Oh, early summer. Nothing in the garden but greens and radishes and potential. There are some strawberries and rhubarb kicking around the markets, definitely exciting, but not really dinner. Some bolting arugula and peas and zucchini blossoms. But we’re still waiting for the onslaught.
It’s warming up here, but it’s not unbearable yet. June in Virginia is a slow slide from spring into a green, thick humidity that practically vibrates. We’re still getting some breezy, non-swampy days, though. Even though all the magazines are telling us that it’s GRILL TIME NOW, I’m still cooking inside quite a bit, cleaning out pantry and freezer.
I’ve been paging through old faithful cookbooks lately. It’s funny how as my cooking style and lifestyle in general change, different recipes pop out at me. In the late Judy Rodgers’s now-classic Zuni Cafe Cookbook, I’m spending a lot of time in the pickles and condiments sections—areas I never really touched before. I barely get out to go grocery shopping nowadays, so I like having something acidic or sweet or garlicky to turn the things we always have around (chicken and duck eggs, always eggs, so many eggs) into something a little more special than what they normally are.
The pickled onions–titled Carol’s Onions, in the book–are that something special. The ingredient list is short and pretty pedestrian, but the result is really more than the sum of its parts, especially after the onions are allowed a few days in the fridge.
Technique, too, is something that brushing up on Judy Rodgers makes you appreciate, so the big scramble-and-set omelette method here is hers too. In typical Judy style, she takes a page and a half to describe the omelette technique. A condensed version, though not a substitute for her writing and detailedness, is a little easier to follow, and is included below, in case you don’t typically make a 12-plus egg omelette.
Zuni Pickled Onions (“Carol’s Pickled Onions”)
From the Zuni Cafe Cookbook
- 12 ounces yellow onions (about two medium yellow onions)
- 1 1/4 cups Champagne or white wine vinegar
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 small dried chile, or a teaspoon chile flakes
- A few whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Peel the onions whole and slice into 1/8 inch rings. (A mandoline makes quick work of this.) Gently separate the inner rings that cling tightly to each other—the outer rings should fall apart as you slice.
- Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, bay leaves, chile/chile flakes, peppercorns, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, then turn the heat up and add the onions. Gently stir the onions until the return to a simmer. Simmer for about one minute.
- Pour the onions and their brine immediately into a bowl or into clean jars. Cover and store refrigerated, where they will keep indefinitely.
An omelette to feed a few (A really big omelette) with greens and Zuni pickled onions
Adapted from the technique for “Madeleine’s Omelette” in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook
This is not a classic, thin omelette. It is fat and has lots of folds and wrinkles, and remains moist and fluffy. It is all about the eggs. The technique here results in an omelette that’s beautifully layered when you slice into it. Rodgers writes that, “twelve eggs can be maneuvered successfully in a slick pan and become a lovely thing turned out onto a handsome platter, presented as proudly as a holiday turkey.”
- A few handfuls of lettuce or other tender greens
- Olive oil
- 12 large eggs (I sometimes even use more, depending on how large the pan is that I’m using)
- A few tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 ounces cheese, grated, such as gruyere, a mild cheddar, or parmigiano, about 3/4 cup
- Zuni pickled onions, for serving (see recipe above)
- Dress the greens with a little bit of olive oil and salt. Set aside.
- Heat an omelette pan or another non-stick pan (I use my 12-inch cast iron, but only because I trust the seasoning) over medium-low heat. Allow the pan to heat thoroughly and evenly while you prepare the eggs.
- Crack the eggs into a large bowl and add several generous pinches of salt. Beat them with a fork to combine, but don’t aim for a consistent texture throughout—if your eggs are still a little bit ropey, with strands of white running through it, they’ll be more likely to catch and trap air as they cook, making for a fluffier omelette. Rodgers says she aims for about fifty strokes with a fork for beating.
- Add a trickle of water to the pan to see if it is hot enough. The water should boil instantly, but not spatter up at you. If you tilt the pan, the water should bubble on the sides as vigorously as it did on the bottom of the pan. If not, continue heating over low heat until the sides are also hot.
- Turn the heat to medium/medium-high. Add the butter and swirl to coat the pan as it melts and sizzles. Add a small amount of egg to the pan. When it begins to puff up, add the rest of the eggs. The eggs should react immediately, making “clucking” noises and and bubbling a bit on the bottom of the pan. Within a few seconds, a ring of puffy cooked egg should form. If it doesn’t, raise the heat a bit more.
- Once those puffy raised eggs start to set, use a wooden or rubber spatula to scramble and smooth out the cooked eggs. Allow to cook briefly to set another layer of puffed and cooked eggs, and then scramble those and distribute throughout the mixture again. Continue this process until the eggs are about half set.
- Once about half your eggs are set, start pushing the cooked eggs to one side of the pan, and tilting the pan to allow the uncooked eggs to flow to the unoccupied side of the pan to cook. Do this a few more times—cooked eggs to one side of the pan, let the uncooked eggs flow to the other side of the pan to cook—until about two-thirds of the eggs are set. Sprinkle the cheese into the folds of the cooked eggs.
- TIlt the pan forward, massing the cooked eggs to the front of the pan. Then, tilting the pan back towards you, and using your spatula, flip the far edge of the eggs (it will feel strange, because this is a *lot* of eggs and the mass of cooked eggs is large) over itself to start forming a “cocoon”. Slide the eggs the far side of the pan and repeat, continuing to roll the eggs over onto themselves as the finish cooking. This all happens quite quickly. The omelette might crack at the seams a bit, especially the first few times you roll it over onto itself, but the not-yet-cooked eggs will seal up some of the cracks and folds. Others will not seal up, and that’s okay.
- Repeat until all the eggs are enfolded, and then continue cooking over low until the eggs are cooked through to your taste. The omelette is big, so you can slice in and peek if you’re worried about doneness.
- Slide the finished omelette onto a big platter. Top with dressed greens and pickled onions. Serve immediately.