The early morning APB comes by text from our friend Ingrid. A farm at nearby Ryder Beach has a surplus of fresh eggs and the farmer is offering them for sale to folks in the neighborhood. Sign me up. To me, eggs are just about the perfect food — a multipurpose ingredient or snack or main event, all wrapped up in a gorgeous little oval container.
I message the farmer and set up a time to pick up two dozen. Early in the afternoon, I set out on foot by way of fire roads and the old rail bed. The sun is high and bright and the marsh is subtly shaded in still-wintry grays and browns, all frosted lightly and sparkling. Even without the red of the winterberry fruit, long since picked by birds, the hue-shifting marsh set against an impossibly blue sky takes my breath away.
I love this walk. Christopher and I take it in all seasons. In the off-season we never tire of the drifts of moss and lichen, the ground-hugging wintergreen that smells of nothing so much as Certs, and the evergreen ferns that are so striking against the spare backdrop of winter. Today, the walk is not its usual meander. It’s purposeful. I have a goal. I’m gathering our supper.
Truro raconteur Beth Chapman tells stories of her father’s visits to the nearby, now lost, Cobb Farm for eggs. And of his encounters there with a surprisingly curmudgeonly Edward Hopper. I feel a deep satisfaction at following in these footsteps.
I walk up the drive to a white clapboard house on a rise above the marsh. The resident dog is not happy to see me. The farmer tells me she bought 30 chicks last spring when friends and acquaintances vowed to stay put in Truro during the pandemic. The chicks are now all laying hens, churning out cartons of ovals. Too many, in fact, since many of those novice year-rounders have since flown the coop.
I know “put an egg on it,” has become a cliché. But long before egg-plopping became a fad, it was an art: fresh, crisp frisée with salty bacon lardons, and a swirl of simple vinaigrette, topped with a still-hot, perfectly poached egg can make a grown man (at least this one) swoon. And then there are deviled eggs. Aside from my brother-in-law, Wayne, is there a person on earth who doesn’t hustle up to the dimpled deviled-egg tray at a party?
Christopher is particularly keen on breakfast tacos, a habit formed during his days in San Antonio. While I’ll admit breakfast eggs are a perfectly reasonable thing to crave, eggs for supper are what I love.
In the 1980s, Elizabeth David introduced me to the deep satisfaction, even elegance, to be found in a supper of a well-made omelette and a glass of wine. Her cookbook on the subject was one of my first, and in college, a deftly turned omelette served with $5-a-bottle chardonnay was my go-to dish for wooing.
With recipe possibilities jostling for pre-eminence in my mind, I start home with a sense of anticipation. Back at the cottage I examine the eggs — white and brown and some a little blue-tinged. They’re irregularly sized — definitely not industrially produced — and beautiful.
Lunch isn’t going to make itself. I decide on a tomato-and-egg casserole. I know that word may evoke comfort or horror, depending on your life experience. But this is one Melissa Clark got from the late chef Floyd Cardoz. In it, tomato sauce flavored with mint, green chiles, and ginger is poured over a layer of sliced cooked potatoes and baked. The eggs are cracked into shallow wells in the sauce to finish baking. It has Persian roots, he told her, and its warming spices are perfect for this season. I just wish it had a different name.
Indian-Spiced Tomato and Egg Casserole
1½ lbs. fingerling potatoes
¼ cup canola oil
1 yellow onion
1 poblano pepper
2 jalapeño peppers
2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground garam masala
½ tsp. ground coriander
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro or basil, plus more for garnish
Salt and black pepper
Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with salted water; bring to a gentle boil and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, and when cool enough to handle, slice potatoes into ½-inch-thick rounds.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
While the potatoes are cooking, dice the onion and seed and chop the peppers fine. Taste a sliver of the peppers to judge the degree of heat and if it’s not hot enough for your taste, throw some of the seeds into the dice. Chop the ginger and garlic fine. Chop the mint and cilantro. If you have whole cumin and coriander, heat them until fragrant in a small skillet and grind.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in peppers and cook about 3 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, cumin, garam masala, and coriander and cook another minute. Stir in tomatoes and a half teaspoon of salt. Simmer sauce over medium-low heat, breaking up the tomatoes, 15 minutes. Stir in mint and cilantro or basil. Taste and add salt if needed.
Place the potatoes in a single layer in a 9-inch casserole, baking dish, or skillet (it’s best not to use cast iron with acidic foods such as tomatoes that will remain in the dish this long). Pour the hot tomato sauce over the potatoes. Transfer pan to oven and bake 20 minutes.
Make six wells in the tomato mixture with the back of a large cooking spoon. Crack the eggs into them, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until egg whites are just set, 8 to 13 minutes. The dish is best when the yolks are runny so watch carefully in the final few minutes. Serve garnished with more chopped herbs.