Italians and Their Egg Yolk Rules

Some of These Eggs will have Orange Yolks

Italians buy their eggs according to the color of the yolks. Yellow yolked eggs are labeled giallo dell’uovo, and the prized orange yolked egg is called (actually) red yolked egg, rosso d’uovo. I’ll do chemistry first, and then the backstory.

Since Dr. Leroy Palmer first published his research in 1915, it has been known that yolk color is caused by the chicken’s diet. Different carotenoids called xanthophylls are the determinants. More recent research has narrowed down the two main chemicals to Lutein and Zeaxanthin, and one scientist has determined the first is the source of the yellow yolked egg coloring, and the latter for the orange color. That led me on the search for the second one.

Veg! Feed the birds leafy greens, corn, wheat and carrots, as all are good supplements to the diet. This supports my observation that their favorite food is Dandelion greens. I can start a chicken riot with those every time.

Now to the backstory. I was fascinated by the great food book by Bill Buford called Heat. He became so fascinated with Italian food that he goes to Italy regularly to learn from the best of the best cooks. Even though he was the fiction editor for The New Yorker magazine, he was born in Mississippi, and knows his eggs. Hence his experience with a woman who is a legendary pasta maker in Italy.

Bill describes the master of pasta, and why he went to study with her:

It was also why I’d got so interested in the egg, because on my first morning, watching Betta prepare the dough, I saw that an egg was a modern pasta’s most important ingredient, provided that it is a very good egg, which was evident (or not) the moment you cracked it open. If the white was runny, you knew the egg had come from a battery-farmed animal , cooped up in a cage, and the pasta you made from it would be sticky and difficult to work with, exactly like the unhappy batch that Betta produced one evening after Gianni fell asleep, having had too much wine at lunch, and failed to buy eggs from the good shop before it closed and had to drive to the next town to the cattivo alimentarii, the nasty store, and pick up a dozen of its mass-produced product. The yolk was also illuminating. The nasty store’s were pale yellow, like those most of us have been scrambling for our urban lives. But a proper yolk is a different color and, in Italian, is still called il rosso, the red bit …

Heat, Bill Buford

Poor urban folk, deprived of all the goodies. I have a mixture I now feed my birds. The basic bit is as follows:

16% Protein Organic Chicken Crumbles

Corn and Wheat Scratch

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

Carrots

Various Greens in Season

Maters, Precious

Other Fruit and Veg that are left over (Squash and Pumpkin are especially good)

Ours yolks just keep getting more and more orange. I may one day even get one of the legendary red tinged yolks.

Tomato, Shallot, and Morel Omelette

If you want to make an omelette…

Though there was a small mountain of peas to shell, and a bowl of pecans to crack, nothing can stand in the way of MJ and myself enjoying a nice Sunday breakfast. As usual, we just went with the ingredients we had.

The Raw and the Cooked

Ingredients

3 medium Eggs

2 small Tomatoes, chopped

5 small dried Morels, reconstituted in hot water, chopped

1 medium Shallot

Morel soaking liquid

Grated or soft Cheese

Chopped Parsley

Salt and Pepper

This is an easy recipe, but we scored some authentic long shallots (Echalote traditionnelle longue) from France, and nothing goes together like morels, shallots and eggs.

First cook the shallots and morels together in olive oil. (It helps to have a really heavy cast iron skillet.) Add the chopped tomatoes, and simmer until softened.

Combine the eggs, cheese, and some of the morel juice, with salt and pepper.. When the veg and fungus is cooked, add the eggs to the mix. Cook on the stove top until the eggs begin to set firmly, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and pop the whole thing into a 400 degree F oven. That’s the entire whang dang doodle.

Thank you, Birds

This can also be made with some fried new potatoes as the base, in which instance it becomes a massive breakfast. The key is quality ingredients, as with all things.

The eggs were donated by our ISA Brown chicks, and the chopped parsley was harvested from a pot on our countertop. We grew one of the maters, and the other came from the Festhalle. Which reminds me that I have maters to get ready for canning.

I turned Italian, and have begun straining out my leftover morel juice for use elsewhere. There will be no flavor left behind.

