Perfect egg recipes with a twist for Easter -- and beyond

Rebecca Williams is a self-professed “egg snob.”

As a student at Sarah Lawrence College just north of Manhattan, she remembers buying farm eggs at the green market in Union Square, then cradling them in her arms as she rode the subway back to school. She once accused a guy in her dorm of stealing her eggs. She recognized the scrambled eggs he was carrying back to his room by their bright-orange color.

“I was furious with him. I just totally chewed him out,” says Williams, who now produces pasture-raised eggs with her husband, Ross Williams, at their 280-acre Many Fold Farm in Chattahoochee Hills, about 40 minutes south of town, and sells them at Atlanta farmers markets like the one she used to frequent in New York.

As the couple leads me out to see the flock of 700 to 1,000 mostly Rhode Island Reds that roam the green pastures of their farm (where they also grow sheep to make cheese), I shyly admit that I am anything but an egg snob. I get confused by all the terms — what’s the difference between “cage-free” and “organic,” “pasture-raised” and “free range”? — and often buy less expensive grocery store eggs for cooking and baking.

Well, not anymore.

Not after hearing the Williamses opine on the merits of pasture-raised eggs vs. factory-grown.

Not after tasting their remarkable “organically fed, pasture-raised eggs,” which are sought out by some of Atlanta’s top chefs.

“Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods in the world,” Rebecca Williams says. “They are little encasements that grow baby chickens. The way they are designed, for lack of a better word, it’s all that food and all that energy and all those calories and all those nutrients and vitamins that it takes to form a baby chicken. So there’s a lot of stuff packed in there, and it’s a lot of stuff that your body can synthesize and make good use of.”

The quality of an egg, she posits, “is directly related to what that mama chicken eats and how she lives. Just like nutrition is of paramount importance for a pregnant woman, it’s exactly the same for a hen.”

At Many Fold, the portable chicken houses are moved around on the farm. The chickens roam freely, eating bugs and grass. Their manure becomes natural fertilizer for the grass.

“An egg from a chicken that has lived outside is higher in Vitamin D, higher in Vitamin A, higher in carotene, and higher in a host of minerals and micro-nutrients,” Williams says.

And by all accounts, they just taste better.

At Bread & Butterfly in Inman Park, executive chef Bryan Stoffelen covets farm eggs for his French omelettes du jour, poached eggs with radish and avocado, and luscious, soft-scrambled eggs with cold smoked trout, capers and creme fraiche — an elegant dish that’s easy to prepare at home.

“Eggs are the perfect food,” says Stoffelen, who serves them morning, noon and night at the Parisian-style cafe. “They can be healthy. But they can also be decadent.”

Indeed, eggs — symbols of life, rebirth and spring in cultures the world over — are one of the great wonders of nature, and the kitchen.

They bind pastas, stuffings, meat loafs, and lift cakes and souffles to ethereal heights. Without eggs, there would be no mayo, no custard, no creme brulee, no lemon curd.

They can fly solo, too, whether scrambled, poached, fried, shirred, boiled, pickled or deviled.

Todd Ginsberg, executive chef at The General Muir, loves shakshuka, a rustic Israeli dish in which eggs are cooked in tomato sauce. He deviates from tradition by adding chickpeas, garnishing the bowl with colorful parsley, black olives, mild feta, sweet pickled red peppers and preserved lemon.

Local Three’s Miguel Molina makes Truffled Egg Salad by smashing hard-boiled eggs with Duke’s mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, red onion, capers and dill; spooning it on to crackers or toast; and finishing it off with touch of truffle oil. An exquisite little nosh.

Deviled eggs can be filled with ingredients as down-home as pickle juice or topped ostentatiously with caviar. They may also be dyed with beets and pickled in vinegar — as Athens author Rebecca Lang instructs in her charming recipe for Pinkled Pink Deviled Eggs, which are pretty enough for an Easter basket.

Where to find Many Fold Farm eggs: Grant Park, Freedom and Peachtree Road farmers markets. Or visit the farm by appointment: 7850 Rico Road, Chattahoochee Hills. 770-463-0677. manyfoldfarm.com

What the terms mean

Atlanta egg farmer Ross Williams shares his thoughts on egg terminology:

Battery-cage. “They are raised in cages. That’s a totally mechanized, automated system, and those birds typically have very short life spans. They have no ability to express their normal animal behaviors, because they are kept contained for their whole lives.”

Cage-free. “The same chicken houses (as battery-cage) with chickens all over the floor. There are standards … But that’s a really darn crowded chicken house. They are all kept indoors. They eat the same thing every day.”

Free-range. “A term that means a lot of things to a lot of different people … What it has come to mean is ‘outdoor access,’ which is often a very densely populated chicken house with a certain number of square feet of an outdoor chicken run that doesn’t have grass, doesn’t have bugs. It’s basically just a flat-dirt lot, and there’s typically a relatively small door.”

Pasture-raised. “Those birds are part of a managed pasture system. The farmer chooses where those animals graze and is managing for the health of the soil and the health of the plants in that soil.” At Many Fold, for example, the chickens are moved frequently so they fertilize the grass. Along the way, they get to chomp bugs and chew grass, which probably accounts for their vivid yolks.

Organic. “Means that you didn’t use certain chemicals.” You can grow chickens in an industrial setting, but as long as you feed them certified organic material and don’t give them drugs, you can label them as organic, the Williamses say.

