Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eggs and Greens with Thick Spaghetti

Sadly, even with the overexposure to "unusual" foods, when it comes to vegetables, most Americans still eat the basic few. For me, however, I can't think of a single one that isn't, at least on a rotational basis, in my diet. One of my favorite by far is kale.

Rick in vitamin C and K, calcium and beta carotene, kale often makes the top of the list of healthiest foods, most likely because it contains lots of carotenoids (pigments that carry oxygen) and is a natural anti-inflamatory. Basically, people who eat diets high in these dense nutrients live longer lives without disease. If this information isn't enough to sway your thinking, then a bowl of my hearty pasta should do the trick.

I call it peasant food because it's cheap to make and sticks to your ribs, but it's also very dense in nutrients and good for your heart fats (olive oil and walnuts). There's a nice balance between carbohydrates and proteins, which gives one sustained energy, and it's serious comfort food that is simple and rewarding to make.

Before I launch into a brief set of directions on how to whip up your own Eggs and Greens, let me say here and now that you really, really, really have to find farm fresh eggs. You won't find these in your grocery store even though you will find plenty of cartons that make the statement. You could try a farmer's market, or, just keep your eyes and ears open. The latest craze is raising chickens and having your own supply of eggs, so you may find fresh ones right down your block.  Now, let me also tell you that if you have not eaten a fresh, local egg, you have not eaten an egg. I, in particular, do not have a taste for eggs and rarely, if ever eat them as a breakfast special. This is, of course, for two basic reasons. First, I don't find them to taste much like anything and often, the whites are rubbery no matter the cooking technique. Secondly, IF I eat eggs, I like them over-medium and this is not a technique that cooks or chefs seem to know; the eggs I order are either over-easy or over-hard, never in that in-between state of perfection.

Fresh eggs, however, are ethereal. I get mine from my neighbor two doors down, who just so happens to be a student in one of my classes and who, while I don't know where he got the idea, believes that he will fail my class if I do not have fresh eggs on a regular basis. Can I just say, I dream about these eggs, they are that magnificent, that delicious. The flavor is multi-dimensional, the yolks the brightest orange-yellow. These are eggs that still carry with them bits of the coop; eggs that must be gently washed under cool water and carefully dried before being cracked and cooked. I adore these eggs, and while there was a brief period of unhappiness that both I and my student suffered this past winter after a few roosters met their untimely deaths and the chickens, consequently, went on strike, I am happy to say that these eggs are once again mine to enjoy.

So, yes. The point is fresh eggs make all the difference. And, I will also say the same is true of the kale, for although you could buy it in your local grocery, it's probably been sitting around for a really long time (how often do you see someone at the supermarket with kale in their basket?) and that means that the flavor is most likely severely diminished, if not entirely gone. I suggest the farmer's market, or, grow your own as I do; it's a simple crop to grow and you can pick only the amount you need.

On to the recipe...

Eggs and Greens with Thick Spaghetti

3 slices of good quality bacon
2 garlic toes, finely minced
Red pepper flakes
1 bunch of green onions (white and green) thinly sliced
1 bunch of kale, stemmed (I also picked kale flowers and broccoli rape (rah-pay) I had in the garden)
8 oz. Thick Spaghetti (1/2 a box)
Fresh Eggs (I use two per person)
1 lemon wedge
Toasted walnut pieces
Toasted Panko bread crumbs
Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (good cheese makes a big difference)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. In a large saute pan, fry the bacon until crispy. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels; pour off all the bacon fat, but DO NOT wipe out the pan.
3. Over low heat, heat the saute pan with bacon fat until the fat is hot. Toss in a good pinch of red pepper flakes and allow to 'fry' until pepper flakes release their oils. Lower heat.
4. Toss in garlic and green onion and saute lightly until very fragrant.
5. Place kale over the garlic and onions and do not stir until kale begins to wilt slightly. This should take about 5 minutes. Then, stir and incorporate garlic and onion with kale. Continue to stir and braise over low heat until kale is fully wilted and tender. Add a squeeze of lemon and then season to taste with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Keep warm over low heat.
6. Boil pasta until al dente. Do not rinse. Instead, lift pasta from water into strainer, shake dry and then dump pasta into saute pan on top of the braised kale. Drizzle with olive oil and stir to combine with kale.
7. Wash and dry eggs. Gently put eggs into pasta water and boil gently for five minutes.
8. Remove eggs from water and set on a dish towel. Working quickly, lightly crack and peel each egg.
9. Toss pasta. Put one heaping helping of pasta into each serving bowl (this recipe makes three servings, but if there are only two people, save the final portion of pasta without eggs for good eats the next day at lunch).
10. Top pasta with an even distribution of kale and seasoning from pan. Sprinkle pasta with a generous spoon of toasted chopped walnuts, toasted bread crumbs, and finely grated cheese.
11. Using a teaspoon, carefully remove eggs from remaining shells and put on top of pasta, breaking each egg open with the spoon. Top with  crumbled bacon and freshly ground pepper; serve immediately.

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