Having been born and raised in San Francisco, I’m a big-city girl. I sheepishly concede that really shows sometimes, too.
When I was a summer intern at the Portland Oregonian newspaper way back when, my editors sent me to the county fair to write a story. Any story.
When I arrived, I noticed the dairy cow competition was about to begin. Admittedly, growing up in cramped, congested San Francisco, I never even lived anywhere that had room for grass in the yard. Not surprisingly, my experience with cows was limited to seeing them grazing off in the distance as I rode in a car on the freeway. Getting up close and personal with one was novel, to be sure.
I walked up to a young man at the fair, who was tending his cows. “Excuse me, Sir?” I asked. “Are you in the dairy cow competition?”
The young man looked at me, looked at his cows, then looked at me again: “Ma’am, these are beef cows.”
Ohhh, right. The cows were dark as coal, muscular, and rather hefty, I realized on second glance, as I slinked off in complete shame.
So it goes without saying that I grew up getting my eggs from supermarkets, too. Sure, I’d read and heard people say that farm-fresh eggs were so much better. But I had been content to take the easy route, just picking up a carton of 12 on my regular trips to the grocery store.
But a few weeks ago, my husband’s co-worker, who raises chickens, gave us two dozen of his farm-fresh eggs. They were about two days old, with shells that ranged in hue from alabaster to biscuit to bronze.
My husband, who also had never experienced fresh eggs, was eager to try them, too. The next morning, he cracked two open for sunny-side up eggs with toast. The difference was immediately apparent. The yolks were orange, not the standard yellow. Some say the more vivid color is due to the chickens being less stressed; others say it’s because farmers feed marigolds to the poultry to purposely attain that color in the eggs. And still others say the color comes from the farm chicken’s natural diet of grains, leaves and bugs, in contrast to the commercial chicken, which is usually fed soy and fish meals.
Because fresh eggs have a stronger yolk membrane, the yolks also looked firmer and plumper. The whites were thicker, too. The taste? Richer somehow. And yes, more egg-y in a way.
That weekend, we couldn’t wait to try them out in homemade spaghetti noodles. As I mixed flour, water, salt, and our friend’s eggs in my mixer, I noticed the dough was a tad more golden than usual, but not dramatically so. As we ran the dough through the pasta cutters, the long strands came tumbling out.
I simmered my “posh pantry” sauce to toss the pasta in. I call it that because it’s special enough for last-minute guests, and because I usually have most of the ingredients on hand already, with the exception of the smoked salmon, which can easily be picked up in any grocery store. Smoked trout or good quality oil-packed tuna works just fine here, too. Leeks are a nice twist to the usual onion, as well. It’s an easy, forgiving sauce that comes together quickly, and can be tinkered with on a whim.
I tossed the pasta with the sauce, and we dug in. Fresh pasta always has a more pronounced egg taste than dried, so I’m not sure we detected an even stronger one from the fresh eggs. Still, it was good stuff. And we ate till we couldn’t manage another bite.
In this day and age, so much of our food comes prepackaged in neatly wrapped plastic containers that kids sometimes don’t realize that a pork chop or steak was once part of a real animal. And that’s a shame because we lose respect for that animal then.
You can be sure I’ll be picking up more eggs at the farmers’ market rather than just from the refrigerator shelf at the supermarket. I’ve learned to value the humble egg. It’s nature’s most perfect package, at once strong yet fragile. Experience it at its best, when it’s farm fresh. You’re never too old to appreciate something like that — not even if you’re a big-city girl who’s a bit animal-challenged.
My Posh Pantry Pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 yellow or red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
¾ cup white wine (such as Chardonnay)
3 (6.5-ounce) cans chopped clams
10 ounces or so of smoked salmon
2 tablespoons capers, or to taste
Zest from 1 lemon
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Handful of fresh chopped parsley or basil
1- 1 1/4 pounds fresh pasta (spaghetti, linguini, or fettuccini)
Extra virgin olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat olive oil and butter. Add onion, and sauté until golden. Add garlic, and stir until softened. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. Deglaze pan with white wine; let simmer until slightly reduced. Add broth from cans of clams, reserving clams to add later. Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes to reduce slightly.
Add salmon to the sauce, flaking it into bite-size pieces. Stir in capers, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Add clams, and turn the heat to low, keeping sauce warm but not boiling it so that the clams toughen.
Add pasta to pot of boiling water. Cook until al dente, about 2 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving about ¾ cup of the cooking water in a mug.
Add pasta back to empty large pot; add sauce and a little of the cooking water if the pasta mixture gets too dry. Stir in fresh parsley or basil. Drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil before serving. Italians may think it blasphemous to add Parmesan cheese to seafood pastas, but I leave the decision up to you. Personally, I like it in this dish.