Michele Di Pietro and I chatted about everything you need to know about eggs plus some of our favorite recipes.
A few curiosities about Italian eggs
Why are Italian eggs never refrigerated?
Head to an Italian grocery store and you'll find eggs on grocery store shelves and never refrigerated. There's a reason for this.
Eggs have a protective outer layer that protects them from disease and bacteria. Italian eggs are gently wiped clean from debris before they're packaged and ready for sale, but never washed. Because they have this protective outer layer they don't need to be refrigerated and can stay at room temperature for a week or two without any deleterious effect.
By contrast eggs in the United States are washed in a warm water solution before heading to market which removes their protective outer layer. As a result American eggs are always stored refrigerated.
Why are almost all Italian eggs brown?
Eggshell color is determined exclusively by the breed of chicken. Most chicken breeds in Italy produce brown eggs and most American chicken breeds produce white eggs.
Eggshell color doesn't stop at brown and white because you can find quite a few other colors as well. One egg breed in Italy, the Garda Egg, comes from an organic producer in Lazise and their chickens produce blue, blue-green, olive green, white and brown eggs.
Why do egg yolks in Italy have such a rich orange color?
Egg yolk color is determined by a chicken's diet. Chickens that are fed carotene-rich foods have golden orange yolks. It has nothing to do with the chicken breed.
Emilia Romagna is the Italian region best known for delicious, feathery light egg-based pasta. It's the pride of the region and they produce special eggs for their pasta known as pasta eggs. All this means is that these chickens are fed a carotene-rich diet that produces deep orange yolks.
Heritage chicken breeds in Italy
There's a move in Italy to rescue heritage chicken breeds, and many of these farmers are women.
What exactly is a heritage chicken breed? Simply put they are breeds that were raised by our ancestors. We’d find them on our great-grandparent’s farms. Unfortunately many of these breeds are disappearing and facing extinction. Thanks to this new generation of women chicken farmers now extinction might not happen.
One chicken farmer in the Emilia Romagna region, Valentina Cipelli, lives in Mulazzano, Emilia where she and her husband raise the Gallina Romagnola at the Il Podere Cristina farm, a heritage breed she rescued from extinction.Her chickens are also organic and since she's in the Emilia Romagna region her chickens are known as chickens with the eggs of gold. In other words the yellow of the egg is a brighter deeper yellow/orange - thanks to their carotene-rich diet. This breed only produces two or three eggs per week.
The Gallina Romagnola is a smaller chicken with a white plumage speckled with black and distinguishable because of its blue feet.
And of course their chickens are delicious because they've always been entirely free range wandering around the hills and even sometimes sleeping in the trees. Everyone who tastes these chickens is surprised by how delicious they are.
Sofia Goggia, a 28 year old ski champion, has 2500 chickens in the val Seriana. Her organic chickens live and roam freely in the woods - and they listen to classical music every day. Despite this eccentricity Sofia takes great care of her chickens and adds extra nutrients to the daily feed for the chicken's health.
Facts about Italian chickens
There are roughly 366 million chickens in the European Union, about two chickens per person.
The push in Italy is towards raising cage-free, free range and organic chickens but despite this still 42% of chickens are caged. This means each chicken has about 750 cm² of living space, about the size of an A4 sheet of paper. Another 4% of chickens are raised all'aperto - with access to outdoor space. An additional 5% are organically raised and free to roam fields and wooded areas.
If chickens are allowed to roam free they can live up to 10 years but caged chickens have a short lifespan. Italian egg packages clearly indicate how the chickens were raised: 0 indicates organic or bio, 1 means raised all'aperto - outdoors, but with only 4 m² of space, 2 is uncaged but in an enclosed space, and 3 is caged.
A chicken produces an average of 180 eggs per year.
Eggs – a restaurant in Rome
If you're a fan of eggs then head to this egg-centric restaurant in the Trastevere area of the Eternal City. It's just a 10 minute walk from the Tiber Island and the Ponte Sisto bridge. Everything on the menu features eggs, and top quality organic eggs from a local farm. You'll find everything including classic Italian egg dishes like pasta carbonara and bottarga (dried fish eggs grated atop pasta and other dishes).