Box of Maters, Precious

Get Out the Canner

We hit the quinella today at the Festhalle market, as we got this box of maters for $25, and a basket of pink eye purple hull peas for $8. Now we have to either can or freeze the surplus, which will be just about all of it.

The result will be this–pints of maters.

An Army of Maters

We have thirteen pints already, and we will easily double that, and then some. I will undertake canning four quarts as well, which will mean I will have to drag our massive old pressure cooker out of the basement. It’s more than worth the trouble.

The basic method that MJ taught me is to pour boiling water on the tomatoes, peel the skins off, sterilize the jars also with said water, and then put the packed jars into a boiling water bath. We have determined that a longer hot water bath is much preferable to a shorter one.

That’s a lot of Peeling

So another Sunday is to be spent in the kitchen. I forgot that I also have corn to boil and freeze. At least we won’t go hungry this winter, or buy produce from who knows where.

Summer’s First Vegetable Soup

Let’s Eat!

We jumped ahead of schedule, or maybe just jumped the shark, making this soup, as we had to work with a bunch of non-ordinary ingredient sources. In about a couple of more weeks, we will be able to make this with all fresh local ingredients. But sometimes you just can’t wait.

Ingredients

Chicken Stock

Crowder Peas

3 Ears of Fresh Corn

A small Onion

Butter Beans

Large can of Tomatoes

Salt and Pepper

Half of our ingredients were local, but the rest were scrounged for. We did have stock made from a locally grown chicken, which is unusual. The corn was fresh from the Festhalle, and the butter beans were from there as well, but they were hiding in the dim reaches of our freezer. The okra was really excellent and fresh, again from the Festhalle market. Here’s where we go worldwide.

Crowder peas are not yet in season, and hard to find fresh anyway, so we used dried peas from the famous Camellia brand from New Orleans. New Orleans folks consume as many Fagioli (beans) as Tuscany, and this brand controlled 95% of the market. They are that good. Cook these first.

The onion was an organic onion from California, and the big can of tomatoes was organic as well, but they were San Marzanos from Italy. I just happened to have some cans of them in my pantry.

MJ and I enjoyed this with some fresh corn muffins, made with McEwen cornmeal.The leftover soup will be frozen for the winter. The left over muffins were devoured by our chickens.

Fresh Maters, Precious

Noshing Time

Whenever the fresh tomatoes start rolling in, I always think about the great book by Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and the chapter that she titled, “Life in a Red State: August.” The title is overdetermined, as she was referring to the circumstance that she was living in Virginia at a time when it was run by right wingers, and the fact that she had so many tomatoes that she could not even see the surface of her countertops. That’s a serious canning job.

We timed using our last quart of MJ’s home canned tomatoes perfectly, as we used them last weekend to make sauce for our brick oven pizza. Then guess what, the new fresh tomatoes start rolling in. These are all local, and some came from around ten feet from our front door. The light colored ones are Bella Rosa, that we grew on our deck.

The purple ones we bought at the Festhalle Farmer’s Market, from the same farmer who grew that crate of tomatoes that are my logo. I suspect that they are Cherokee Purple, a great tasting tomato, as his daughter, who handled the sale, had dyed her hair purple. A farm girl has to do what a farm girl has to do.

Barbara Kingsolver writes that most farmer’s vote conservative because of the risk involved in farming–one bad crop or bad season, and you’re toast. I would add a lack of decent education in rural areas is a great contributor. After spending twenty nine years in the education system which is now the worst in the US, I can say that we have worked hard to become last overall. Irony alert.

I will instead concentrate on maters, having given up on learnin’, except for my own. We have a state run by looney tunes characters, except that they have no humor, which is not a good combination.

Simple Enchilada Sauce

Bring out the Tortillas

This is from so far south, it’s from across the border. It is, however also a staple of most Tex-Mex style Mexican restaraunts. Fortunately, it is also dead simple to make.

Ingredients

Peanut Oil

Flour

Can of Tomato Sauce

Salt

2 or more Chipotle Peppers, and Adobo Sauce

If you have cast iron intestines, you can go the Rick Bayless route, and make this with nothing but Chipotle peppers. As I prefer living, I go the tomato sauce way.

