About two miles down the road from me, on the other side of the miniscule town of Olga, Buck Bay Shellfish Farm, owned by the inimitable Toni and Mark, is a true gem on Orcas Island.
Most of the year, you can stop by Toni and Mark’s oyster shack and pick up the prettiest, sweetest little Pacifics, notable for their dark stripes and delicately ruffled shells. All their shellfish are held in tanks, so they are really alive up until you eat them.
Buck Bay also has Manila clams and butter clams, as well as live Dungeness crab in season (boated over super alive from Lopez Island).
But in winter, when things are slow around here and the oyster shack isn’t open as often, the biggest reason to stop at Buck Bay is the little chalkboard sign on the road, stating “Duck Eggs – $3.50 doz.”
At the Ballard Farmer’s Market, they are $6 a dozen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to mess it up for anybody by nudging them into raising their prices. But sheesh! I go home with a dozen or so of these beauties every couple of weeks.
What an amazing, gorgeous source of protein! The yolks are perky and bright orange (they let the ducks forage the garden, which is mulched with seaweed), the shells are super tough, and the yolks are thick and pure white.
I started out just poaching them, trying to replicate Doe Bay Café breakfast cooks Derek Duce and Lindsey Czech’s masterful execution of the olive oil poached eggs I love so much.
I found this great little copper pot with a lid and little brass handles that works great. My version – a little olive oil, a drop of vinegar (although these eggs stay perfectly self-contained without it), a bit of water, salt, pepper – drop in the eggs, bring to a quick boil, cover and remove completely from the heat. In a bout two minutes, the eggs are perfect, just like Derek and Lindsey make them at Doe Bay, with a perfect sunrise of a half-solid yolk. Then I fried and scrambled. Nice.
Next, I used them in baking. Ricotta goat cheese custard, buttery rich cookies. But I put off the task that would become the pinnacle of the duck egg’s career (and my favorite thing in the world). Pasta. I’ve made pasta before – and taken classes where I’ve watched it being made. It looked pretty easy, and my attempts were … okay. But I don’t have a pasta machine right now, so I thought, Damn, how can I do this?
There’s one thing I’ve discovered this winter – a very lean one, financially – that you don’t need fancy tools to do pretty much anything. I have a Kitchen Aid, but its just easier (and more rewarding) to mix and knead my bread by hand. That’s the way my grandmother and father always did it. That way you get to know the dough, and you can feel when the gluten really starts to happen, when it gets springy and silky in just the right way. So, shoot, I thought, I’ll just make pasta that doesn’t need a machine.
And dang if it isn’t the easiest thing in the world. And the best! You can use different flours to give different textures. Wheat flour, or a bit of corn meal, makes a heartier, toothier pasta. White flour (good old unbleached all-purpose) creates a more delicate pasta.
In a big bowl, mix 2 cups flour with 2 teaspoons salt. Make a well in the middle. Add 3/4 cup of water and one huge, beautiful duck egg. Mix it with a fork until incorporated. Then start mixing with your hands. Knead for 3 minutes. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let sit on the counter for 30 minutes. Then cut the ball into 6 slices.
On a floured surface, you can work the dough any way you want: Roll it into long 1/2 inch ropes, then cut into small pieces. Roll each piece between your floured hands, and you have little “trofie” – thin, twisted pasta. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a long rectangle (as thin as you can – keep it well floured), and you can either cut it into wide papparadelle, or make ravioli, mezzaluna, agnolotti or a number of other shapes of little package pastas.
There you have it. I had a pot of stock (leftover pork/lamb/duck bones and vegetable ends I’d collected in the freezer over time) on the stove. I boiled a bit of broth, dropped in my ravioli (which I had filled with roasted Hubbard squash sauteed with onion, broth, then mixed with a bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano and freshly grated nutmeg), and added a spoonful of kale I’d sauteed with bacon. Top with more Parm and a drizzle of olive oil.
You can even just drop a duck egg along with the pasta into the broth – a bit of bright orange sun in the dark, wet woods of winter – if you are hungry for another egg. And I always am these days.
by Shannon Borg