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Easter without eggs? Think again

I started writing this column three years ago this week with my writings with stuffed egg recipes. There is no better time than Easter to continue talking about eggs. The much- maligned egg is back on the table and not just for breakfast. Once eggs were taken off the list of “banned” foods, it was just a matter of time before this versatile ingredient made a successful rebound.

In the 1960s, researchers first noticed a correlation between high blood cholesterol and coronary heart disease. Because eggs are high in cholesterol (about 213 mg per yolk), they were branded a “bad” food.

But in recent years, scientists and doctors have revised their stance a bit. Eggs are packed with good things — protein, minerals and vitamins A, B and D, so they do have a place in the healthful diet.

The healthiest eggs are free range, even though the government has not established a meaning for this term. Generally it means the hens have access to the outdoors. There’s no requirement for the duration or type of outdoor access the hens are given. Michael Pollan tells us “we are what we eat eats.”

Cage-free is another term used for eggs. These hens are raised indoors in floor facilities that allow the bird to roam. The roaming area can be a building, an open area, or a room with unlimited access to food and water. Organic eggs can now be found everywhere also, and these laying hens are raised to USDA organic standards including being given feed grown without conventional or commercial pesticides, fungicides, or fertilizers. These eggs cost more, but are probably better for you. Also, there is no nutritional difference whether the egg is brown or white; the breed of the hen determines the color of the egg.

Most doctors recommend limiting yourself to one egg per day, and also limiting other cholesterol- laden foods (think meat and dairy) on the days eggs are consumed. My husband eats two eggs for breakfast almost every morning. (He likes to say cholesterol is not a disease.) I have been thinking of producing my own eggs, free range, but haven’t gotten there yet. I did look in at the local farm store’s baby chicks this year but didn’t buy—-maybe next year. But I have been buying eggs from a local farmer’s market when I can.

I have noticed when eating in restaurants these days, you can have an egg on almost anything. I really don’t think that is necessary, but it was one of the trends in 2009 and I have noticed it even more in 2010.

Besides just plain ordinary eggs, one can whip up some really good things with eggs.

Easter is a great time to use eggs in brunch dishes and pasta, and there are some clever things to do with the hard-boiled Easter eggs.

So enjoy the versatile egg and Happy Easter!

Farm Eggs With Watercress and Parsley Leaves

10 servings

10 large eggs (preferable local farm eggs), room temperature

2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 small garlic clove, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons boiling water

¼ cup coarsely chopped watercress

¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place eggs in single layer in large saucepan. Pour enough water over eggs to cover by 1½ inches. Add 2 tablespoons coarse salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat; cover saucepan tightly and let stand minutes. Drain. Return eggs to pan; cover with lid and shake pan to crack egg shells. Place eggs in large bowl of ice water and cool five minutes. Peel eggs and set aside.

Place garlic in small ramekin; pour 2 tablespoons boiling water over and let stand two minutes. Transfer garlic with garlic liquid to blender. Add watercress, parsley, cayenne, and remaining ½ teaspoon coarse salt. With blender running, add olive in thin stream and blend until mixture is smooth. Season to taste with salt, freshly ground black pepper.

Do Ahead: Eggs and watercress-parsley sauce can be made four hours ahead. Cover separately and chill. Bring sauce to room temperature before using.

Cut eggs lengthwise into halves or quarters. If desired, cut off a very thin slice from the rounded side of each half or quarter so eggs can stand upright. Arrange eggs on platter. Sprinkle lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spoon watercress-parsley sauce over and around eggs and serve.

Pasta with Fried Eggs,

Caramelized Onions and Bacon

Makes 4 servings

3 bacon slices, chopped

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided

4 medium onions, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

12 ounces spaghetti or linguine

4 large eggs

1 6-ounce bag fresh baby spinach

1/3 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese

Sauté bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings; add 3 teaspoons oil and maintain heat. Add onions; sauté until deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir in crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat; cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid in bowl. Return pasta to pot; add onions. Cover to keep warm.

Heat remaining oil in large skillet over medium heat. Crack eggs into skillet; fry until whites are set but yolks are still soft, about four minutes. Add spinach, cheese, eggs and bacon to pasta; toss until egg whites are torn into shreds and spinach wilts. Add pasta cooking liquid to moisten. Season with salt and pepper, serve.

Spanish Torta

Makes 4 servings

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large (14-oz) Spanish onion, thinly sliced

1¼ lb. russet potatoes, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

10 large eggs

1¼ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 small head frisée, torn into small pieces (4 cups)

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté until translucent and starting to lightly caramelize, six to eight minutes; transfer to a large bowl.

In the same skillet, heat another 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add potatoes, cover with lid, and cook 12-14 minutes, tossing several times, until potatoes are tender yet still hold their shape and are lightly browned. Transfer potatoes to bowl with onions.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper; pour over potato mixture and gently stir to combine. Add another 1 tablespoon of the oil to an oven-proof 10-inch skillet, preferably cast-iron, and heat over medium heat until oil is simmering. Pour egg mixture into skillet, spreading mixture evenly. Cook until eggs start to set and brown, about three minutes. Cover skillet with lid and place in oven. Bake until eggs are just set, about 15 minutes longer. Remove skillet to stovetop and loosen edges with a flexible rubber spatula.

Toss frisée with remaining oil, vinegar and remaining salt and pepper. Cut torta into quarters and transfer to serving plates. Mound frisée on top of each serving.