Easter Eggs : Beyond Sunny-Side-Up

Every year you probably hard-boil a couple of cartons of eggs for the kids to decorate. They get hidden in the back yard and then--found or not--they likely languish unappreciated until finally someone tosses them out.

This year, use eggs for the purpose for which they were intended: Cook them and eat them. Eggs have been of bad repute nutritionally for so long that you may have forgotten just how delicious they are.

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"Something magical happens to the taste of a simple frittata when balsamic vinegar is dribbled over its surface," writes Carol Field in the introduction to this recipe in her book "Celebrating Italy" (Morrow; 1990). She got the recipe from Italo Pedroni, whose great-great-grandfather opened the tiny countryside shop and restaurant Osteria di Rubbiara in Nonantola, Italy, in 1862. Pedroni and his wife, Franca, continue the tradition: The shop sells family-produced liqueurs and balsamic vinegars; behind the store, hungry travelers can sit outdoors and eat some of Italy's best pasta.

HERB FRITTATA DRIZZLED WITH BALSAMIC VINEGAR (Frittata all'Aceto Balsamico) 1 onion, finely sliced 1/4 cup peanut or olive oil 10 eggs 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped rosemary leaves 2 sage leaves, chopped 2 1/2 teaspoons torn basil leaves 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Saute onion in oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until onion is translucent and becoming golden. Beat eggs in bowl with rosemary leaves, sage leaves, basil leaves and salt. Remove onion from pan with slotted spoon, drain well. Add onion to egg mixture.

Cook egg mixture in same skillet over medium heat. As edges of egg mixture begin to set, tilt pan and lift outer edges so still-runny eggs can run under. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until eggs are golden brown underneath and quite well set on top, between 18 and 20 minutes. Put large serving plate over top of skillet and carefully invert frittata. Slide frittata back into skillet, uncooked-side-down. Cook 1 to 2 minutes to set on second side. Remove to serving platter.

Sprinkle surface of frittata evenly with balsamic vinegar by holding spoon full of vinegar about 6 inches above frittata and tapping finger against it as you move spoon uniformly over top. Let frittata stand 1 to 2 minutes to combine flavors. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

322 calories; 454 mg sodium; 531 mg cholesterol; 26 grams fat; 5 grams carbohydrates; 16 grams protein; 0.26 gram fiber.

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This is one of those perfect, simple dishes in which the disparate elements--hard-boiled eggs, leeks, anchovies--seem made for each other. Right now is the perfect season to find young leeks, which, in the words of Paul Bertolli, who printed this recipe in "Chez Panisse Cooking" (Random House; 1988), "have a fresh grassy flavor and are much more tender and less stringy than the larger, more mature ones." He recommends young leeks with shoots about 1/2 inch in diameter--though the recipe does work with older leeks too. The dish works as a first course or side dish, especially if you're serving a roast or braised meat. Bertolli likes to make this as a light lunch: "by themselves, with sliced sausage or ham, or with grilled fish."

LEEKS VINAIGRETTE WITH ANCHOVIES AND EGGS 30 young (baby) leeks 1 gallon water 1 1/2 tablespoons salt 6 salt-packed anchovies 3 large eggs 1 large shallot, finely diced 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar Salt, pepper 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley

Trim root end of leeks and cut away green leaves. Discard leaves. Leeks should be about 5 inches long. Make 2-inch slits on either side of top end of each leek so sand and dirt can flow out when leeks are rinsed. Remove any tough outer skin and plunge leeks into large bowl of water. Check cut tops and shake any sand out under water.

Bring water and salt to boil in large pot. Add leeks. Adjust heat so water gently bubbles. Cook leeks 15 to 18 minutes, or until tender throughout.

Meanwhile, fillet anchovies and soak in several changes of cold water 15 minutes.

Cover eggs with cold water, bring to boil, turn off heat, and let eggs stand 8 minutes. Cool eggs under cold water.

Combine shallot and vinegar in bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in olive oil.

Carefully remove leeks from pot and place on plate to cool. Squeeze leeks gently to remove excess water. Chill in refrigerator 30 minutes.

Peel eggs and chop very coarse. Drain and squeeze anchovies so they are dry. Slice into small bits. Stir anchovies into vinaigrette. Pour vinaigrette over leeks. Toss gently so that leeks don't fall apart. Arrange leeks on individual plates or large platter in single layer, adding all of vinaigrette. Scatter eggs and parsley over top and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about: 162 calories; 556 mg sodium; 110 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.88 gram fiber.

