There are many variations of this wonderfully filling and comforting dish. In its simplest form, eggs are poached in a flavorful tomato sauce. In Southern Italy, it is called Uova al Purgatorio, or Eggs in Purgatory (due to the appearance of the eggs cooking in a hot, bubbling sauce resembling flames in
hell purgatory), and it is often made with parmesan cheese and basil served over bread, pasta, or polenta. In the Middle East, it is known as Shakshuka, and it is made with a spicier tomato sauce, crumbled feta cheese, peppers, and cumin and served with warm pita bread. The Turkish dish, Menemen, is similar, as the eggs are cooked with tomatoes, onions, and peppers in a single pan, but the eggs are almost always scrambled, instead of poached.
I must admit was not aware of any version of this dish until I had brunch at Maialino in New York City a few months ago. Aunt Rachel, my dining companion, ordered the Amatriciana al Forno, baked eggs in a spicy tomato sauce served with guanciale, or Italian bacon. I took notice and made a mental note to try it at home. My version is a mish mash of flavors taken from both Italian and Middle Eastern recipes to accomodate our own personal tastes and to use what ingredients we had on hand.
My “Middle Eastalian” version of eggs in tomato sauce started with diced pancetta to which I added onions, garlic, and roughly chopped canned San Marzano tomatoes to make a quick sauce. To spice it up, I put in some crushed red pepper flakes, cumin, and smoked paprika and then, to really bring out all of the flavors, I let the sauce simmer for about 30 minutes. Next, I mixed in some ricotta cheese and then the eggs. Once the eggs were poached, I garnished with parmesan cheese and chopped Italian parsley. I had some left over Jamon Serrano, so I put it on the plate for an even more international flair.
Eggs and tomatoes make a wonderful combination. The tomato sauce was wonderfully spicy from the red pepper flakes. The paprika added a deeper, smoky flavor, while the ricotta added a little tang and richness to the sauce. My absolute favorite part of this breakfast, though, was how the runny egg yolks mixed with the tomato sauce to make an even richer and decadent dish.
Note: I cooked this tomato-based dish on my well-seasoned cast-iron skillet and did not encounter any problems. After washing the pan in warm water, I applied a light coating of canola oil before storing it. I found this on the Lodge Cast Iron Cookware website:
Foods which are very acidic (i.e. beans, tomatoes, citrus juices, etc.) should not be cooked in a cast iron utensil until the cookware is highly seasoned. The high acidity of these foods will strip the seasoning and result in discoloration and metallic tasting food. Wait until cast iron is better seasoned to cook these types of foods.
Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce
Yields 2-4 servings
½ cup pancetta, diced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, if needed
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can of Italian plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan or other white cheese, for garnish
½ cup fresh chopped parsley, for garnish
In a large skillet, cook pancetta until most of the fat is rendered. Add enough olive oil to pan to equal 2 tablespoons of oil and heat over medium-high heat. Toss in onions and cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add garlic, cumin, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook until spices are fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes and sugar and bring to a simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and adjust seasoning, to taste. Stir in ricotta cheese and cook for 1-2 minutes, until heated through.
Once the sauce is ready, lower the heat to reduce the bubbles in the sauce since vigorous boiling might “break” the eggs. Using a spoon, scoop out some sauce to form a four holes. Carefully crack an egg in each hole and poach eggs to desired doneness, about 3 minutes for runny yolks. Cover the pan, if needed.
Garnish with grated parmesan chopped parsley and serve immediately.
Other egg dishes you might like:
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