Ode to the humble egg

Ah, the modest egg. It thickens, leavens and emulsifies. It can be a garnish or a glaze. Or it can be the main event. It is, ultimately, cheap and cheerful!

by Daniela Pagliaro | photography by Nadia Pagliaro

Through my world travels and my most recent journey into handmade pasta, I have come to believe that the humble egg is the world’s most versatile ingredient.

Ah, the modest egg. It thickens, leavens and emulsifies. It can be a garnish or a glaze. It can be the main event, like with Mexico’s famous breakfast dish, Chilaquiles, it can be a sauce like with Italy’s famous Spaghetti a la Carbonara, or it can be the deep, yellow binder in handmade pasta dough.

It’s a demure yet powerful protein-packed pod that can catalyze culinary alchemy. It comes in its very own eco-friendly packaging. It’s cheap and cheerful.

In the following recipes, the fresh egg takes the cake!

A rural riff on the traditional dish: Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of the most famous Italian pasta dishes. It was my favourite meal to order as a kid when we went out for family dinners at an authentic Italian restaurant.

This might sound funny coming from someone who makes fresh pasta for a living, but this dish works best with dry pasta. Trust me on this!

Traditional carbonara is made with five simple ingredients: spaghetti seasoned with browned guanciale, black pepper, Pecorino Romano cheese and beaten eggs. No cream, no garlic, no onion and definitely no peas! (Guanciale is cured pork jowl or cheeks. Salted and peppered, it’s left to mature for three months. It has a lot of flavour and fat; pancetta is drier. If you can find it, use it.)

The “rural riff” on the dish includes fresh eggs, a mix of Parmigiana and Pecorino Romano, and locally smoked bacon with a high fat content to mimic the guanciale.

It’s made in a few simple steps, but it’s the attention to detail that is key to success with this dish. Timing is everything and it must be enjoyed immediately so the sauce doesn’t dry out.

The other key is the ratio of whole eggs to yolks to achieve that creaminess we all love. To simplify, remember that it’s one whole egg for every four people plus one yolk per person.

Cominciamo!

Yield: Makes four servings

Ingredients:

350g dried spaghetti

200g (about 1/2 pound) locally smoked bacon, cubed (the fattiest you can find)

1 whole egg plus 3 yolks

64g (½ cup) grated Pecorino Romano cheese

64g (½ cup) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Fresh cracked black pepper

Tears of the pasta gods, as Pasta Queen likes to call it (starchy pasta water)

Directions:

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Make sure to generously salt the water so it tastes like the ocean. When the pasta is done, reserve 120ml (1/2 cup) of the starchy water before draining.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cubed bacon and cook until it is crispy and golden and the fat has rendered. Turn off the heat.

3. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and the cheeses until well combined.

4. Return the bacon pan to medium heat and add half of the reserved pasta water. Gently toss the spaghetti into the pan and agitate the pan over the heat until the bubbling subsides. Most of the pasta water will absorb or evaporate.

5. Remove the pan from the heat and add the egg mixture using a spatula to get all that yummy, golden creaminess into your pasta. Stir quickly until the eggs thicken. There will be enough heat to cook the eggs but you have to work quickly to prevent the eggs from scrambling. If the sauce seems too thick, you can thin it out with some more of the reserved pasta water, one splash at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.

6. Grind some black pepper over it liberally and taste for seasoning. It may not need salt because the bacon and cheeses have their own saltiness.

7. Serve and enjoy immediately with friends or family. It’s a bit of performance, so have fun!

Fresh egg dough and Tagliatelle

As a first-generation Italo-Canadian, I have been enjoying handmade pasta for decades. My grandmother, Ortenzia Giordano, was the classic nonna – a second kitchen in her basement, a front-zippered apron and labouring for hours to make cannelloni for family gatherings, even into her 90s. She was the inspiration for my small-batch pasta business, OG Cucina.

This recipe is the gateway to handmade pasta making. Its beauty is in its simplicity – flour, fresh eggs, water and salt. No precision cutting required, no machine needed, but you should use a scale.

Flour is a compressible powder and fresh eggs come in different sizes, so using cup measurements and counting eggs as though they’re uniform will make your pasta journey more frustrating.

Andiamo!

Yield: About 450g of pasta or four servings

Ingredients:

300g 00 pasta flour: doppio zero (grocery stores that sell PC products carry it)

185g (3/4 cup) wet ingredients: 2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks, water (see instructions)

2 tsp fine kosher salt

Extra flour for preparing to fold and cut the dough

Coarse semolina flour for final dusting and storage (Bob’s Mills version is readily available)

Directions:

1. Weigh 300g of flour and place in the medium sized bowl, add the salt and mix thoroughly with a fork. Don’t forget to tare (reset) the scale with the empty bowl on it first.

2. Heap the flour onto your work surface and make a well in the centre about 12cm to 15cm (5 to 6 inches) in diameter. You can use a flat-bottomed measuring cup to do this if you like.

3. Place your small bowl on the scale and tare. Add two whole eggs, followed by three egg yolks, then add water until you reach 185g. If you accidentally add too much water, don’t fret. You can whisk everything together and simply pour some of the mixture out.

