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The evolution of the egg

As creative centerpieces, dishes come coddled, truffled, deviled, and deep-fried

Dante de Magistris prepares rich, eggy chitarra pasta, a specialty at Restaurant Dante in Cambridge. Dante de Magistris prepares rich, eggy chitarra pasta, a specialty at Restaurant Dante in Cambridge. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Bridget Samburg
Globe Correspondent / April 20, 2011

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Once only seen in early morning kitchens or on brunch tables, egg dishes are now inventive and irresistible. Eggs have withstood years of warnings about cholesterol and fat content, and more recently, salmonella scares, to become one of the most stylish ingredients a cook can use.

You’ll find them coddled, deep-fried in panko crumbs, wrapped with sausage to make Scotch eggs, on a pizza, scented with truffles, tucked inside ravioli, set delicately onto Chinese noodles, perched on steak tartare, and deviled like our grandmothers did. “If you can master cooking an egg,’’ says Dante de Magistris, “you can master most anything with food.’’

At Restaurant Dante in Cambridge, de Magistris uses the delicate ingredient in a culinary test. “When interviewing a chef, I give him an egg and say, ‘Make me an egg!’ ’’ says de Magistris. The delicate egg reacts to different levels of heat with wildly different results. Too much and your whites solidify. Too little and they don’t set. Just right and you may get a prized runny yolk. A specialty at Dante is eggy chitarra pasta, in which the dough is thinly cut with a guitar string and served with guanciale; an additional yolk and Parmesan are added at the end, making the dish so rich, servers suggest ordering a half portion.

Frank McClelland of L’Espalier raises his own eggs for the restaurant on his farm in Essex from 70 hens. The chef coddles an egg, then cracks it over wild mushroom polenta served with truffle foam. He also prepares a truffled egg custard. “An egg is somewhat neutral in flavor,’’ says McClelland. “It takes on flavor characteristics of the things that it’s paired with.’’ He usually stores his eggs with truffles so they permeate the shells.

It doesn’t surprise Charles Draghi that Boston diners are finally taking eggs seriously. “They’re slightly exotic, but still have that ring of familiarity,’’ he says. The chef and co-owner of Erbaluce, who relies on eggs to add depth and creaminess to a dish, prefers a duck egg for its “almost honey-like quality.’’ He uses one to make sformato, a cross between a souffle and custard. The whites are at the bottom of the dish, seasoned with nutmeg, marjoram, and Parmesan, topped with the yolks. “There aren’t too many things that say home, comfort, come relax, like eggs and melted cheese,’’ says Draghi.

Eggs on pizzas seem new, but aren’t. “Growing up, my mother would make this for us,’’ says Nebo co-owner Carla Pallotta of “The Nebo,’’ a pizza with red sauce, shaved mozzarella, and two eggs.

It’s all a bit much for Dana Love, chef at Kingston Station, who is too health conscious to make a habit of his deluxe burger with a fried egg. But he doesn’t deny the appeal. “The combination just works,’’ he says.

Phillip Tang of East by Northeast recalls family dinners in which hot pot or noodles were finished with an egg. “That was something your grandmother would do,’’ says Tang, who now serves diners a poached egg on his vegetarian noodle dish or on thick noodles with pork ragu.

Part of the fun of egg cuisine is breaking into a golden yolk. At Prezza, chef Anthony Caturano offers ravioli stuffed with ricotta and a yolk that is cooked but still runny. Pigalle restaurant staff encourages diners to break the yolk of the panko-crusted fried egg that tops steak tartare, and mix it with the meat. “Every once in a while, people are freaked out that [the yolk] squirts,’’ says chef and co-owner Marc Orfaly. The golden center runs into the crevices of the meat.

Some credit Ana Sortun with the egg revival here. Ten years ago, the chef and owner of Oleana debuted her menu with a deviled egg stuffed with tuna, celery, spices, and black olives. “In Spain you would see this all the time,’’ she says. A decade ago, deviled eggs were still considered a throwback to the 1970s. Now, Trina’s Starlite Lounge, Hungry Mother, All Star Sandwich Bar, Highland Kitchen, and others serve variations.

“It’s fun to see an everyday product and see what chefs are doing,’’ says Orfaly. On top of a pizza or starring in a signature entree, the common egg is now the centerpiece.

Bridget Samburg can be reached at bsamburg@comcast.net.