I don’t know about you, but I’ve been on what feels like a non-stop cooking binge since mid-December. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking and having houseguests, but after the dust settles, I’m not likely to pull out the cookbooks and start whipping up something fancy for dinner. More often than not, I’ll grab whatever’s left in the fridge and throw something together. That’s why in the last two weeks, I’ve made this dish twice for dinner – eggs in purgatory – a simple, quick to prepare, healthy meal of eggs poached in tomato sauce. Lots of countries have similar dishes and give it their special twist. In the middle East and North Africa, where spices like cumin are added, it’s called Shakshouka. Similarly, Mexicans have their huevos rancheros, seasoned with jalapenos. Call it uova in purgatorio if you want to give it an Italian accent, as I did the most recent time I made it, adding some red peppers and a bed of ricotta cheese for the eggs.
There are as many variations as your imagination and tastes desire, but the basic recipe starts with a tomato sauce. I sautéed some onions and red and yellow peppers, then added some tomato sauce I already had on hand. I poured in a little red wine and added some spices too.
Then take some ricotta cheese, and mix it with a little parmesan. Dab it into the sauce, then scoop out a little “well” into which you’ll drop the eggs.
Carefully place the cracked eggs into the well and cover the pan. Let it cook for at least five minutes over a low flame, or put it in the oven at 350 degrees until the eggs reach the doneness you prefer.
For me, they’re perfect when the egg yolk just starts to turn white on top, but is still runny most of the way through. The best way to eat these is right out of the pan, mopping up the yolk and the sauce with plenty of Italian bread. In Italian, this technique is called “la scarpetta,” which literally translates to “little shoe.” So “fare la scarpetta” means “to make the little shoe” or in more understandable English, using your bread to “lick the plate clean.”
And that’s just what you’ll want to do when you dig into this savory and satisfying dish. Your only regret will be getting to the last tasty morsel.
a few shakes of dried basil (or fresh if it’s the season)
a few shakes of hot pepper flakes
salt, pepper to taste
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
3 T. parmesan cheese
Sauté the peppers and onions in the olive oil until softened. Add the minced garlic and cook for a few minutes at low heat, then add the tomato sauce, the red wine and the spices. Let it all simmer at a low heat for about 10 minutes. Then mix the ricotta cheese with the parmesan cheese and divide into two portions, placing them in the tomato sauce. Make a “well” in each of the ricotta cheese portions and drop an egg into it. Cover and cook over low heat for at least five minutes, or until the doneness you prefer. Alternately, you could place the whole pan in the oven at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes. Enjoy with sliced Italian bread.