It’s amazing what you can find at farmers’ markets in the spring. Scapes. Fiddlehead ferns. And — surprise to me — quail eggs.
But just what do you do with those tiny little eggs besides boiling them?
I spent Saturday exploring new farmers’ markets, driving from Bucks County down into Montgomery and then over into Chester County by back roads. Some markets were disappointing — the stands had the same vegetables I can find in regular markets. Or else the markets overall featured more crafts, antiques and/or prepared-foods, and offered only a meager supply of fresh vegetables and meats.
But some of them were definitely worth the trip, and the roadside stands I passed along the back roads made it even more enjoyable. My haul was fairly impressive for so early in the spring.
First off, I located the one food I’d set off to look for — fiddlehead ferns. I see them occasionally at food markets like Whole Foods and Wegman’s in the spring, but not in any great quantity or with any regularity. I picked up an entire paper bag of them at a stand in far-Chester. Fiddleheads are just delicious when they’re simply sautéed with a bit of butter, a nut and then topped with a touch of cheese. My favorite combination involves pine nuts, a bit of pepper and parmesan — and in fact, that’s what was served for dinner tonight.
At the same stand, I found one small bunch of scapes. Have you ever seen scapes? They’re basically the tender flower sprout of a hard-neck garlic plant, topped with the ‘flower’ itself, containing tiny little pearls of baby garlic ‘seeds.’ You can chop them up and use them in stir-fries, soups, omelets — the flavor (to me) is much milder than garlic bulbs, but still adds that garlicy tang to your food.
I added the little pearls into the brunch potatoes — in one of the regular farmers’ markets I found what should properly have been called infant, not baby, potatoes. The average size was that of a marble, and the stand had both white and red potato varieties. Mixed with the pearl garlic and sautéed with some morel mushrooms and cauliflower, they made a nice lunch dish on an unusually cold day. And yes, I found yet more purple cauliflower, and morels, a type of spongy mushroom, which I have never seen at a market before.
But the top find was the quail eggs. Tiny little quarter-sized eggs, speckled in individual patterns of brown and black and tan and what looks like a bluey-grey. They’ve been on my list to try for a long time, so I grabbed a dozen. On the way home, I began searching for recipes.
Oddly enough, at least three-quarters of the recipes I found simply had me hard-boil the eggs, and then use them as garnishes in dishes. There are a couple of recipes where I would poach or pickle them — but then, again, they’d just be used as garnishes to the main dish of vegetables or breads.
For some reason, in my head, I built up quail eggs as something unique, that I would cook them in exotic ways. And don’t get me wrong — I definitely like them, they’re a milder taste, a softer texture, with a lot more yolk compared to the usual chicken egg. I can see where that flavor would provide a nice contrast to various dishes, and I’ll be trying out some of the pickling recipes as well. But most everything I read suggested that their flavor was best eaten in a simple manner, not combined into a dish with a lot of other ingredients that would smother the taste of the eggs.
I ended up at Whole Foods to pick up some fish and — ran into a wall of purple vegetables once inside — more asparagus, Brussel sprouts, carrots, potatoes and this time, the purple peppers, were there, along with white ones. I’m planning on taking pictures and posting them tomorrow.
Meanwhile I’m going to see just how a quail egg pickled in soy sauce tastes. Despite its small size, it takes just as long to pickle one of the quail eggs as it does its larger chicken cousin.