Q: I made a batch of hard-boiled eggs, cooked them the way I usually do, and refrigerated them. But when I cracked the first one, it seems like there's only half an egg in there! How come there is so little egg in such a big shell?
A: Somehow you found some really old eggs.
Don't worry — as long as they were refrigerated and you cooked them till they were hard, there's nothing there that's going to make you sick. The cooking would have killed everything if there were any bacteria.
What happened is that as the egg aged, it gradually produced more and more gas inside the shell. The water in the egg white was able to gradually sneak out through the shell, too; the egg white shrunk and dried, and what was originally a small air bubble became bigger and bigger.
This is what causes older eggs to float, or to sit up on end in the water, too. This is the origin of Grandmother's adage that a floating egg was "bad."
It may or may not have been spoiled, but it was definitely old. When you put the egg into hot water to cook it, the air bubble expanded even more. So by the time the egg white got hot enough to solidify, it had been pushed into just half the shell.
My guess would be that the hard-cooked egg was probably on the tough and chewy side, too. That is also due to the loss of water and toughening of the protein in the egg white.
The USDA has tracked and checked eggs for as long as 10 weeks, or 2½ months. The eggs were refrigerated the whole time. At the end of the study, the eggs were still safe, they still cooked well and made good cakes. But as you've found, they're not great for deviled eggs!
And remember, once an egg has been cooked, it has a much shorter storage life — only one week in the refrigerator.
Q: What's a panzanella? We were with friends at a restaurant recently and saw it on the menu. No one was interested in ordering it, but I'm still curious about what we might have missed.
A: Panzanella is an Italian dish called a bread salad. It can be a side dish or large enough to serve as the entree.
We don't often think of salad as being based on bread, or even having bread other than croutons. But panzanella has lots of vegetables, too. Usually the chunks of bread are soaked in water, or sometimes tomato juice, to soften them.
The liquid is then squeezed out and the bread is mixed with chopped tomatoes and onions, sometimes cucumbers or peppers, too. It is seasoned with basil, oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar.
One friend said her version included, instead of soaking the bread first, browning it in olive oil in a hot skillet before adding it to the salad. That would make it more like croutons than a soft bread salad.
Occasionally you'll find panzanella that include anchovies as well.
So there are plenty of variations, but it's basically a tomato salad with chunks of bread included. You probably missed a very tasty, but higher-carb, salad than you would get as a regular side salad.
Should you ever decide to try making it, be sure to use a good, sturdy Italian bread. Soft white bread would wilt and mush completely under the juicy vegetables and dressing.