Month: March 2016

Duck Eggs Over Easy

During the past year I was searching for a good local source to obtain duck eggs. What interested me is their richness and volume compared to chicken eggs and I wanted to explore their use in my kitchen, especially when making frittatas and fresh pasta.

Although I cannot recall all the details, I found a local farm via an online search only to learn they were not raising ducks any longer. However, they were kind enough to connect me with another small local farmer who was. Unfortunately my timing was off because her ducks don’t lay eggs in the winter. Who knew?

When the weather warmed up after this oddly mild winter I checked to see if the ducks had decided to go back to work but I was still a little early. Then one day, to my surprise, I received an e-mail alerting me that the ducks were laying again and asking if was I interested in purchasing three dozen. But of course!

So I made arrangements to go to the farm early on a Saturday morning. It’s located just a few miles from my former home in New Jersey and I probably drove past that farm several hundred times giving it no notice except for a passing comment about the odd-looking cattle grazing in the front field adjacent to the road. They are very hairy and have long curled horns–you can’t miss them.

So there I was in my recently washed MB pulling into a very long dirt and gravel driveway that led up to a house set well off the road. No one appeared to be home, so I called and was told by my duck egg person that her farm was on the property immediately next door. I proceeded to slowly and carefully back up the long driveway; I just about reached the end and saw that a large tree was in my path. Obviously, I did not want to hit the tree so I maneuvered away to my left but the driveway was so narrow at that point that I felt the car tilt and fall off the side of the road. I tried to right myself and move forward but it was no use—the wheels spun in the soft dirt on one side and the loose gravel on the other and the next thing I knew my car was off the road, tilted at a 45–degree angle and stuck on a road marker stake imbedded in the gravel.

Man, all I wanted was a couple dozen duck eggs and instead I had to call for a tow truck. “Be there in an hour,” I was told. Plenty of time to assess if there was any damage to my car (fortunately there was not), so now it was time to refocus and get my duck eggs.

I now had to walk up another long driveway, although this time it was almost all dirt and very muddy. Along with that, I faced those unusual cattle staring at me from the front field on one side of the drive and a large white dog who apparently was fenced in (a good thing) with the cattle, was barking very enthusiastically as I approached. Further along, on the opposite side of the drive was another area with several pens and small outbuildings where apparently the ducks and other farm creatures are kept. And two more large white dogs were also barking their heads off. And I was doing all of this for duck eggs??

A small, frail woman met me as I reached the house. She reassured me that the dogs weren’t a threat and that I was welcome to come in and select my duck eggs. I told her about my car and she offered to tow me out with her tractor, but I declined since my tow service was on the way. We made our exchange and I left with three dozen eggs, back down that long muddy driveway, dogs still barking, although this time a little less enthusiastically since their owner was accompanying me.

She wanted to see the car and show me the small shed at the end of her drive where a cooler is stashed—she would place the eggs there in the future (easier access!). She also placed her sign out on the road, which, if it were there in the first place I may have never driven up the wrong driveway, but I digress!

As I waited for the tow truck the owner of the home where my car was hung up, pulled in. After our introductions he helped me free the car from the stake on which it was stuck because that would make it infinitely easier to tow the car out properly. Shortly after that the tow truck arrived, a state-of-the-art flatbed with all the lights, bells, and whistles one would need in any towing situation. As I walked up to vehicle, the driver’s side window rolled down and I looked up at a young fellow with a punk-style haircut. He was puffing away on a freshly lit cigarette and without skipping a beat he asked, “Weren’t you watching where you were going?”

I was in no mood to answer that question since I was simply there to buy a few dozen duck eggs. Nonetheless, he proceeded with great efficiency to pull me out and then in two simple moves I was back on the road headed to a car wash and then home with my new find: three dozen freshly laid duck eggs. (All in a day’s outing at the farm stand I guess.) I will definitely use the cooler in the little shed the next time!

So now what to do with those duck eggs? First I used six to prepare a frittata, consisting of a sauté of sweet onions, a mix of fresh herbs, and a chèvre new to me, Capriole O’Bannon, which I purchased online from my friends at Earthy Delights. I was pleased with the results of my first duck egg frittata, although next time I may whip some of the whites and fold them into the mix to lighten the overall finished dish. It just so happened that we were meeting our friends Kim and Dave for dinner that night, so, I thought why not share some duck eggs? It turns out they made a frittata for breakfast the next day.

