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Pasta question - why add egg when it isn't needed?

JetLaggedChef Jan 1, 2014 04:13 PM

My favorite pasta (which actually tastes like what I've had all over Italy) has nothing but semolina flour, soft flour and water. This is the kind I have made for years and all my friends and family are always asking me to make extra pasta for them, even the two that are head chefs at very high end restaurants.

The question is: Since delicious, easily workable pasta can be made with nothing but semolina, soft flour and water - *why* are people adding eggs?

I could drive from Miami to New York via San Diego, but that doesn't make it logical.

I'm looking more for a real scientific explanation, not a "because that's what I was taught" type answer.

Thanks!

  1. mbfant Jan 2, 2014 05:38 AM

    It's not just that people are adding eggs where they're not needed. It's that you are talking about essentially two separate pasta-making traditions.

    Semolina flour is made from durum wheat (grano duro), which mixes well with water and holds together. These shapes, which include practically all the standard dry pasta shapes (spaghetti, rigatoni, penne, and much, much more), are not made with egg. The shapes are mainly extruded (when made by machine) or hand-shaped. This kind of pasta traditionally belongs to the center and south of Italy.

    Soft flour (grano tenero) does not do so well with water alone. It needs the egg to hold together. If you toss a soft-wheat and water dough into boiling water or soup, you could well wind up with polenta. Emilia (of which Bologna is the capital) is the epicenter of this tradition, and the shapes are largely cut from a thin sheet (called sfoglia) into ribbons (tagliatelle being the main one) or squares or triangles for making such stuffed pastas as tortellini and ravioli. But in olden times, when eggs were costly and could be sold for cash, a little water might be used to supplement the precious egg. (Elsewhere saffron was sometimes used to simulate the yellow color of egg pasta!)

    Egg pasta dough can be rolled thinner than flour-and-water and so is more desirable for stuffed shapes and the sfoglia in general.

    But, as many others here have said, tradition and taste are not to be dismissed as motivating forces.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mbfant
      c oliver Jan 2, 2014 08:04 AM

      Thank you for a very, very good explanation. We all learn all the time.

      1. re: mbfant
        JetLaggedChef Jan 2, 2014 08:27 AM

        Thanks mbfant! That's sounds logical and scientific. Exactly the answer I was hoping to find when I posted this question.

        1. re: mbfant
          sunshine842 Jan 2, 2014 04:16 PM

          thanks for answering the summons!

        2. ipsedixit Jan 1, 2014 06:57 PM

          Flavor and texture.

          It's like pie crust does not have to be made with butter, but it's used because people like the taste and texture that butter provides (versus oil, shortening, or lard).

          Or ice cream. I can make perfectly great ice cream without eggs, and I can also make perfectly fine ice cream with eggs. Sometimes I do one, and not the other. It just depends on what I want -- a lighter ice cream, or a more custard-y base.

          1. c oliver Jan 1, 2014 04:36 PM

            I don't think this is scientific but it seems to explain why Southern Italy generally doesn't use eggs and Northern Italy does:

            http://thebalancedplate.wordpress.com...

            6 Replies
            1. re: c oliver
              sunshine842 Jan 1, 2014 04:40 PM

              makes perfect sense.

              1. re: sunshine842
                c oliver Jan 1, 2014 04:41 PM

                I think so also and enjoyed learning something new.

              2. re: c oliver
                JetLaggedChef Jan 1, 2014 04:52 PM

                I can see that the student who wrote the article has never traveled to Italy which would explain why she seems to think it's humid up north. :) I appreciate her sharing what she heard in her first pasta class though.

                Even so, the question though isn't why people *aren't* adding eggs. It's why *are* they adding eggs.

                1. re: JetLaggedChef
                  sunshine842 Jan 1, 2014 04:54 PM

                  like most parts of the word, it depends on where in northern Italy you find yourself.

                  I'm not thinking that the folks in Venice think they live in an arid climate.

                  1. re: JetLaggedChef
                    c oliver Jan 1, 2014 05:04 PM

                    http://giulianohazan.com/blog/homemad...

                    Here's info from Giuliano Hazan, son of Marcela, who has plenty of cred in Italian cooking also. Just one quote:

                    'The region in Italy that is best known for egg pasta is Emilia Romagna, of which Bologna is the capital."

                    1. re: c oliver
                      m
                      magiesmom Jan 1, 2014 05:54 PM

                      Known as one of the great food regions of the world.

                2. JuniorBalloon Jan 1, 2014 04:34 PM

                  Pasta with egg tastes great and pasta without egg tastes great. They are different, not better. Egg pastas are generally more delicate and have less bite or chew, pappardelle, tagliatelle, ravioli, lasagna noodles. Fettucini falls somewhere in between as you'll find varieties with and without. But linguni, pici, orchietti and traditional spaghetti never have egg. It's all good.

                  jb

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: JuniorBalloon
                    JetLaggedChef Jan 1, 2014 04:40 PM

                    Thanks jb! That sounds like the best answer I think we'll see to this question.

                    I've always felt like the egg pasta has a slightly "squishy" texture.. like a noodle in chicken noodle soup. Fine for soup, but that would be a different post. :)

                    1. re: JetLaggedChef
                      JuniorBalloon Jan 1, 2014 04:54 PM

                      I would just like to add that this is not like the ham logic. I've heard that story before and it's a good one. In the case of the ham it will cook basically the same whether you cut the ends off or not. With pasta to egg or not to egg creates a different end product.

                      jb

                      1. re: JuniorBalloon
                        sunshine842 Jan 1, 2014 05:00 PM

                        Maureen Fant, who posts here under the user name mbfant, would probably know:

                        http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520255227
                        and her newest (on my covet list

                        )

                        http://www.amazon.com/Sauces-Shapes-P...

                        1. re: JuniorBalloon
                          JetLaggedChef Jan 1, 2014 05:10 PM

                          LOL Good point. :)

                          I think you hit the nail on the head with the texture. I honestly prefer the firmer texture of pasta without the egg. It tastes like what I've had in Italy. The dough with egg tastes like the softer homemade pasta I've had in the US since most people here only know this one thing.

                          In my cooking classes in Italy, I was taught that egg is only used when pasta has to be formed into specific shapes (bowties, etc) because the egg protein becomes solid very quickly during cooking and as a result it helps the pasta to hold its shape. (Because of this, it eventually became popular because people didn't have to spend as much time kneading to develop the gluten.)

                          During travel and classes, I also learned that the pasta *style* varies by region, not the dough. The pasta shape was the signature of a region (technically, a country, since "Italy" was actually a whole bunch of different countries before the late 1800s). The dough is used as above to make the appropriate kind of pasta. Since various regions had various styles, egg was either added or not as needed to get and hold the desired shape. This resulted in people misunderstanding that the actual dough changes by region.

                          My personal opinion is that I don't like the soft egg dough pastas, which is why I wouldn't order shapes that I knew would be made with them in Italy. As a result, the firmer dough tastes Italian to me. :)

                          I suspect many people in the US tend to prefer the softer egg pasta because it's a step up from overboiled noodles that they graduated from.

                          1. re: JetLaggedChef
                            JuniorBalloon Jan 1, 2014 05:25 PM

                            Not sure why they said such a thing, perhaps you misunderstood, but most egg pastas are not the shaped varieties. Talgiatelle and it's wider brother papardelle are just ribbon pasta, no shaping. Lasagna? Big flat pasta. The regional quality to what goes into pasta has more to do with what was available in that region. We have eggs, we don't have eggs, that what went into pasta.

                            I must say that I am surprised you spent a month in Bologna, capital of egg pasta in Italy, and didn't have egg pasta.

                            jb

                            1. re: JuniorBalloon
                              c oliver Jan 1, 2014 05:27 PM

                              Yeah, I also. Giuliano Hazan and others make that REALLY clear.

                              1. re: JuniorBalloon
                                JetLaggedChef Jan 1, 2014 05:28 PM

                                Since I don't like it, I was trying to avoid it. :) Perhaps I had it and it was just made better than I've had it here so I didn't notice.

                                My primary focus (other than working, of course) was learning all about bolognese.

                                Now *that* is truly a hot topic there.

                                1. re: JetLaggedChef
                                  sunshine842 Jan 1, 2014 05:31 PM

                                  you don't like it and went out of your way to avoid it....but because you sidestepped it, it doesn't exist and if it does, it's wrong?

                                  How does that work?

                                  1. re: JetLaggedChef
                                    c oliver Jan 1, 2014 05:31 PM

                                    It's a hot topic on CH also!

                                    1. re: c oliver
                                      JetLaggedChef Jan 1, 2014 05:36 PM

                                      I have no idea why you two are both in separate rooms of the same house posting furiously when you could be talking to each other instead. :P

                                      Seriously though, nobody said it was wrong. I just asked why people were doing it if it isn't necessary.

                                      It boils down to personal preference of the texture, there's no scientific explanation.

                                      Thank you all for your input.

                                      Have a great evening you two.

                                      1. re: JetLaggedChef
                                        c oliver Jan 1, 2014 06:12 PM

                                        Actually, in Italy, it appears to boil down to regional differences, with Bologna being the hotspot for egg pasta. So not really a personal preference nor a scientific one. And since I cook Italian food from authors who are Italian, I tend to get their slant.

                                2. re: JetLaggedChef
                                  greygarious Jan 2, 2014 09:36 AM

                                  Two years ago here, a suburban Boston hole-in-the-wall place was opened by a native of western China, specializing in hand-pulled noodles. These wheat-and-water ribbons are a cult favorite in NYC but are new to us. They are thick and quite chewy. Some of us love them, others can't fathom the attraction, and the Greater Boston board vitriol has flown in both directions. The weekend special menu includes a dish with noodles painstakingly made in two stage over two days, involving soaking out the gluten and shaping it into firm cubes, served in conjunction with the exquisitely delicate, tender gluten-less noodles that remain. Two very different styles from the same area, equally-appreciated by many of us. À chacun son goût!

                          2. Njchicaa Jan 1, 2014 04:29 PM

                            Because that's how my Italian family has made pasta for generations.

                            1. sunshine842 Jan 1, 2014 04:23 PM

                              because it's the way people have been making pasta for centuries? (see the Germanic cultures)

                              Because we like the flavor?

                              Why does it have to be scientific? Why can't it just be "because I like it?"

                              I've made eggless pasta, and IMO it sucks. Flour and water. Bleh.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: sunshine842
                                c oliver Jan 1, 2014 04:26 PM

                                I also understand that eggs are more a Northern Italy way. I guess like the whole oo vs. butter thing.

                                I'm relatively sure that flour and water still make paste, don't they?!? :)

                                1. re: c oliver
                                  JetLaggedChef Jan 1, 2014 04:36 PM

                                  Well here's the bowl of "paste" I made the day before yesterday :)

                                   
                                2. re: sunshine842
                                  JetLaggedChef Jan 1, 2014 04:28 PM

                                  Because I believe science trumps religion. ;)

                                  1. re: JetLaggedChef
                                    sunshine842 Jan 1, 2014 04:33 PM

                                    what does religion have to do with "it tastes good"?

                                    If you want to make eggless pasta -- that's cool -- enjoy.

                                    I don't like it, don't enjoy making it, and will continue to make egg pasta because I like it and I enjoy making it.

                                    That doesn't make me (or anyone else) wrong -- it just means we prefer a different recipe than you do.

                                    1. re: sunshine842
                                      JetLaggedChef Jan 1, 2014 04:39 PM

                                      That's great. :) But I didn't post asking an opinion on that. I posted to ask if anyone had a scientific reason.

                                      Thanks for your opinion on it though.

                                      1. re: JetLaggedChef
                                        c oliver Jan 1, 2014 04:40 PM

                                        And I replied below that it seems that it wasn't/isn't a scientific reason but rather a practical one.

                                        1. re: JetLaggedChef
                                          sunshine842 Jan 1, 2014 04:41 PM

                                          why does it even have to be scientific?

                                          Why do we have to do it your way, just because that's the way you prefer?

                                          And moreso -- why are we the ones who are misguided because we don't do it your way?

                                  2. m
                                    magiesmom Jan 1, 2014 04:18 PM

                                    Because they like the taste the egg adds.

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