Prices fluctuate, but mostly they go up. This is how you know if you’re old (you remember when a bottle of soda cost a dime) or if you’re very old (you remember when a bottle of soda cost a nickel).
This game is going to get very complicated a few decades from now when it comes to eggs. It is not unusual to find a dozen eggs selling for a dollar in your neighborhood grocery store. A year and a half ago they cost three times that. The price of eggs right now is the lowest it has been in a decade.
There are reasons, of course — Avian flu, import/export, cage-free vs. conventional, macro-economic blah, blah, blah, but when all is said and done, an egg has six grams of protein and costs less than a dime.
Six gram of protein for a dime. Imagine that.
With a deal that good, there’s no reason to restrict eggs to breakfast. Breakfast for dinner is always popular, and quiches and fritatas are always nice, but there is a whole world of brunch dishes that feature eggs and they shouldn’t be restricted to brunch. Especially now, with eggs clocking in at a buck a dozen.
There is no better time to look into baked eggs. The concept is simple. A few eggs are cracked into some sort of sauce containing goodies like tomatoes, spinach or mushrooms and then popped into the oven. The eggs bake and each one becomes the centerpiece of a serving.
Optimally, they are baked long enough for the white to solidify but not so long that the yolk does. In a perfect world, the yolk runs out and blends with the sauce, completing and enriching it.
It’s harder than it sounds. The white looks raw long after it is fully cooked and the yolk cooks hard without visibly changing. Complicating matters even more, the eggs continue cooking after being removed from the oven.
If, by chance, you don’t like runny eggs, then you’re in luck. You will find no challenges. But if you want the yolks to run, be vigilant. And as soon as the whites look even remotely close to ready, pull the pan out of the oven. It still may take a few tries but the results are worth it.
If you have a cast iron skillet, now is the time to pull it out and make use of it. You can cook your sauce on the stovetop, add your eggs and shove it right in the oven, only dirtying one pan. It just gets better and better.
Following are a few recipes to get you started. There’s shakshukeh, the traditional Middle Eastern dish from which the others probably evolved, eggs in purgatory, named for its red, fiery tomato sauce, and the old-fashioned comfort food, creamed spinach, made into a main dish with the addition of some eggs baked in it. it is possible, of course, to wing it and not use a recipe. Dig around in your fridge or pantry or see what’s ripe in your garden, and go to it.
Some of the major supermarket chains are committing to all cage-free eggs in the next few years, which is another story for another day. But the price of eggs will be going up, sooner or later. Enjoy the low prices while they last.
Eggs in Purgatory
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
1 pinch chile flakes
1 small onion, diced
Kosher salt, to taste
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon capers, plus 1 tablespoon of juice from the jar
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
½ cup roughly chopped parsley (or other fresh herbs)
Parmesan cheese, for garnish
Thick-cut toasted bread, for serving
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Heat the oil in a cast-iron pan over medium heat. Sprinkle in the chile flakes and warm until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the onions, season them with a small pinch of salt, and cook until translucent, 7 minutes, stirring often and being careful not to burn them. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes more. Add the crushed tomatoes, then stir in the capers and caper juice. Season with another small pinch of salt and cracked black pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened and reduced slightly, 20 minutes. Take the sauce off the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Using a wooden spoon, create 4 small wells in the sauce. Crack an egg into each well. Bake until the eggs have just turned white but still jiggle when you shake the pan, 9 to 10 minutes. Season each egg with a little salt and pepper. Garnish the dish with the chopped parsley and Parmesan, and drizzle olive oil over the top. Serve immediately with thick slices of toasted bread for dipping.