The next dish I tried was a fresh pasta. I prepared a pound of roasted Kabocha squash gnocchi sauced with brown butter and sage. Delicious! Duck eggs make a very rich pasta dough, so the next batch will most likely be a mix of chicken eggs and perhaps a duck egg yolk or two.

Now for something unusual for me, I don’t make it very often, although it is fun and easy to do. My godkids used to call them “Eggs McDante,” and whenever I gather with some of the grandkids I usually whip up a batch for breakfast. You may recognize this dish as “Toad-in-the-Hole,” although I have seen dozens of other names; for example, One-Eyed-Jack, Egg-in-a-Basket, Frog-in-the-Pond, Popeye, Cowboy Egg, and Hen-in-the-Nest, to name a few.

The recipe uses few ingredients, is easy to prepare and assemble, can be dressed up or dressed down, and always seems to be a crowd pleaser. So here is my take on “Toad-in-the-Hole” prepared for two.

Ingredients
2 thick slices of bread, (an artisan white, a Challah, or pumpernickel) cut 3/4- to 1-inch thick
2 large eggs (in this case duck eggs)
Butter
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Optional spice for serving: Green Tabasco or the Japanese spice mix Shichimi Togarash

Method
With a round cutter or mold, remove the center from each slice of bread and set aside. Lightly butter both sides of the slices.

Prepare the bread slices

Prepare the bread slices

In a large sauté pan heat a tablespoon or two of the olive oil over medium to high heat and once the oil is hot but not smoking place the bread slices in the pan. Immediately crack an egg and place it in the hole in the center of each slice. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and once the eggs have set, flip the slices over and cook on the other side. Cook as long as needed to get the texture and doneness you prefer.

The sauté

The sauté

While the eggs are cooking, pop the two cutout rounds into the toaster to brown them lightly and set aside.

For this dish I decided to dress it up a bit, so I prepared a quick fennel, orange, and olive salad, and on top of the toasted rounds I placed a spoonful of my green tomato and lemon marmalade to provide a sweet and savory accompaniment to the cooked egg dish.

Plated

Plated

Plate the Toad-in-the-Hole with the salad and the toasted round along side. If you would like to punctuate the toasted egg just a bit more, either splash a few drops of the Tabasco over or sprinkle with some of the Togarashi. If you have never tried the Togarashi I would recommend buying a jar—it pairs quite nicely with eggs as well as other dishes.

I plan to continue to explore cooking with duck eggs. I find them richer than chicken eggs and because of their harder shell they have a longer shelf life. Since the shell is much harder than a chicken egg use a quick tap with a knife to make a clean crack.

My research on duck eggs has taught me that compared to chicken eggs they have a higher fat content (good fat), higher protein, more cholesterol (the good kind), and contain more vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids.

If you have never tried them it is worth it just once, even if you simply scramble a couple for breakfast one morning. Although try not to drive your car off the road when you are picking up your first dozen!

Eat well. Be well.
DM
We can simply treat food as nothing more than fuel or instead enjoy and appreciate its every quality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dante Mazzocco

Newtown, PA 18940

Phone: 215 968 4532

Cell: 609 306 6698

dante@dm25.com

 

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Polenta with Lamb Sausage Ragu . . . Monday Night’s Dinner

Schedules are often difficult to coordinate when trying to set a date to gather for a long overdue dinner with friends. Such was the case on “Leap Day,” a Monday, the last day in February when our friends Fran and Herb were able to join us for some Dining al Dante!

Typically most meals served at home are less about formality and more about comfort food–generally a main dish accompanied by a side and a good bottle of wine. However, since we were sharing the meal with friends I thought there would be no reason not to include a simple starter course and then end the meal with dessert.

The menu consisted of:

  • A crostini of cumin and honey-roasted carrots, served atop a dollop of muhammara, sprinkled with flaky Murray River salt, Aleppo chili flakes, and fresh mint
  • Soft polenta topped by lamb sausage ragu, grated ricotta salata, and mint
  • Broccoli rabe sauté, garlic, olive oil, and Aleppo chili flakes
  • Roasted pepperoncini
  • Olive oil cake with homemade blood orange marmalade

For this post I want to share two recipes. The ingenious “no-stir” technique for preparing polenta that I discovered many years ago, introduced by the culinary author Paula Wolfert, and my interpretation of a lamb sausage ragu to pair with the polenta.