Eggs in Italian cuisine
Whereas eggs in the United States are primarily a breakfast item it's the opposite in Italy. Italians often have eggs for dinner and in classic lunchtime dishes like pasta carbonara.
Italian recipes with raw eggs
Lots of Italian recipes use raw eggs, especially egg yolks. Pasta carbonara is probably the best known. In this recipe raw eggs are mixed with freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese, and freshly grated black pepper. Once the pasta is cooked and drained it's tossed with the egg mixture. The heat of the pasta cooks the eggs ever so slightly but bottom line they are creamy and delicious and decidedly uncooked. Occasionally I add a few other extra ingredients to pasta carbonara, like artichokes.
This classically Roman dish is one of my favorites. Here's my recipe for pasta carbonara, and my recipe for pasta carbonara with artichokes.
Tiramisù is an Italian dessert favorite that uses raw eggs. This dessert is uncooked and fully refrigerated before serving. Here's my tiramisù recipe.
My Italian mother-in-law used to make a delicious dessert made with raw eggs: Uovo sbattuto - an old-fashion afternoon snack: raw yolks beaten with sugar, and optional cocoa, or even with a shot of espresso.
Zabaione is another raw egg dessert consisting of a light custard, flavored with Marsala wine.
Other Italian recipes that use eggs
Be sure to check out Michele's Instagram profile because it's full of some of her favorite egg recipes, like her delicious sandwich recipe topped with an over-medium fried egg.
One of my favorite pizzas is Pizza Capricciosa. In Rome that's a pizza topped with a raw egg, and other ingredients that strike your fancy...a capriccio. Just before the pizza goes into the oven an egg is cracked on top of it. When it comes out of the oven it's a pizza with a sunny side up fried egg: the yolk is creamy but the white is cooked through.
Italians love Panini for lunch and a classic is to make Panini with an egg frittata and other ingredients like cheese and cooked veggies.
And of course let's not forget the importance of eggs in pasta. Sometimes ravioli are filled with a raw egg yolk, but for the most part eggs are used to prepare egg-based pasta dough or sfoglia.
The general rule of thumb is 100 g of "00" or all-purpose flour and one large egg. This really should be just a starting point when making homemade pasta because what you want to achieve is the right hydration level in your dough. For each large egg you use you may need more, or less, than 100 g of flour. It depends a lot on your work surface, the time of year and humidity level in your kitchen. And it absolutely depends on the size and weight of your large egg. A large egg in the United States weighs just under 57 g whereas a large egg in Italy weighs 63 g.
Recipes and egg weight
Egg weight is important when you make homemade pasta but even moreso in some delicate baking recipes when you want the ratio of ingredients to be extremely precise. It's always advisable to use a kitchen scale which ensures maximum precision in recipes like this Dark Chocolate Layer Cake.
Eggs and nutrition
For many years eggs had a bad rap and dietitians advised against eating eggs, and especially the yolk, due to the high cholesterol content. Frequently cooks discarded the yolk and made scrambled eggs just with the whites.
In recent years eggs have been redeemed as studies revealed that as it turns out the egg is a near perfect food. After 25 years of study, it's clear that cholesterol in food isn't actually the culprit and it's instead saturated fat that has a huge deleterious effect on blood cholesterol.
Eggs are full of high-quality protein, iron, vitamins, minerals and carotenoids. They are also loaded with disease fighting nutrients like lutein, and the choline content of eggs is believed to enhance brain development and memory.
Perfect poached eggs – a must-try recipe!
Poached eggs are deceptively simple to make. However, once you get the hang of the right technique you can make them in a flash. I've tried lots of poached egg recipes and techniques and ever since I've perfected my approach they come out perfectly every time. Here's my perfect poached egg recipe. If they come out perfectly for you don't forget to let me know!
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