One of my favorite rejoinders when accosted by salesfolk in clothing stores comes when they ask, "Looking for anything special?"
"Of course," I say. "I'm always looking for something special."
It's a joke, but I do pursue clothing that I think won't show up being worn by every other co-worker at the office or every other stranger in a restaurant.
I feel the same way about cooking; I want ingredients that put a twist on a dish. For a long while, one of those ingredients has been the egg. I've been known to put a runny-yolk egg on just about any dish in need of a little oomph.
At a recent event in Atlanta to promote my new book, though, one of the audience members asked me how my palate has changed in my year-plus of committed vegetarianism, and the answer surprised me as soon as I realized it: I've been putting fewer eggs on things.
The more vegetarian dishes I cook (and eat), the more my palate is appreciating combinations that don't require a hit of golden-yolk protein to make them feel satisfying.
That doesn't mean I don't like eggs-for-dinner anymore. When I was flipping through Lara Ferroni's recent book, "Put an Egg on It: 70 Delicious Dishes That Deserve a Sunny Topping" (Sasquatch Books, 2013), more than one recipe jumped out at me. But it was the combination of spaghetti, wilted greens, a quick pesto and roasted cherry tomatoes that quickly made it into my dinner lineup. With a sunny-side-up egg on top (sprinkled with crushed red pepper flakes), it was rich and hearty yet also bright and spicy -- just the thing for this time of year.
When I ate what was left over the next night, without the egg, I liked it just as much. I didn't miss the egg -- not then, anyway. When I do miss it, I'll fry one up and put it on whatever I want.
I'll do that not because an egg is the default, or a reflex. It will be because the egg is special.
SPAGHETTI WITH GREENS AND PISTACHIO PESTO
Serves 4 to 6
MAKE AHEAD: The pesto can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week; cover the surface with oil to keep the pesto from oxidizing. Adapted from "Put an Egg on It: 70 Delicious Dishes That Deserve a Sunny Topping," by Lara Ferroni (Sasquatch Books, 2013).
12 ounces dried spaghetti
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup unsalted pistachios, toasted (may substitute toasted walnut
pieces; see NOTE)
1/2 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
2 or 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 large eggs (optional)
5 ounces kale or other braising greens, stripped of stems, then chopped
Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the spaghetti and cook according to the package directions, leaving it slightly underdone. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Meanwhile, arrange the tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until they begin to burst, 10 to 15 minutes. Combine the pistachios, parsley, basil, garlic and cheese in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. With the motor running, pour in 2 tablespoons of the oil to create a chunky puree. Season with salt to taste.
If using the eggs, pour the remaining tablespoon of oil into a large skillet over low heat. Add the eggs, cover and cook until the whites have set but the yolks are still runny, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the eggs to a plate, leaving the skillet on the burner.
Increase the heat to medium-high; stir the kale or greens into the skillet, tossing until wilted, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium; stir in the drained pasta and cook just until warmed through, about 2 minutes. Add the pesto along with about 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water, tossing the pasta and kale or greens to incorporate. Add pasta cooking water as needed to keep the sauce creamy. Divide the pasta among individual bowls. Top each portion with an egg, if using, one-quarter of the cherry tomatoes, a sprinkling of the cheese and the crushed red pepper flakes, if using.
NOTE: Toast the pistachios in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan to avoid scorching. Cool completely before using.
Nutrition per serving (based on 6): 350 calories, 13 g protein, 50 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar.