Christmas in Italy is all about food. Three days of traditional breads, appetizers, pastas, meats, and sweets from familial regions. Many of these traditional foods are made with eggs, and this wasn’t going to change just because I was joining Fabio’s family for Christmas. Even if I had to vicariously watch other people eat them – I swear I didn’t want them to change!
So before Thanksgiving when Fabio asked, “Have you ever tried eating a non-chicken egg?” I scoffed, “No… that’s crazy talk.” Every doctor I’d ever seen had told me to beware of all eggs. “Well, how can you be certain you’re allergic to all eggs if you’ve never tried them?” he innocently pressed, “ What about duck eggs? Or quail? Or oyster?”
He meant “ostrich.” The word ostrich is really close to oyster in Italian.
“I never investigated.”
This was shocking news to Fabio, who knew first-hand about my obsessive-internet-infomania-research disorder. I research nearly everything that pops into my head on the web.
A new search revealed that there are in fact, people with chicken eggs allergies, who can eat other types of eggs. This kind of rocked my world. We set out immediately to test the hypothesis, starting with the smallest, least dangerous looking eggs we could find: quail. Step 1: I put a dab of quail egg white on my tongue and waited. No reaction. Step 2: Fabio fried one of the mini eggs and I took a bite, heart racing. Again, nada. Step 3: Fabio hard boiled a quail egg for me the next day. My very own egg. I salted, peppered, and downed the whole thing. Salty, peppery, eggy deliciousness. And no allergic reaction. Amazing.
Quail eggs were exciting and a whole new world – but still, an impractical world. Have you ever cooked with quail eggs? Not only are they impractically mini, their shells are as impenetrable as a latex condom.
So after Thanksgiving, we conducted the same experiment with duck eggs and fingers crossed. Duck eggs are just slightly larger than chicken eggs with the same flavor – a perfect substitute for chicken eggs. Operation Duck Egg was another success! Soon I was gorging myself on my first tastes of frittata, spaghetti carbonara, and homeade Magnolia Bakery cupcakes. I ate them all with a mix of gusto, wonderment, and a little fear. But there was never any reaction.
Fabio relayed every episode of egg testing back to his mamma, with much interest on her side. Before I knew it, Silvana and Emilio (Fabio’s parents) were conducting a full-scale search to locate duck eggs in their area. They discovered a convent in the hills around Lake Como where the nuns sold duck eggs at a regular Saturday market. The D’Orazios decided then and there to make all the traditional Christmas foods with duck eggs instead of chicken eggs.
I can’t describe how incredibly touched I was by this gift and welcome to my first Christmas in Italy. One of the highlights of my visit was making the once-a-year homemade ricotta ravioli with Emilio and Silvana. Another highlight… eating it.
My first ravioli – made with holy duck eggs from the Italian nunnery. Buon natale!