Thanks to the efforts of a few egg-loving citizens, it became legal in late July to keep up to 6 chickens per half-acre in our village backyards. I have no desire to add chicken-keeping to my list of chores (walking a miniature poodle three times a day is all that I can handle), but I hoped to benefit nonetheless when the chicken-friendly zoning ordinance went into effect. If the people down the block found themselves with surplus eggs, I would be ready to take some off their hands.
With the longer days of spring (chickens lay more eggs when there is more daylight) my hopes have been realized. At this time of year, hens can produce six eggs per week. One neighbor with several birds recently complained to me that she would have to start taking Lipitor with her breakfast if she wanted to consume all of the eggs she was now collecting. I immediately offered to buy a dozen, but she insisted on obeying the law and gave them to me for nothing. The ordinance, it seems, prohibits the sale of home-raised eggs.
“Free, fresh, local eggs without the fuss of backyard chickens!” I thought. “Village life doesn’t get any better than this!” (Unfortunates without chicken-keeping neighbors can purchase local eggs at the Farmer’s Market, Iacono’s, or North Sea Farms for about $6 a dozen, still a bargain).
Freshly laid organic eggs are too good to waste on chocolate chip cookie dough or pound cake. Better to use them in a dish where they star. I had heard that the fresher the eggs, the easier they are to poach, so I thought I’d bone up on best poaching practices and test this premise. The idea of breaking an egg into a pot of boiling water is a little bit scary. How on earth will it hold together? And how will you know when it is cooked properly? A few techniques help ease the anxiety. First, to easily slide your eggs into the pot, crack them into custard cups or small teacups before you begin. When your water comes to a boil, add some vinegar or lemon juice. The acid will tighten up the egg whites, helping the eggs stay in one piece. Finally, once you have added your eggs you should remove the pot from the heat, cover it, and let the eggs cook in hot but not boiling water. This way, you minimize the chances that your eggs will break into pieces in the vigorously boiling water or that they will overcook.
My first poached local eggs went right on top of toast for lunch. But I still had 10 eggs in my carton. I waited until dinner, and then enjoyed them again, this time on top of pasta. Is there a simpler, more extravagantly delicious sauce for spaghetti? The variations are endless: Instead of bacon and bread crumbs, add chopped cooked spinach, ham, smoked salmon, mushrooms, pesto, tomato sauce, or any other ingredient that might marry well with a rich egg yolk.
The following recipe would be wonderful at an Easter lunch. On Mother’s Day, when local asparagus will be available, you can cut a half-pound into 1-inch lengths, boil for 2 minutes, drain, and toss them into the pot along with the breadcrumbs and bacon.
Spaghetti with Bacon, Breadcrumbs, and Poached Eggs
Don’t freak out if your egg whites look like they’ve split into a hundred shreds on contact with the hot water. Cover the pot and have some faith. Somehow, they will come back together during poaching.
4 ounces bacon, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Ground black pepper
3/4 pound spaghetti
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Parmesan cheese for serving
1. Cook the bacon in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until just crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and drain off all but 2 tablespoons of fat. Add garlic to pan and cook 30 seconds. Add bread crumbs to pan and cook, stirring, until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water and a 12-inch sauté pan with 2 inches of water to boil. Add the spaghetti to the large pot. Set a kitchen timer for 6 minutes.
3. Crack the eggs into custard cups or small teacups. When the timer goes off, remove the skillet from the heat and add the vinegar. One at a time, slide the eggs into the water. Cover the pan and let stand until whites are just set, 4 to 5 minutes depending on the size of the eggs.
4. Drain spaghetti and return to the pot. Stir in the bacon, breadcrumb mixture, butter, and parsley. Divide among 4 pasta bowls.
5. Use a slotted spoon to lift eggs from saucepan and place on top of pasta bowls. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.