Ciao! Benvenuti alla mia cucina. Hello and welcome to my kitchen. We are taking a little culinary trip to Italy today pairing eggs with classic tomato sauce and Parmesan, aka, Eggs in Purgatory.
Webster defines purgatory as a place or state following death in which penitent souls are purified and thereby made ready for heaven or any condition or place of temporary punishment or expiation. Given this, and the religious reference in the name of this dish, it seemed appropriate for Easter Sunday. I first encountered this recipe in “The Sopranos Family Cookbook” compiled by none other than Artie Bucco, the famed chef and restaurateur in the series. It was his restaurant, Nuovo Vesuvio, where many scenes of family meals and gangster discussions were filmed. I believe the name comes from the vision of the eggs suspended in the spicy tomato sauce and just hanging out there awaiting their fate. Regardless of your beliefs I think you will be delighted and surprised at how much flavor is coaxed out of these few simple ingredients.
The preparation today is a simplified version that is quick and easily prepared for breakfast, brunch or dinner. Unlike Artie’s, prepared on top of the stove, these eggs are baked in the oven. The simple step of rubbing the ramekins with a clove of garlic emits a s subtle compliment to the sauce. If a more pronounced garlic flavor is desired, you can mince it and gently cook it for a minute or two in a skillet before adding it to the sauce.
Here is how it goes down.
Uova in Purgatoria—Eggs in Purgatory Serves 4
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (plus more for buttering dishes)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or basil
2 cups tomato sauce or canned tomato puree
8 large eggs
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Butter four ramekins, no more than 1-inch deep and large enough to hold two eggs. Rub insides and bottoms of each baking dish with half a clove of garlic, pressing hard. Discard garlic.
- Divide 2 Tbsp. butter evenly among the dishes and sprinkle with thyme. Spoon in equal amounts of tomato sauce. Use back of a spoon to form 2 indentations in tomato sauce and break 1 egg in each indentation. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle each with 1/2T Parmesan.
- Place dishes on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until egg whites are opaque and yolks are firm around edges, 13 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.
Note: Each oven is unique so I suggest checking on them after 10 minutes. I like mine with a runny yolk but you may prefer them a bit harder. Adjust time to suit your tastes.
I believe in the Italian philosophy of using fresh high quality products for all my culinary ventures but this becomes extremely important when you are preparing a dish with limited ingredients. The reason for this is there is no disguise and the ingredients must speak for themselves. Poor quality equals inferior outcome. I am fortunate to have access to farm fresh eggs directly sourced. The difference between them and the supermarket variety is astonishing. The deep marigold color of the yolks is beautiful and has a much deeper flavor. The popularity of farmers markets has made direct sourcing available to many more people including city dwellers. It is so worth any extra effort required to seek this out. The enthusiasm the growers and producers have for good food is really infectious providing another benefit to shopping your local markets.
I have had many Italian influences throughout my culinary education. I have eaten in homes in Italy as well as dined at many Italian-American tables where it is apparent that food is seen not just as fuel for the body. Food is la gioia di vivere, zest for life! Whether you are one of us, either by birth or spirit you too have a deep appreciation of food as a symbol of celebration, family, friends and life itself. To quote Artie Bucco, “A paisan without food is like Cecilia Bartoli without a song. Why get up in the morning?”
To know a people is to know their food. I hope you have enjoyed today’s brief trip to Italy. Enjoy the birth of spring and the promise of garden bounty it signifies. Most importantly, keep spreading the love, one delicious dish at a time. Sending culinary love your way. Buon Appetito! Jeanne