If the theme of late here is simple, cozy meals we can assemble even when we’re not, perhaps, having the most well-rested, worry-free weeks ever, we are unquestionably overdue for a conversation about eggs in purgatory, aka Italian-style huevos rancheros/shakshuka. Plus, what could be more appropriately uplifting during Holy Week than a dish that celebrates hell, or the imminent threat of it? What, you say, one that also celebrates the oldest profession? Oh honey, we’re in.
I first mentioned having cooked eggs in tomato sauce nearly eight years ago on this site; it was a surprisingly excellent fast dinner. About half the commenters said “You just made eggs in purgatory” and the other half said, “You need to make shakshuka.” I went with the latter and have felt little need to err from that glorious recipe for six years now. But poking around on Nigella Lawson’s website the other day, always a wonderful place to find any cooking inspiration that eludes you, the photo with her eggs in purgatory recipe was stop-me-in-my-tracks stunning, and I suddenly needed it in my life very badly.
I veered slightly, though. Most recipes for uova in purgatorio stress the need for a spicy, kicky tomato sauce, but really, what’s more fiery that alla puttanesca, also known as “whore’s style” sauce? The story goes that this sauce was a specialty of brothels in Naples because it could be made on-the-fly and inexpensively and from this and that in the pantry, and it became a favorite of girls and clients. Some even say that the colors (purple olives, green capers, red sauce) reflected the those that the girls wore. There are other origin stories, but this is the one that has the most staying power. I cannot imagine why.
Together these make an absolutely perfect quick dinner, for one or many. You heat a colorful rubble of oregano, olives, capers, anchovies, garlic, pepper flakes and parsley in olive oil the bottom of a small skillet, add tomatoes and let them glurp away for a few minutes before plopping in an egg or four. Before you know it, the whites are set and a little lacy in the flames of sauce, the centers runny and intact, and you’ve mastered another 15-minute meal. And if that wasn’t triumphant enough, you get to scoop it onto toast.
One year ago: Baked Eggs with Chickpeas and Yogurt
Two years ago: Sizzling Chicken Fajitas
Three years ago: Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Tart
Four years ago: Soft Eggs with Buttery Herb Gruyere Toasts
Five years ago: Oat and Maple Syrup Scones
Six years ago: Spinach and Chickpeas
Seven years ago: Penne with Potatoes and Rocket
Eight years ago: Pasta with Cauliflower Walnuts and Feta
Nine years ago: Skillet Irish Soda Bread
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Oat and Wheat Sandwich Bread
1.5 Years Ago: Sunken Apple Honey Cake
2.5 Years Ago: Fudgy Chocolate Sheet Cake
3.5 Years Ago: Homemade Wheat Thins
4.5 Years Ago: Roasted Tomato Soup with Broiled Cheddar
- I went back and forth over calling the anchovy optional because I know they’re divisive (and also out of the question for vegetarians). Let me make It clear: it is. Not because you can make authentic puttanesca without them, but because if you’re in your own kitchen, cooking for yourself and not, say, an Italian cooking school textbook, and they’re not your thing, you should feel confident that if you skip them, this sauce will still have an abundance of salty zing. Me, I’ve come around to them, but if I hadn’t a tin already open from a recent Caesar bender, I wouldn’t run back to the store on a Monday night to make this. This food is about convenience and comfort; all that matters is that you pull that off.
- We had this with a side of roasted cauliflower and I thoroughly enjoyed dabbing sauce on the florets, wondering if this should be a thing. And just like that, I was catching up on Rachel Roddy’s excellent columns in The Guardian last night and she’s already on it. This is a great option for someone who doesn’t eat eggs.
- You could very easily amp up the vegetable component with 1 cup of thinly sliced mushrooms, sauteed for a couple minutes in the beginning with the olives and other ingredients, or with 1 cup of spinach, arugula or another leafy green of your choice, added right before the egg(s) and cooked until wilted (1 minute for spinach or arugula, longer for heartier leaves).
- If you’re making this as a puttanesca to go over pasta, you’ll want to double the flavorful stuff. This is slightly milder because it’s eaten straight.
Serves 1 to 4 (for 4 people, it would be 4 smallish one-egg servings)
A glug (1 to 2 tablespoons) olive oil, plus extra to finish
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons pitted black olives
1 tablespoon capers, drained, rinsed
1 anchovy filet, minced, or more to taste, if you prefer a heap of them
1 teaspoon dried oregano or double that of fresh
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 (14-ounce) can diced or crushed tomatoes
Salt, to taste
1 to 4 large eggs (shown with 1)
1/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, plus extra to finish
A slice of bread of your choice, per egg
On a cutting board, pile garlic, 1/4 cup parsley, olives, capers, anchovies (if using), oregano and pepper and run a knife through them again and again until they’re chopped into a tiny rubble. Heat a small-medium skillet over medium heat. Once hot, swirl in a glug of olive oil and let it warm. Add garlic-parsley heap to pan and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add tomatoes carefully because they’re going to splatter like crazy, nd stir to combine. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer sauce for 5 minutes. Taste and add salt or more pepper flakes if needed.
Make a small indentation in the sauce for each egg you’re using, and crack them in. Sprinkle the eggs and sauce with parmesan and cover pan pan partially with a lid. [This is when you should toast your bread; I like to brush mine with olive oil and run it under the broiler.] Let the eggs cook for 5 minutes, after which the whites are usually set and the yolks still loose, but when I use more than 1 to 2 eggs in the pan, this can take longer. Cook another minute or two if needed, but keep a close watch so you don’t accidentally hard cook them.
Drizzle pan with a little extra olive oil, then finish with more pepper, cheese and parsley. Eat with toasted bread.