I know you. You like good food, you love sharing meals with friends and family, and you wish — every now and then — that you lived somewhere in Europe, out in the country on a gorgeous farm. On the farm, things would be simple, and your food choices would be limited to what you could grow, what you could buy from nearby farmers, and what you kept on hand from your monthly shopping trips to the grocery store two towns over.And when your pantry’s getting bare? You know just what to make. Eggs in purgatory, or uova in purgatorio as we say when we’re wishing we lived on a farm in Italy.
But let’s say life isn’t so glamorous. You have a job or three, a kid or three or five, a budget that’s tighter than you might like, and a limited amount of time to cook dinner. European farm or not, eggs in purgatory makes a great meal, as frugal as it is delicious. And you can make it for any number of people, from one to the whole crew!
Last Tuesday after work I found myself with an almost bare cupboard and no plan. When I lived alone, that was no big deal. I could fill up on half a box of crackers and a block of cheese. And the kids would be thrilled with that, but it doesn’t seem quite…responsible? Also, enough boxes of crackers and cheese blocks to feed everyone is way more expensive than you think. Besides, I love sitting around the dinner table with everyone at the end of the day, even when the day has been busy and I have more work to do after supper. For a little while, we can eat together, laughing and talking, while I pretend we’re on the imaginary farm.
Tuesday night, craving that family company and hoping to avoid the grocery store, I realized I had everything: eggs, canned tomatoes with green chilis, some random grape tomatoes I needed to use up, onions, a little breakfast sausage, some green herby things growing outside, some slightly stale bread, and eggs. Eggs are an excellent, cheap source of protein.
I chopped the sausage patties and cooked them in a little olive oil, then added chopped onion and cooked it until the onion was soft. The can of tomatoes deglazed the pan and I sipped wine while I chopped the little grape tomatoes and added them to the mix, simmering everything as it blended. I added the end of a jar of tomato paste (to make the sauce more red, because I’m a super professional chef that way), tossed in some herbs (thyme and oregano maybe?), and added water to make it more sauce-like. The sausage wasn’t necessary, but I needed to use it up and kids like sausage. I may have also added a glug of marsala cooking wine. When my sauce — let’s call it marinara with breakfast sausage — looked finished, I had to make a decision.
I could make the eggs in one shallow casserole dish, or a deeper dish, or individual ramekins. Even way out in the imaginary country, we have choices. (And if your baking dish choices are limited? Search the sofa for spare change and pick up some more at Goodwill!) One of the many great things about eggs in purgatory is that you can make them in any quantity. If you have a little leftover sauce from another meal, an egg, and a few crusts of bread, you have dinner for one. Or you can go big and feed the whole family and some last-minute guests.
I spooned the sauce into individual ramekins, made a well in each one, and cracked an egg into it, sprinkling a little Parmesan over each dish. The ramekins went into a 400° oven for 15 or 20 minutes, until the cheese was melted and the eggs were set but still a little runny. We toasted and sliced bread for dipping and dinner was served. The kids loved it. (I mean, who doesn’t love dip for dinner? It’s almost as good as Triscuits and a block of sharp cheddar.) The conversation flowed as we dipped crusty bread into spicy marinara sauce, stirring in the runny egg to make it creamier, and using spoons to scoop up bits of sausage.
For the most part, I’m a planner. Shopping once a week saves money and time, and helps us eat healthier. With decent planning, we’re much less likely to eat cheese and crackers for supper. But I don’t always plan and I love having a few meals in my repertoire that are easy and cheap.