A perfect light lunch or dinner for those times when you don’t feel like making anything too complicated, these Neapolitan ‘eggs in purgatory‘ take perhaps 25 minutes and practically make themselves.
For 2 people
- 4 eggs
- 1 small (14 oz.) can of tomatoes (or passata di pomodoro)
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 basil leaf
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- A small pinch of red pepper flakes, or
- A spoonful of grated parmesan cheese
Make a soffritto by gently sweating the onion in a fairly generous amount of olive oil, in a shallow terracotta tiella (see photo) or a braiser. When the onion is soft and translucent, add the garlic, mix and let it simmer for just a few moments. (Add the red pepper flakes now, if using.)
Now take a food mill and place it over the pot, then pass the canned tomatoes through the mill into the pot. (If using the passata, just add it to the soffritto.) Add the basil leaf and let the tomatoes simmer, still over gentle heat, for about 10-15 minutes, until they have cooked down a bit and formed a sauce.
Now crack open your eggs, one by one, and gingerly drop them into the tomato sauce. (I usually open the eggs into a small bowl or cup and then slide the egg into the sauce. This helps avoid breaking the yolk and, if it does break, you can discard it before it’s in the sauce.) Cover the pan and continue simmering the eggs in the sauce until the whites are set and the yolk has ‘glazed over’ but are still soft inside.
Serve your Eggs in Purgatory immediately with some nice crusty bread to soak up the sauce.
You will find rather more elaborate versions of this dish around, some that add olives and other flavors for a puttanesca-like sauce, others that add peppers or mushrooms or other vegetables. But this is the original and, to my mind, best way to make it. A few red pepper flakes—just a small pinch for a very subtle ‘kick’—is as much of a variation as I like. If you like you can top the dish with a bit of grated parmigiano (in which case, best to omit the red pepper).
According to Jeanne Caròla Francesconi, the doyenne of Neapolitan cookery, the eccentric name of this dish come from the notion that the eggs floating in the red sauce look like so many souls dancing among the flames of Purgatory. Eggs in Purgatory also go by the more prosaic name of uova al pomodoro, or eggs in tomato sauce.