Start by making a little blond roux with the oil and flour. I used a regular size can of sauce, or you can mill some canned tomatoes, as it results in the same texture. After it begins to boil, throw in Chipotles that have been seeded. How many is strictly a matter of preference. The same goes with the amount of Adobo sauce you add. It only cooks until it is warmed through.

We made roast pork enchiladas with Vidalia onions rolled up in a tortilla, covered with this sauce, and grated Cheddar cheese. It’s a quick and easy meal, which only needs to be baked until the sauce bubbles. After that it’s time to swine away.

Fifteen Tomatoes

Ripe in May!

It’s been almost a hundreds years since scientists discovered that ethylene gas could artificially ripen fruit. That’s the reason why most supermarket tomatoes taste like yuk. They’re green tomatoes, turned fake red, and sold as “vine ripened.” There are very limited penalties for lying, especially in the food industry.

That’s why I am officially declaring war on Big Tomato. ( I have previously declared war on Big Chicken.) In the spirit of ’76, I now have 76 tomato plants, with more seedlings probably coming. I have fifteen varieties, which I will list below.

Maters, Precious

Plants in the ground–We found a great seller only about four miles away. These are all new varieties to us.

Bella Rosa–A hybrid that already has a tomato on it, and is blooming like crazy

Atkinson–Developed at Aw-burn U, the bitter rival of my Crimson Tide

Roma III–Had to buy three of these hybrid Romas, because it is Roma III

Juliet–“It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon.” A mini San Marzano! I was going to buy a couple more of these,but I actually bought three more

Roma-the heirloom variety, not the hybrid. Bought at the Festhalle, as were the rest of these. We’ve grown this before, and all of the below

Wild Cherry-the real wild mater.

Brandywine-the classic heirloom, with great tasting maters

Cherokee Purple-Perhaps the classic heirloom Southern variety

Seeds in the ground–Some are our saved seeds, including a couple of chance hybrids. We have grown all of these before also. All these have now germinated

Purple Calabash–The cabernet wine of tomatoes. Ugly and exquisite

Rio Grande–Why an Italian tomato is named Rio Grande, I have no clue

Creole–From LSU, and this is one Ragin’ Cajun, for hot weather. LSU has the craziest fans in college football. They came to T-town one year, their team beat the hide off the Tide, and then one sorority stole most of the furniture out of their sorority sisters’ house on sorority row, and carried it all back to Louisiana. They eventually returned it.

Black Truffle–We love dark colored tomatoes

Amish Paste–Same with the paste tomatoes

Red Cherry–Saved seed, probably Matt’s Wild Cherry, which grows wild in Texas and Mexico.

Hard Round Red Tomato-More than likely a chance hybrid, this plant has some seriously tasty tomatoes

Peppers, Dude

I only have forty something pepper seedlings, so I have a truce with Big Pepper. I do have three more pots of seeds that have yet to germinate. The cease fire could be temporary, and I do eat a bottle of hot jalapenos every month. Everyone has a weakness.

Two Tomatoes, One Pepper

The Heirloom Roma

There is a humorous German term for all the panic buying that has been going on: Hamsterkauf. The literal translation is “Hamster buying,” but the implication is that people are shopping like they are Hamsters.

Having said that, I may require an intervention on the vegetable plant buying front. I’m closing in on seventy tomato plants, and what do I do but buy two more varieties, bringing my total number up to a lucky thirteen. Truthfully, I grew most of the plants myself, but nothing can stop me when it comes to buying heirloom plants.

Yesterday we went to the re-opened Festhalle Farmer’s Market, and on the far end was a woman selling heirloom vegetable plants. That was especially significant considering that it was 43 degrees F, and the north wind was about ten miles an hour, and this is an open air market. Her plants looked very good, so I added two of the all time greats to my tomato roster.

The one at the top is a Roma tomato, which is the classic paste tomato. I have three hybrid Romas already, but usually the taste of the hybrids can’t match that of the original.

Cherokee Purple

My second tomato is the famed Southern variety Cherokee Purple, which came from a seed saver in Tennessee, and was said to have been cultivated by the Cherokee tribe of native Americans. I try and grow at least one of these every year, as the flavor is phenomenal.

