When it comes to eggs, it’s tough to know what story the labels really tell. Cage-free, free-roaming, natural, free-range: In our minds we picture open, grass-flecked barnyards with black dirt below and blue sky above, and plenty of room to run, extend feathered wings and peck at grubs. In the simplest sense, a chicken’s life as it should naturally be. It turns out that labels don’t always mean what they imply and in the case of free-range and free-roaming (the only ones regulated by the USDA), far less. In order to apply the free-range and free-roaming label the USDA expects that producers allow hens access to the outside. The labels don’t speak to whether birds have room to move, or actually make it out the door. Or whether they are treated humanely and allowed to engage in natural behaviors, like pecking in the dirt. In a free-range barnyard all of these may be true—or may not.
Fresh cilantro pesto brightens up this easy pasta salad. Vary the vegetables as you like or substitute toasted walnuts for the pepitas. Spring asparagus or pea shoots would be a nice addition. Look for Israeli couscous at high-end and specialty markets such as Whole Foods or Gene’s in Saratoga. In a pinch substitute jarred pesto for the fresh. You may not find ready-made cilantro pesto, and if not, basil pesto will do. Add as much as you need to moisten the salad and give it plenty of flavor.
This salad is light and nutritious. It’s also loaded with fennel—three versions: the raw feathery fronds, braised bulb and toasted seeds. For those less enamored with the licorice-like flavor of the raw vegetable, use more of the cooked bulb, and less fronds. Taste as you toss the salad, and let that be your guide. Substitute candied nuts if you enjoy a hint of sweetness—I keep a bag of Trader Joe’s Candied Walnuts on hand. No need to toast them; they’re ready straight out of the package.
Quinoa is an excellent vegetarian source of protein—and a complete one, unlike most other grains. It offers a wide range of minerals and nutrients as well.