for eating, too? If eggs are going to be the centerpiece of your meal (not just the decorative center of your tablescape), this is the moment to splurge a little and get the good ones, from happy chickens that scratched and flapped and ate a poultry-happy omnivorous diet of worms and bugs as well as veggies and chicken feed.
In Italy, the term for egg yolk was il rosso, the red of the egg. The first time I cracked an egg in my kitchen in Bologna, I understood: the egg yolk was a brilliant, glowing deep orange, thanks to a rich and varied diet. Besides color, the texture of the egg can tell you a lot about its vigor and freshness. A fresh, hearty egg will have a plump stand-up deep yellow yolk ringed with a thick, clear, almost jellylike white. This is the egg that will scramble up like a dream, make a silky créme brûlée and a lavishly puffed soufflé. A slack yolk and a watery white—both indicative of weeks-old eggs, unhappy hen husbandry, or both—won't taste like much, and won't rise to any kind of glory.
Good eggs will cost a bit more, sometimes a lot more. But still, the price only seems high in comparison to the supermarket price we've gotten used to. Seven or eight dollars will get you one Mason-jar glass of wine at Heart, a little plate of roasted-beet salad at Frances, two cappuccinos at Four Barrel. Or a dozen happy eggs from Marin Sun, Clark Summit, Eatwell, or Soul Food Farm. That's about 60 or 65 cents an egg, a buck twenty for two over easy.
That is, if you haven't already made trading friends with your latest hen-keeping neighbor. Up in Marin, my best friend recently added 4 chicks to her husband-two-kids-and-a-dog household. Dubbed Honey, Duck, Athena, and Medea, they are impossibly fluffy and cute, and I can't wait to start trading jam and gardening help for their fresh eggs.
Egg cartons on the counter at Omnivore Books in San Francisco
Until then, I'm getting the next best thing, eggs from my friend Celia's neighbors near Dillon Beach in Tomales, which she sells over the counter at her wonderful Noe Valley cookbook shop, Omnivore Books. In fact, it was a proscuitto-and-spinach soufflé served by Celia and her partner Paula at a Christmas brunch 10 years ago that inspired this Easter recipe. (Meanwhile, there must be some kind of chicken/book connection; at Readers' Books in Sonoma, a chicken-keeping customer supplies the shop with eggs in exchange for books. And yes, the eggs in that top photo came in those colors straight from the chicken. Specialty breeds like the Araucana and the Ameraucana lay blue, green, and amber-shelled eggs, ready for Easter every day.)
The nicest part about this soufflé recipe is that it has never failed me. Forget whatever unfounded soufflé fear you may have picked up like a bad habit over the years. As long as you are gentle in your folding, and don't open the oven door while it's baking, you will be rewarded with a supremely impressive golden puff and a deliciously moist and fluffy plateful of sunshiny goodness.
Green & Pink Soufflé for Spring
Serve this alongside a nice green salad dressed in a mustardy French vinaigrette, and pour a pretty pink rosé. A tip: you'll get the most volume out of room-temperature eggs. To take off the chill, put fridge-cold whole eggs in a bowl and cover them with warm water for 5 minutes before cracking and separating.
Serves 4 dainty eaters or 2 greedy ones (with a little left over for later)
3 tbsp butter, divided, plus extra for greasing
1 tbsp or so of minced green garlic, scallions, or shallots
2 big handfuls of tender greens, such as spinach, nettles, or chard (stems and any hard ribs removed)
2 1/2 tbsp flour
1 cup whole milk, warmed
4 extra-large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 egg white
4 tbsp grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese
2 to 3 oz proscuitto, cut into strips
Salt, freshly ground pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1. Butter an 8-inch straight-sided ceramic souffle dish. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Over low heat, melt 1 tbsp butter in a saute pan. Add green garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add greens and cook, stirring, until collapsed and tender. Remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess liquid and chop finely. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg. Set aside.
3. In a smallish, heavy pot, melt remaining 2 tbsp butter. Add the flour and whisk like crazy, letting it cook until it looks smooth and thick and smells slightly biscuity but doesn't color, about 2 minutes. Dump in the milk and whisk madly as it bubbles up and thickens, 2-3 minutes. Take off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.
4. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time. Stir in the grated cheese, greens, and sliced proscuitto. Add pepper to taste; the cheese and proscuitto will probably make it salty enough. Set aside.
5. In a large bowl using a clean whisk or hand-held electric mixer, beat your 5 egg whites until they form soft, droopy peaks when the beater is lifted.
6. Fold a scoop of whites into the cheese mixture to lighten it, then fold the rest in quickly and lightly. It doesn't have to be uniform; leaving some visible streaks of egg white is just fine. The egg whites are what will give your soufflé its fluff, so don't deflate them by over-mixing. Pour into the prepared dish and pop into the oven.
7. NO PEEKING! Let it cook for at least 30 minutes. Then check; it should be well golden-browned and beautifully puffy. Shake it gently; the center should be a bit jiggly without being soupy. Serve immediately, as it will begin to sigh and collapse shortly after being removed from the oven.