A spicy tomato base with its potato cousin studded throughout. A favorite of family and inn guests as well!
You’ll find this dish throughout the mediterranean and mideast, referred to by many names, including “shakshouka” which is lots of fun to pronounce and seems to be on menus everywhere these days. The dishes feature variations of spices and other additions: meats, artichoke hearts, olives, beans, and other vegetables, but the base of this dish is always a well-spiced tomato sauce in which eggs are baked or poached.
In Italy, it is called Eggs in Purgatory, “Uova in Purgatorio,” and features the great flavors of that country.
This is how I like it best, and it’s my favorite breakfast, also appearing in my house as a simple comfort food supper, frequently using the end of a batch of pasta sauce. Remember that extra pasta sauce you tucked away in the freezer? Breakfast is just a microwave thaw away! And if you use your favorite jarred sauce, I won’t tell.
Always popular by request
This dish was by far one of the most popular breakfast/brunch offering at our inn, requested by repeat guests. By using both cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper flakes, you get a more interesting warmth from the dish, but you can adjust this to your own liking. You might like more, or you might start out with a lesser amount.
If it is tomato season, use fresh of course! But for the rest of the year, canned tomatoes are your best bet. If you can’t find fresh oregano, use fresh basil in this dish, or a combination of basil and the oregano, which is quite tasty. In winter, when fresh herbs may be scarce, use dried, but only about a third since their concentrated flavor is much stronger.
Rather than cutting up the potatoes, you can use the small marble-sized potatoes available in many markets (or your farm stand in the summer). You can add other ingredients to this depending on what you’ve got on hand. It’s delicious with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, or fennel, which you can chop and add along with the onions.
Eggs in Purgatory
- 2 tbsp. fruity olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 roasted red pepper, diced, jarred is fine
- 8 to 12 pitted black Italian olives, diced
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper depending on your level of comfort
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp. fresh oregano, minced (or scant 1 tsp. dried)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, low sodium, crushed
- 2 cups potatoes, unpeeled, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 ounces Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, grated
- 6 large, organic eggs
- Italian flat-leafed parsley to garnish
Heat a large skillet on medium high and add the olive oil. When shimmering, add the onions and sauté for a minute or so. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes, until the garlic is fragrant and the tomato paste has a chance to darken and cook.
Add the roasted peppers, olives, cayenne, pepper flakes, oregano, and bay leaf and let them get friendly for a few minutes. Crush up the tomatoes and add them to the pot. Put about a third cup of water in the can to rinse it out an add that to the pot as well. It will not thin the sauce down since you have a lot of tomato paste that will keep the sauce thick.
Drop in the potatoes, bring it all to a simmer, cover and reduce the heat. Let this cook until the potatoes are tender. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust. This smells so good!, you will love being in your kitchen the rest of the day.
Once the potatoes are cooked, sprinkle the Parmesan into the pan, reserving a bit to top later, and swirl it in. Now you are ready for the eggs. Traditionally, this dish is then finished in the oven to cook the eggs, but I’ve had much better luck leaving the pan on the top of the stove, basically poaching the eggs in the sauce. In the oven, it is sometimes difficult to get the whites to set before the yolks are hard as a rock.
Make little indentations in the sauce where you will put the eggs. If you are using farm-fresh eggs, you don’t have to do anything special to them. Just crack them into a custard cup and slip into the little indentations you’ve made in the sauce. If your eggs have been around a couple of weeks, crack them into a mesh strainer so that any thin liquid drains off. This is a good tip for poaching eggs in general, and over the years, I’ve poached more eggs than I could ever count at the inn!
Once the eggs are nestled in the sauce, use a spoon to put a little of the sauce on the white area of the eggs, not the yolks, then cover and forget about them for about 10 minutes. Check the whites, and if they are not quite set, let them simmer for a minute or so more.
When ready, sprinkle with the parsley and the rest of the cheese. Serve this delightful dish with a toasted piece of hearty bread. Any left-over sauce is great on toast!
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