4. Gently pour your wet ingredients into the flour well. Using a fork, gently beat the eggs until combined, then keep incorporating the flour into the eggs by scooping around the inside of the flour mound to slowly incorporate more flour until it’s mostly absorbed into the egg mixture.

5. At this point, start using your hands and gather it into a loose ball. This will be messy, so enjoy it!

6. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes to activate the gluten, which makes the dough stronger and elastic.

7. Set aside for 30 minutes in a tight lidded bowl or wrap well in plastic wrap so it’s airtight.

8. Once your dough has rested, cut it into four equal pieces. Use one piece at a time and keep the remaining pieces in the airtight container or plastic wrap to prevent drying.

9. Generously flour your work surface and rolling pin and roll one piece at a time into a large, paper-thin sheet. Enjoy the workout!

10. Once the dough has been rolled out, flour both sides generously, fold it over in a roll. Cut the roll of pasta into strips roughly 60cm (¼ inch) thick. Then dust with more flour and unravel them. Repeat this process with the remaining dough.

11. Set cut pasta aside on a tray. I like to sprinkle mine with semolina flour to prevent sticking. Leave out at room temperature if you are cooking it immediately or cover and place in the fridge to be cooked later. The dough may darken if left in the fridge for 24 hours, but it has not gone bad.

12. Boil a large bot of heavily salted water (the key to great tasting pasta!) and cook your pasta for roughly two minutes. When it floats to the top, it’s ready. Strain and enjoy with a sauce of your choice.

Fresh eggs as the main event: Chilaquiles con Salsa Roja

In the winter of 2019, my daughter and I spent three weeks backpacking around the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico. We were in search of the perfect chilaquiles, Mexico’s beloved traditional breakfast food.

This has become my go-to brunch meal when I’m entertaining friends and family, but it’s a showstopper at any time of day.

There are many incarnations of this dish and my recipe is just one variation. I encourage you to play with protein substitutions like chicken or black beans, or use a salsa verde if you can lay your hands on tomatillos in your neck of the woods. This is the perfect morning-after meal because you get to use your day-old tortilla chips!

Ingredients for the Salsa Roja

3 fresh whole Roma or San Marzano tomatoes or 400g of baby San Marzanos

5 garlic cloves, peeled

1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed (seeded if you don’t like a lot of heat)

1 fresno chile, stemmed (seeded if you don’t like a lot of heat, or skip and add another jalapeno)

1/2 yellow onion, roughly chopped

5ml (1 tsp) cumin seeds

240ml (1 cup) water

Zest and juice of 1 lime

5ml (1 tsp) sea salt

Directions for the Salsa Roja

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, char the outside of the tomatoes, garlic and chiles and then add the onion and cumin seeds. Continue to cook about three more minutes. Add water, lime zest, lime juice and salt. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

When the tomatoes have nearly lost their skins and the garlic is softened, puree the sauce in a blender briefly, leaving the final product a bit chunky. If it’s too thick, add a bit more water. It will keep for up to seven days.

Tip: Pour into a mason jar while still hot, twist on the lid and let cool on the counter for about 30 minutes until you hear the lid “pop” and seal. Store in the fridge. Tastes best on the second day!

The Rest of the Ingredients:

4 healthy handfuls of leftover large, lightly salted or unsalted tortilla chips

475ml (2 cups) salsa roja

8 eggs

260g (2 cups) shredded haloumi (crumbled feta or shredded

Monterey jack cheese are also delicious)

32g (1/4 cup) pickled jalapeños

1 avocado, cut lengthwise into 65ml (1/4-inch) thick slices

120ml (1/2 cup) sour cream

1/2 bunch cilantro leaves

Pea sprouts or other sprouts

1/2 lime

Zest from whole lime

Pinch of sea salt

The Rest of the Directions:

Preheat oven to 180C (350F).

Measure and prepare all ingredients and have them ready ahead of time. If you’ve already made your salsa roja, now is the time to take it out of the fridge, pop it in a medium saucepan and heat on medium-low. If not made ahead, make it now.

1. Once the oven has preheated, place tortilla chips on a baking sheet and bake until they start to sizzle. Remove and set aside.

2. Zest the lime and combine with sour cream. Set aside and cut the zested lime into quarters for later.

3. Equally distribute the baked tortilla chips onto the four platters.

4. Sprinkle each with equal amounts of shredded cheese.

5. Spread a ladleful of hot salsa roja over the chips and cheese.

6. Lovingly place the pea shoots or other sprouts in a clump on top of the cheese, a bit off centre.

7. Fry the eggs in oil of your choice, sunny side up or poach them lightly if you like a runnier egg (I do!).

8. Place two eggs on each of the tortilla beds.

9. Pour some extra salsa roja on top.

10. Garnish with cilantro, a blob of lime sour cream, avocado slices and a few pickled jalapenos.

11. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

12. If you manage to get your hand on Mexico’s famous condiment, Tajin, use it!

Daniela Pagliaro has been a resident of Haliburton County since 1998. She learned the art of pasta making from her Nonna Ortenzia Giordano and recently started OGCucina in honour of her Nonna. Follow Daniela’s adventures on Facebook – facebook.com/ogcucina and Instagram – instagram.com/og_cucina and on her website https://og-cucina.square.site/

https://og-cucina.square.site/