Recipes for eggs three ways — baked, scrambled and boiled

Todd Ginsberg’s Shakshuka

In this Israeli classic, eggs are dropped into a pot of bubbling tomato sauce and cooked until set. Ginsberg, executive chef of The General Muir and Yalla, the Middle Eastern food stall at Krog Street Market, breaks tradition by adding chickpeas. If serving this for breakfast, you may want to prepare the tomato sauce and chickpeas the night before. Taking time to roast a red bell pepper will add depth of flavor; so will boiling your own chickpeas. However, if pressed for time, just saute a chopped bell pepper along with the onion and garlic, and use canned chickpeas. Depending on the ripeness of the fresh tomatoes, Ginsberg suggests adjusting the sauce with tomato paste, starting with about 1 tablespoon. My sauce was lovely without the paste.

1 large red bell pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

24 ounces chopped, canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, cored and finely chopped, juices reserved

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste

2 cups cooked chickpeas, or 1 (1-ounce) can of chickpeas (if using canned, be sure to drain and rinse well with cold water)

8 pasture-raised eggs

Salt

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Choice of black olives, mild feta (such as Valbreso), sweet pickled peppers (such as Calabrian chiles) and preserved lemon (optional), for garnish

Pita bread (or rustic grilled bread) for serving

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a small baking tray with foil, place pepper on the tray and roast until the pepper collapses and the skin is blackened, about 45 minutes, making sure to turn the pepper once every 15 minutes so that it cooks evenly and doesn’t stick. Allow to cool. Peel, remove core and seeds, and chop fine.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, and saute until translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Stir in roasted red bell pepper. (If using a fresh bell pepper, cook it along with the onion and garlic.) Stir in paprika, cumin and chili flakes, allowing the spices to bloom, about 3 minutes. Add the canned and fresh tomatoes, along with their juices, and the black pepper. Cover and bring to a simmer. Turn heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and smooth, about 30 minutes. (If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little water, a half cup at a time.) Add chickpeas and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Check sauce for thickness. You want the sauce slightly wet when you add the eggs; if it’s too thick, add water, a tablespoon or two at a time. While the sauce is still quite hot, crack the eggs into the tomato sauce. Season tops of eggs with salt and pepper. Place pan in the oven and cook until the eggs are just set, about 5 to 8 minutes. Be careful not to overcook, or your eggs will turn hard and rubbery.

Garnish with parsley. Bring the skillet to the table, and serve piping hot with pita or other bread. If desired, place bowls of black olives, feta, pickled peppers and preserved lemon on the side for garnish. Serves: 4

Per serving: 418 calories (percent of calories from fat, 35), 24 grams protein, 47 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 17 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 424 milligrams cholesterol, 533 milligrams sodium.

Bryan Stoffelen’s Soft-Scrambled Eggs With Smoked Trout

For this quick and easy luxurious dish for two, Stoffelen, executive chef at Bread & Butterfly in Inman Park, tops toasted brioche with gently scrambled eggs, smoked trout, a couple of dollops of creme fraiche and capers. If you can’t find trout, smoked salmon would also be delicious. With a glass of white wine, this dish would make a make a lovely supper.

5 pasture-raised eggs

3 ounces smoked trout (may use smoked salmon)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Sea salt

2 slices brioche, about 3/4-inch thick

2 tablespoons of creme fraiche

2 teaspoons capers, drained

1 tablespoon chopped chives

In a bowl whisk eggs until well combined.

Melt half the butter in a medium-size nonstick omelet pan or skillet over medium heat. (If you don’t have a non-stick pan, spray a regular pan generously with cooking spray.)

When butter is fully melted, pour in eggs, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, making sure the eggs do not stick. This should be a slow process and take at least 3 minutes. As the eggs begin to thicken, add the remaining butter, and season with sea salt. (Soft scrambled eggs should be risottolike in texture and slowly fall when poured onto a plate.)

While the eggs are cooking, lightly toast two thick (about 3/4-inch) slices of brioche bread.

To assemble, place the toast on two dinner plates or a platter. Top toast with the scrambled eggs, smoked trout, a dollop of creme fraiche and capers. Garnish with chives, and serve. Serves: 2

Per serving: 443 calories (percent of calories from fat, 61) 28 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 29 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 588 milligrams cholesterol, 795 milligrams sodium.

Rebecca Lang’s Pickled Pink Deviled Eggs

You’ll be tickled pink when you spy these Easter-perfect eggs by Athens cookbook writer Rebecca Lang. A dozen eggs are boiled, peeled and gently pickled in a brine of sugar, salt and red beets, which gives them their color. As Lang suggests in her new book, “The Southern Vegetable Book: A Root-to-Stalk Guide to the South’s Favorite Produce” (Oxmoor House, $27.95, due out April 5), you may also use orange or yellow beets, for a full Easter basket effect.

12 large eggs

1⁄3 cup white-wine vinegar

1⁄3 cup apple-cider vinegar

2 red beets, peeled and cut in half

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, divided

1⁄3 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish

1 1⁄2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a large boiler. Add eggs. Boil for 10 minutes. Transfer eggs to ice water to sit for

5 minutes. Crack and peel.

Place white-wine and apple-cider vinegar in pot, along with beets, granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons of the salt and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat; cool.

In a a nonreactive bowl, cover peeled eggs with beet mixture. Eggs should be submerged. Cover and chill for 3 hours.

Remove eggs from beet liquid and dry on a paper towel-lined plate. Slice eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove yolks,

keeping egg whites intact. Grate egg yolks using small holes of a box grater. Mash together yolks, remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt,

mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon of the chives, Dijon mustard and black pepper. Spoon or pipe yolk mixture into egg whites, and garnish with remaining chives. Makes: 24 deviled eggs

— Adapted from “The Southern Vegetable Book: A Root-to-Stalk Guide to the South’s Favorite Produce” (Oxmoor House, $27.95, due out April 5) by Rebecca Lang

Per egg: 62 calories (percent of calories from fat, 73), 3 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 107 milligrams cholesterol, 279 milligrams sodium.

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