The Italian Larder
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Equivalent: 1 egg = 1/3 yolk + 2/3 white (by weight) and 4 extra-large (XL) eggs = 5 large (L) eggs = 6 medium (M) eggs = 7 small (S) eggs
1 XL egg> 73 gms, 1 L egg=63-73 gms, 1 M egg= 53-63 gms, 1 S egg < 53 gms
Eggs are an important ingredient in Italian cooking and baking. Generally chicken eggs are used in Italian cooking. Some chicken eggs in Italy have red coloured yolks (this is a result of the feed). These are the best for making tiramisù. Egg whites can whip up to 5 times their volume so are useful for adding air to a dish. The yolk is useful for creating an emulsion or as a thickening agent. In baking, eggs are used as emulsifiers and leavening agents which also add stability and structure to a dish. Eggs are a complete protein and contain Vitamins A, B, and D, phosphorous, and riboflavin. They are easily digestible so are given to children who are not allergic.
Buy: Select fresh large or extra-large free-range eggs (check the expiration date on the packaging and open the box to ensure none of the eggs are broken or cracked).
Colour: Generally, eggs come in brown or white (the breed of the chicken determines the colour of the shell) but there are also pale blue and green coloured eggs. All the colours are interchangeable.
Size: Eggs come in a variety of sizes and getting the size correct is essential for baking where the ratio of ingredients needs to remain constant to achieve good results. Generally, large (63- 73 grams) and extra-large (73 grams or more) eggs should always be used. Medium eggs weigh between 53 to 63 grams while small eggs weigh less than 53 grams.
Freshness: Very fresh eggs are best, in order of freshness, for sauces, poaching, frying, boiling, and in any dish where the egg will not be thoroughly cooked whereas older eggs are best for baking. Fresh eggs have thick egg whites and the yolks are more difficult to break. Very fresh eggs can be difficult to peel. To determine the freshness of an egg, place the egg horizontally in cold water and if it stays horizontal it is fresh. If it is slightly older it will tilt, if it is more than 3 weeks old it will float, and even older it will sit vertically. This is because the air sac inside the egg gets larger over time. You can also hold the egg up to the light to see how large the air sac is. For the egg to be considered fresh, the air sac should be thinner than 6 mm.
Labelling: Free-range indicates that the chicken was allowed to roam and was not locked into a cage for its lifetime. This generally means the chicken was probably healthier and in need of less hormones to encourage egg laying and antibiotics to ensure the chicken was disease-free in a crowded environment. There is also a concern that there is an increased chance of E. coli bacteria in battery hens due to the crowded environment. There is however less control over what the free-range hens are eating than in battery hens. Organic means that the feed that the chickens ate was organic, which means fewer pesticides, and should guarantee that there are no antibiotics used. The nutritional content for all eggs should be the same however. I prefer feeding my family products with fewer hormones and antibiotics so I buy organic.
Store: Eggs should be kept in their cartons in the refrigerator at 2-3˚C with the rounded end up until the expiration date marked on the packaging, about 35 days after production. Egg shells are porous so store the eggs carefully so they do not absorb unwanted flavours. For example, truffles are sometimes stored with eggs so that the egg will absorb the aroma of the truffles.
To store extra yolks, place the yolks in a container cover with a bit of water so the yolk has no exposure to the air, seal the container from the air and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. To store extra egg whites, place in an air-tight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to a year. Hard-boiled eggs can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Prepare: Eggs carry salmonella not only inside the egg but on the shell so be sure to clean the outside of the shell if it is dirty and always wash your hands and equipment which has touched the egg or egg shell with soap and water. Because of this, raw eggs are not recommended for people with weak or impaired immune systems such as people who are ill, children, elderly, and pregnant women. Once you wash the shell of an egg, you need to use it as soon as possible as washing removes the natural protective film on the shell which prevents micro-organisms from permeating the shell. Flecks of blood in the egg are not harmful, just remove with a spoon and discard.
If you are using very fresh eggs for hard-boiling and peeling, you can place the freshly cooked egg, while hot, into ice water to separate the egg from the shell.
To separate raw eggs, see the How-to guide here.
For baking, boiling, whipping egg whites, or using an egg yolk for emulsifying, the eggs should be brought to room temperature before use by removing the eggs from the refrigerator 1.5 hours before use. To quickly bring the eggs to room temperature, pour hot tap water over the cold eggs and allow to sit for 5 minutes. To whip egg whites, see the How-to guide here. To temper egg yolks, see the How-to guide here.
Eat: Eggs are used in making pasta (pasta fresca), binding stuffings and fillings, egg yolks emulsify sauces, omelettes (frittate), whipped whites add airiness to dishes (semifreddo and sformato), breading and deep-frying (costolette and arancini), brushing pastry, cakes, biscuits, custards (crema pasticcera and gelato), soups (stracciatella and zuppa alla pavese), and sauces. Egg yolks add moisture, tenderise, and enrich cakes and pastries. Eggs can be served on their own, stuffed (uova ripiene), fried (uova al tegamino / uova al burro and uova alla provatura), poached (uovo in camicia or uova in purgatorio), soft-boiled, hard-boiled, coddled, scrambled (imbrogliata d’uovo alla lombarda), shirred, and deep-fried (uova alla monachina). Generally eggs are cooked over gentle heat unless being fried or deep-fried.