Creamed Spinach with Baked Eggs
Makes 8 servings (easily halved)
For the creamed spinach:
1 1/2 pounds baby spinach
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter
2 tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 tsp. finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups half-and-half or whole milk
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
For the eggs:
8 large or extra-large eggs, at room temperature
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Ground cayenne pepper or paprika, to taste
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
For the creamed spinach: Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches, place the spinach in a large strainer and lower it into the boiling water only until it wilts, about 5 seconds. Quickly transfer the spinach to the ice water to stop the cooking and set the bright green color. When all of the spinach is cool, drain it in a colander. Pick up the spinach a small handful at a time and squeeze it as dry as possible. Place the little piles of spinach on a clean tea towel. Fold the towel closed and then twist the ends to squeeze out any remaining water. Separate the little clumps into loose strands of spinach.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook, whisking continuously, for 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the onion mixture and cook, whisking continuously, for 3 minutes. Do not let the flour brown. Whisk in the half-and-half. When the flour dissolves, switch to a heatproof spatula. Cook the mixture, stirring slowly and continuously, until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens enough to coat the back of the spatula, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking until the sauce is the consistency of soft pudding, about 2 minutes longer. Stir in the cheese, nutmeg, mustard, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Add the spinach and mix well. Keep warm over very low heat. (Make-ahead note: You can make the creamed spinach up to one day ahead. Press plastic wrap or parchment paper directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. When ready to proceed, remove the plastic wrap and reheat over low heat until it just begins to bubble.)
For the eggs: Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat it to 400°F. Set eight 8- to 10-ounce gratin dishes or other similar shallow baking dishes on a rimmed baking sheet. Divide the warm creamed spinach among the dishes, making sure that it is no more than 3/4-inch deep. Use the back of a spoon to make a little hollow in the center of the spinach and crack an egg into each hollow. It’s fine if the egg white spreads out a little over the spinach. Sprinkle the tops with salt, pepper, cayenne, and cheese. (You can also bake several eggs on top of a whole dish of creamed spinach, but be prepared to bake them much longer — 20 to 25 minutes.)
Bake only until the egg whites are set, 12 to 15 minutes. Keep a close eye on the eggs in the last few minutes of baking; the yolks can go from perfect to chalky quite quickly. The yolks will continue to firm up after they come out of the oven, so serve promptly.
Country Baked Eggs
4 large Eggs
2 cups thinly sliced Cremini mushrooms
2 leek stalks, chopped to 1/2” pieces
1 shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 bunch of baby spinach, rinsed clean
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 cup dry red wine or dark beer
1/2 cup Parmigiano Regiano cheese
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
salt and cracked pepper
1 tbsp. chopped chives
Preheat oven to 350°F. Put cast iron skillet on a low medium flame and put in olive oil. After 2 minutes, drop in chopped leeks and sauté them until they soften a bit, no more than 3 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes. Next add the butter and mushrooms, turn the heat to medium high and sauté for about 6-7 minutes. You want a lot of water coming out at this point and a little bit of browning on the mushrooms. Next add the soy and wine/beer and let this reduce down quite a bit. You want the sauce to reduce and penetrate all the veggies. Once there is barely any liquid left throw in baby spinach and reduce the heat to medium. Toss the ingredients together and get the spinach well sautéed. Salt and pepper to taste. Now you will want to “flatten” out all the ingredients in your pan and make 4 wells to crack the eggs into. Be careful and crack each egg into each of the wells. Next make sure to salt and pepper the tops of each egg slightly. Place the tomatoes all around the skillet without disturbing the eggs. Sprinkle half of the Parmigiano cheese on top of the entire thing and put it on a middle rack in the oven. Now here comes the bake. If you want nice runny yolks, leave in for 10-11 minutes, if you want more set yolks leave for 13-14 minutes. Be careful and take out the skillet and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and the chives.
Shakshukeh (Tomato Skillet with Eggs)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
5 medium or large ripe tomatoes, diced
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. paprika
dashes salt and pepper to taste
handfuls fresh chopped parsley or dried herbs for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a deep, large skillet or sauté pan on medium. Add chopped onion, sauté for a few minutes then add garlic and continue to sauté till onions are translucent. Add the bell pepper, sauté for 5-7 minutes over medium heat until softened. Add the diced tomatoes and the other spices, stir well and cover. Allow mixture to simmer for 5-7 minutes. You can taste the mixture and spice it according to your preferences. Don’t forget to add salt and pepper. When it starts to reduce, it’s time to crack the eggs in, make sure you don’t wait let the base get dry. To cook the eggs, make some space for them in the middle of the pan by moving the tomato base to the sides of the pan. Crack the eggs, one at a time, making sure to space them evenly. Add salt and pepper, cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Allow mixture to simmer for 7-10 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked. Garnish with chopped parsley or dried herbs. Serve hot with bread, preferably flat Arabic bread. The dish is perfect in a Mezzeh plater or next to a salad.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.