Tabasco Short Yellow

This last one is a plant I have not seen before, which I bought at my favorite plant seller’s store on the way home. It’s a fiery hot Tabasco that ripens to yellow fruit instead of red. The Tabasco sauce people once made a yellow sauce, but I think it is no longer available. I will have to make my own fermented sauce with these.

I put Blood Meal in with all these plants. Nothing like pure nitrogen to get them going. Now we need some temps back in the 70’s and 80’s again. When that happens, naturally I will complain that it’s too hot.

Eleven Tomatoes, Six Peppers

Bella, Bella Rosa

When you have nothing else to do, you tend to indulge in excess. Being rusticated for an indeterminate length of time, MJ and myself have gone narting futs with planting our veg. All these plants are just in containers: we haven’t even made it out to our garden yet. How about eleven varieties of tomatoes?

Maters, Precious

Plants in the ground–We found a great seller only about four miles away. These are all new varieties to us.

Bella Rosa–A hybrid that already has a tomato on it, and is blooming like crazy

Atkinson–Developed at Aw-burn U, the bitter rival of my Crimson Tide

Roma III–Had to buy three of these hybrid Romas, because it is Roma III

Juliet–“It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon.” A mini San Marzano! Will buy a couple more of these

Seeds in the ground–Some are our saved seeds, including a couple of chance hybrids. We have grown all of these before.

Purple Calabash–The cabernet wine of tomatoes. Ugly and exquisite

Rio Grande–Why an Italian tomato is named Rio Grande, I have no clue

Creole–From LSU, and this is one Ragin’ Cajun, for hot weather. LSU has the craziest fans in college football. They came to T-town one year, their team beat the hide off the Tide, and then one sorority stole most of the furniture out of their sorority sisters’ house on sorority row, and carried it all back to Louisiana with them.. They eventually returned it.

Black Truffle–We love dark colored tomatoes

Amish Paste–Same with the paste tomatoes

Red Cherry–Saved seed, probably Matt’s Wild Cherry, which grows wild in Texas and Mexico.

Hard Round Red Tomato-More than likely a chance hybrid, this plant has some seriously tasty tomatoes

I have two Alma Maters, and now eleven Maters. I also never apologize for a bad pun.

Peppers, Dude

Sweet Banana–We freeze these by the dozen, if they survive our devouring them fresh

Cayenne–No Southern kitchen is complete without a bottle of Cayenne pepper sauce

Poblano–The best mildly hot pepper. Dried when ripe, it makes Ancho powder

Royal Black–A new one, said to be really hot. It goes in the pepper sauce

Early Jalapeno–Early is good

Jalapeno M–A mild Jalapeno. Why did I buy these? They must have been cheap

As the great Neil Young wrote, “Homegrown is the way it should be.” Amen from this corner.

Italian Food in a Tube

Pasta, Please

Having received three books on Tuscan cooking for Christmas, I am now even more against processed or imported food than before, and in favor of nothing but local food. However, there is always an exception to every rule, and these Italian ingredients in a tube are mine. The packaging is minimal, the product stays fresh forever, and these will turn any bland dish into something tasty.

The Pesto paste is basil, sunflower and olive oil, salt, pine nuts, and garlic. Having made pesto in the past with sunflower kernels instead of pine nuts, due to the cost of pine nuts, this is a winner. A small amount of this is all that’s needed in most pasta sauces.

The Garlic puree is, well, pureed garlic with oil. I grow garlic, but sometimes a tube snatched out of the fridge is much easier than chopping and smashing. It is also very inexpensive, and there is no jar to clutter up things.

My favorite, however, is the tomato paste in a tube. Even our local supermarket carries one brand of this. The triple concentrated version in the picture is a superb product. I use it to fortify sauces made from our sometimes watery local tomatoes, instead of cooking the sauce down for an inordinate amount of time. The double concentrated paste will work as well, but has less of a punch.

So there we have the Italian flag, which is often referred to as basil, garlic, and tomato, because of the colors of three favorite Italian ingredients (sometimes mozzarella is used instead of garlic). All this just makes me crave for a pizza margherita.