We have acquired chickens by several methods over the nine years that we’ve been chicken-keepers. We have ordered them by phone and then received them in the mail. We have driven long distances to buy them from crazy people who are bizarrely devoted to some arcane heirloom breed (arguably, by finding these people and then driving miles and miles to their remote location for the purpose of this exchange, forfeiting our own claims to sanity.) We have gone to time-consuming lengths to incubate eggs in our house, only to see a justifiably snooty hen march out from under the coop with a family she hatched the old-fashioned way.
We have some spectacular pure-bred, pedigree, fancy-dan chickens that we ordered: Crested Golden Polish, Frizzle, Silkie, etc.
General Tucker Stinkyfanny, Second Assistant Vice-Rooster, a purebred Frizzle
But the home-brew chickens are among the handsomest on our farm; witness the Golden-Frosted Mullet Mezzo-Frizzle:
Chicken genetics turn out to be fairly simple for the lay-person (you should pardon the term) to understand, in that crossing a green-egg-layer with a speckled-egg-layer tends to produce a speckled-green-egg-layer, and crossing a poofy-head-feathered one with a poofy-cheek-feathered one will net you a bunch of demi-head-poofed, demi-cheek-poofed chickens. And so on. Mullet Boy is not alone–our flock has a bunch of stunning examples of these principles. My friend Suzi says they look like extras in a Metropolitan Opera production set in Paris.
On most farms concerned with things like profit margins and feed-to-egg ratios, chickens head for the soup pot when they stop laying a reliable one egg per day and start laying, erratically, eggs too large to fit in the standard egg carton–by two years of age. Around here, we run a retirement home for chickens and should probably sell eggs for about eleven dollars apiece. A fresh barnyard egg tastes good enough to warrant that charge, but I don’t think the market will bear it.
Whenever I begin to feel weary of stepping in chicken poop and shooing dusty birds off my porch, I steer my thoughts to the eggs, and a memory of one of my then-tiny daughters ordering three scrambled with a side of toast while we were traveling. “Mama, what’s wrong with these eggs?” she asked me after the waiter set them down in front of her. I peered. Eggs scrambled at home are a vivid nasturtium-y turmeric color, while these were the same color as the butter in the butter dish. I suppose that’s worth a little poop on the shoes.
Even if you do not have an opera company of chickens in your yard, you probably have access to a better class of egg than the stupormarket has to offer. I could point you towards plenty of horrifying literature about the egg industry and sobering facts like two hens to a cage the size of a piece of printer paper and eggs warehoused for months before they reach the store shelves, or I could spare you that and just plead with you to fork it over for good ones. If you want a simple guideline, don’t even make eye contact with a carton that does not promise at least “free-range.” It’s not a reliable standard by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s the barest minimum standard we should accept. Just try to buy eggs from people, not corporations, when you can. “Pasture-Raised” is a much, much better standard to go by, and here is a resource to help you find those near you. Here is another one, and here is a third.
I can’t say we ever get tired of eating eggs, but it is nice to stumble across a new way to feature them. This is one of those endlessly variable deals that you can also make ahead, reserving the prepared crust, covered, in the fridge for as long as a day, or you can finish making the tart and underbake it, to be finished in a hot oven when you are ready to serve it. Everyone here seemed to be happy to gobble it up, with some soup and salad. In place of or in addition to the greens, you could use artichoke hearts, as the original recipe did, or any of the other things you like to throw into a frittata or omelette or quiche.
inspired by Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals
for the crust:
1c +2T coarse polenta
3 c water
1t chopped fresh thyme, if you have it around
1/2 c grated parmesan
olive oil, to grease the pan
for the filling:
1c plain yogurt, preferably Greek and NOT nonfat
1 T olive oil or butter
kale or spinach, one bunch, cleaned and trimmed and coarsely chopped or torn
scallions, about 5, minced, or a leek, cleaned and minced
3-4 oz feta, crumbled or similar tangy, zippy cheese
fresh pepper to taste
more grated parmesan, to garnish, if you feel up to it
Thinly coat a 10″ ceramic baking dish with olive oil and set aside.
To make the crust, bring the water and salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan, and sprinkle in the cornmeal, stirring with a whisk to prevent lumps. Stir for about a minute, until the meal is in a nice suspension, then reduce heat as low as possible and cover the pot. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring vigorously about every 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let stand, covered, for another 10 minutes. You should have a nice, thick porridge. Stir in the cheese, egg and a few twists of pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
Have a glass of cold water handy, and a soup spoon. Glop the polenta into the prepared baking dish. Dip the soup spoon in the water and use it to push and spread the polenta as evenly as possible across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Keep dipping the spoon to prevent stickiness. Let the crust rest about 15 minutes before you proceed.
Preheat the oven to 375.
Heat the oil or butter in a skillet with a lid, and saute the scallions or leeks a minute or two, until just soft. Toss in the greens (ideally with a little of their washing water clinging to them) and stir, then cover the pan. Cook just until softened, and remove from the heat and let stand uncovered while you mix the filling up.
Beat the eggs and the yogurt together with a twist of pepper and maybe a pinch of salt, depending on the saltiness of your chosen cheese. Arrange the greens and half the cheese in the prepared crust, pour in the filling, and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, maybe along with a scratch or two of parmesan.
Bake about 45 minutes, until filling is set and golden brown on top. Best to let it cool about 20 minutes before eating, to firm up.