Whatever your point of view on the healthfulness of the egg, it is, to the cook and baker, a miracle of completeness and efficiency. Standing alone as a nourishing meal, it also plays a supporting role with virtuosity—binding, adding richness and flavor, trapping and retaining moisture, contributing structure. Little wonder that the time-honored test of a young chef’s mettle was making a perfect, simple omelet. The ability to handle an egg skillfully speaks volumes about the rest of a cook’s skills.

Along with the growth to massive scale of the poultry industry, eggs have assumed a profile in the public food consciousness as a food that can and should be had cheaply. Organic, free-range or cage-free eggs are generally priced at two-to-three times as much as their mass-market counterparts, which may be expensive as a relative matter, but still leaves you with a cost of less than $1.00 per serving of two-to-three eggs. I call that good value, and the difference in flavor that an egg raised with traditional farm methods offers is well worth the price.

Center stage
My preference has always been to let the egg take center stage, with the simplest preparation and a spare cast of characters to share the spotlight. Spring is a great time to use the first of the brightly flavored green produce hitting the markets in combination with eggs to create a small meal that suits any time of day. I’ll share two recipes here which emphasize a light hand with cooking this elemental food and run a gamut of flavors rich and lean.

Poached Egg with Grilled Asparagus and Prosciutto
2 eggs
2 slices prosciutto
4-6 stalks asparagus
1 Tbs. olive oil
black pepper
sea salt
Directions: Heat a small saucepan of water to the point just below a simmer—some bubbles will be seen on the side of the pan and the surface of the water will be in motion—but no higher. Wash and trim the asparagus (the tough butt end will snap off naturally at the point where the stalk becomes tender), toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Crack the eggs into the water (or into a cup and transfer to the water from there) and cook 3-5 minutes or until the whites are fully set up but yolk is still soft and semi-runny (personal preference, of course—just cook longer if you want a firm yolk). While the eggs are poaching, grill the asparagus spears and prosciutto for three minutes. Set the asparagus on a serving dish, top with poached egg, then coarsely chop prosciutto and scatter over egg. Finish with fresh black pepper.

Scrambled Egg with Chives
and Sour Cream
3 eggs
1 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. fresh chives, minced
1/4 c. sour cream
sea salt and fresh black pepper
Directions: Heat butter in a skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat until clear, crack eggs into hot butter and scramble quickly with a fork until almost fully set. Turn off heat, stir in sour cream and scatter chives with salt and pepper to taste.
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