Polenta

The ingredients list will yield a generous volume of polenta to feed four, however the proportions halve easily both in ingredients used and overall cooking time. The polenta I have been using is one I sourced from Anson Mills based in SC, Anson Mills Artisan Handmade Rustic, although other store bought brands yield good results.

The texture of the finished polenta is depends on how much liquid is used in the cooking process, whether it is water, stock, milk, or some combination of the two or three.

For example, 10 cups of liquid will yield very soft polenta, while 6 cups will yield very firm polenta, the kind that can be sliced and pan sautéed or grilled. I was looking for a softer consistency with this recipe, so I worked with more liquid.

Ingredients
2 cups polenta
9 cups liquid (I used water and whole milk)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup grated cheese (many options) and black pepper to finish

Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a Dutch oven, or other wide ovenproof pot (without the lid) mix the first five ingredients together, stirring several times to incorporate.

Place the pot in the oven and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, uncovered, without the need to stir.

Remove the pot from the oven, stir several times to break up any lumps that may have formed and to recombine the now almost-cooked polenta.

Return the pot to the oven and bake another 12 minutes, again uncovered and without stirring.

After the quick second cooking, remove the pot, stir in the cheese and sprinkle with black pepper.

With this example of soft polenta, serve it immediately. If a firmer consistency is prepared, transfer the cooked polenta to a platter or a board where it will set and can be spooned or cut into pieces for serving.

Kitchen Tip: The residual polenta coating the sides of the pot can become like cement if left for cleanup at the end of the meal. To make the task easier, leave the oven on the lowest temperature setting. Fill the pot with warm water just enough to reach the surface where the polenta clings, and place the pot back in the oven. By the time your meal is concluded the residual polenta is easily removed from the pot.

Lamb Sausage Ragu

There are probably as many variations of this typical meat-based sauce as there are cooks preparing them. When you think of Italian cuisine, Bolognese sauce generally comes to mind.

A ragu is prepared by braising the meats and vegetables together rather than adding cooked meats to a basic tomato sauce. In some regions the ragu is made with ground meats and vegetables, while in other regions the meat is generally prepared in larger cuts, seared and browned, and then finished with vegetables in a liquid base.

I chose lamb sausage combined with some well-marbled pork fennel sausage for the meat component of the ragu. The lamb sausage was a variety of Merguez, typically found in North African and some Middle-Eastern cuisine, that I combined with artisan-made pork fennel sausage from a charcuterie purveyor I just discovered.

Ingredients
1 pound lamb sausage, meat removed from the casings
2 to 3 links pork sausage, meat removed from the casings
1 veal marrow bone (optional)

Soffritto
1 medium red onion, 3 garlic cloves, 1 medium carrot, 1 large celery stalk, 1 large fennel stalk, 4 large parsley stems
Herb bundle: 3 sage sprigs, 3 thyme sprigs, 3 parsley stems, 3 bay leaves
Spice mix: salt, pepper, Aleppo chili flakes, bay-fennel-rosemary powder
28 oz can whole or chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 cup stock
Fresh mint, parsley, and grated ricotta salata to finish

Method
Chop the onion fine. Place all the other soffritto vegetables in the work bowl of a food processor and mince fine.

In a large heavy-bottomed stockpot heat 4 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and other vegetables to the pot and sauté, stirring often until the onion softens and the soffritto begins to take on some color.

Add the sausage meat that was removed from the casings and with a wooden spoon break up the clumps, stirring often to allow the sausage to brown evenly.

Tie up the herb bundle and add to the pot mixing into the browning meat and vegetables along with the marrow bone if using.

Once the meat and vegetables have browned nicely and cooked down in volume, sprinkle over the spices and mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, break up the tomatoes with your hands into smaller pieces and then mix in the tomato paste.

Add the tomato mixture, the wine and the stock to the pot, raise the heat to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally until half of the liquid has cooked off.

Taste to check and correct the seasoning, remove the marrow bone if used, cover and keep the ragu warm for serving.

Place a generous ladle full of the hot polenta into a warm bowl, ladle the ragu over and top with the grated ricotta salata and the minced fresh parsley and mint.

Plated

Plated

A ragu with polenta, one of the quintessential comfort food dishes. You might consider adding that to your next Monday night’s dinner.

Be well. Eat well.

Enjoy!
DM
So pour yourself a glass of wine, select some music to accompany, relax, cook, and enjoy . . .

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