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Without eggs, custards, one of the world's great foods, wouldn't have been invented. This one--another from Paul Bertolli's "Chez Panisse Cooking"--was designed to enhance the flavors of roast chicken or grilled paillards of veal. Bertolli's cooking advice: "Although the recipe calls for chanterelles, any wild mushroom or combination of mushrooms may be used. The mushrooms should be well-seasoned and as dry as possible so that their moisture will not interfere with the balance of the egg and cream in the custard."

CHANTERELLE CUSTARD 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 3 1/2 cups fresh chanterelles, thinly sliced Salt, pepper 1 shallot, minced 1 small clove garlic, minced 1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves 1 egg 1 egg yolk 1 cup heavy whipping cream Dash freshly grated nutmeg Butter for ramekins

Melt butter in 10-inch skillet, add chanterelles. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook mushrooms at simmer until released juices are reduced and evaporated. Add shallot, garlic and thyme. Continue to cook mushrooms 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and transfer mushroom mixture to plate to cool.

Whisk together 1 egg and 1 egg yolk, cream, 1/8 teaspoon salt, dash pepper, and nutmeg until just mixed. Add mushrooms and stir well.

Butter 4 (6-ounce) ramekins and evenly divide custard mixture among them. Place ramekins in baking dish. Pour hot water into baking dish to reach halfway up ramekins. Bake at 350 degrees 35 minutes, or until custards are firm in center and brown on top.

Remove custards from oven. Remove from water bath. Let custards cool at room temperature 10 minutes. Run knife around inside edge of ramekins, jiggle each ramekin from side to side, invert onto 1 hand, and carefully remove custard. Set each custard, browned side up, on warm dinner plate. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about: 309 calories; 191 mg sodium; 219 mg cholesterol; 31 grams fat; 5 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.46 gram fiber.

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The following two recipes come from "Breakfast at Brennan's" (Brennan's Inc.: 1994), the new book from one of New Orleans' great restaurants. In New Orleans, after all, they know how to make eggs and excess combine deliciously.

EGGS A LA CLARK 8 beef tournedos or filets mignons, about 2 inches thick Salt, pepper 1/4 cup butter 8 Holland rusks or halved slices of toast 8 poached eggs 1 cup Pepper Sauce Fresh chopped parsley

Season beef to taste on both sides with salt and pepper. Melt butter in large saute pan. Cook beef over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes per side until medium rare.

Place 2 Holland rusks on each plate. Top with beef. Place 1 poached egg on each piece of meat, then spoon 1/4 cup Pepper Sauce over egg. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about: 625 calories; 826 mg sodium; 553 mg cholesterol; 42 grams fat; 23 grams carbohydrates; 35 grams protein; 0.08 gram fiber.

Pepper Sauce 1 tablespoon butter 1 tablespoon flour 1 cup beef stock 1/2 teaspoon tomato paste 1 cup heavy whipping cream 1 teaspoon cracked peppercorns 2 tablespoons brandy

Melt butter in medium saute pan. Using whisk, blend in flour. Add beef stock and tomato paste. Cook mixture over medium heat 3 to 4 minutes. Add cream and peppercorns. Simmer sauce until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in brandy. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 cups. Remainder may be kept, covered, in refrigerator 2 to 3 days.

EGGS ELLEN 1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets, divided into 8 slices, about 3 ounces each Salt, pepper 8 poached eggs 2 cups Hollandaise Sauce

Season salmon to taste with salt and pepper. Grill or broil until flaky and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Place 2 slices cooked salmon on each warm plate. Top each fillet with poached egg. Spoon 1/2 cup Hollandaise Sauce over eggs and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about: 1,256 calories; 1,439 mg sodium; 1,133 mg cholesterol; 118 grams fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 47 grams protein; 0.01 gram fiber.

Hollandaise Sauce 1 pound butter 6 egg yolks 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar Dash cayenne pepper Salt 1 teaspoon water

Melt butter in medium saucepan. Skim and discard mild solids from top of butter. Hold clarified butter over very low heat while preparing egg yolks.

Place egg yolks, vinegar, cayenne and salt to taste in large stainless steel bowl and whisk briefly. Fill saucepan or Dutch oven large enough to accommodate bowl with about 1 inch of water. Heat water to just below boiling point. Set bowl in pan over water. Do not let water touch bottom of bowl.

Whisk egg yolk mixture until slightly thickened, then drizzle clarified butter into yolks, whisking constantly. If bottom of bowl becomes hotter than warm to touch, remove bowl from pan of water few seconds. Let cool. When all butter is incorporated and sauce is thick, beat in water. Serve Hollandaise immediately or keep in warm place at room temperature until ready to use. Makes 2 cups.

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