By LINDA BLACK
The egg, despite its bad rap for cholesterol, is a symbol of wholeness. It also is one of only a few so-called “complete” foods. Some nutritionists call it a perfect food, because it has the highest protein content of any one food and it kicks in a large part of your recommended daily intake of other vitamins and minerals such as iodine and riboflavin as well. In nature, the egg is second in nutritional value only to mother’s milk. Plus, there are fewer 100 calories in an egg.
Home cook Alison (Ali) Berlow loves eggs. “But I’m really strict about using only local eggs when I’m cooking,” she said. Their color and texture are far better than the mass-produced, often genetically-engineered eggs you buy in most supermarkets, she said.
Ms. Berlow feels it is especially important to use local eggs if a recipe calls for raw egg. Even so, for the Caesar salad she makes to serve alongside her pasta Carbonara, she boils the egg for the dressing for about 30 seconds, so it is not totally raw.
As executive director of the Island Grown Initiative, Ms. Berlow happily accepted the Gazette’s challenge to prepare a home meal inspired by local, seasonal ingredients. She encourages anyone interested in the “eat locally” philosophy, to begin with eggs, because we use them so often.
Also, on Martha’s Vineyard we have relatively easy access to local eggs, either directly from farmers at various Island farms — Katama, Thompson, and North Tabor farms among them — from farm markets such as Morning Glory and Nip ’n’ Tuck; even at Cronig’s.
As for the noodles in her dish, Ms. Berlow says her first choice is Italian pasta, clearly labeled “product of Italy,” because many American products use genetically modified organisms (GMO) but are not required to include those GMOs in the ingredients list. If you can’t find Italian noodles, she says organic pasta is also GMO-free.
If she can get it — from Morning Glory, Blackwater Farm, or Thompson Farm — Ms. Berlow will use local bacon or pancetta in her Carbonara sauce.
A professed non-cook until she had children, Ms. Berlow said the birth of her first son, Max, changed everything. “I got really interested in what I’d be putting into my child’s body.”
Ms. Berlow said she is lucky that, although her own mother wasn’t a particularly good cook, she was a scientist. She taught Ali that you learn by trial and error, and by allowing yourself to make mistakes. So she’s not afraid to experiment when she’s cooking. Her unfettered approach, using recipes more for inspiration than for step-by-step methodology, is obvious when she’s asked to provide a recipe for the meal she’s making.
“Well,” she says, holding up a good-sized brick of cheese, “I’ll probably use up this much Parmesan in the Carbonara sauce and Caesar dressing.”