Eggs seem to be the last thing I eat before leaving for a long trip, and the first when I come back.
We made eggs on that rainy Monday, the day we left our little Wimbledon flat behind us – white walls and all. The meal felt nostalgic, a dejà vu of sorts. We ate on the set of plates we didn’t want to take with us, which made us feel even more unrooted, fully conscious of our nomadic nature. All around us was an empty apartment, tainted by the same sort of emptiness we found when we first moved in three and a half years ago. Our life was now packed into eight heavy boxes and four suitcases. The time had come to move again.
We made a meal with what we had left in the house: in the freezer, we found a bag of ragù we thought we could keep for Christmas; there was one good bottle of red wine left, which we wanted to save for a good occasion that never really came; and then, a little Parmesan, some bread, and four eggs. Cooking with these few ingredients, we managed to create something that was so decadent it made us slightly ashamed. Still, we didn’t regret a single bite of those soft eggs cooked in meat sauce, topped with grated Parmesan, mopped up with bread, and washed down by Valpolicella. It made us full, yes, perhaps too full to move bags and boxes down the stairs; and a bit tipsy, too, maybe too tipsy to face a plane ride; but it made us happy, giggly, and it washed all sadness away.
We left for the airport right after lunch. The front door closed behind us as the rain was falling heavily outside. We knew we were going to be back soon, but it still felt like the end of a chapter – the white walls now turned into white canvases, ready for other people to mark their lives on them. To my surprise, I was OK with that, with all of that really – the change, the novelty that was awaiting us, the unknown. I knew it was going to be good for us. I didn’t shed a tear as the plane took off, not like I do every time I leave Venice. That was the sign I wasn’t really leaving home, but I was rather going towards it – finally landing in Venice to stay for a while. Here I am now, writing about eggs and new beginnings from my old bedroom on the first floor of my parents’ home in the Venetian countryside. Fall has been treating us well this far. Meals have been beautifully simple, but full of those intense flavours that only homegrown food can have. The last of the fresh peppers and tomatoes from the garden finished a couple of weeks ago – we had a great, long season, so they told me – and we have now moved onto the first few jars of Grandma’s ruby-red, fleshy tomato sauce, which we use to season pasta, colour soup, cook eggs, and braise meat. It’s all too good, and at the cost of being repetitive, I must say I did miss all this a good deal.
Eggs in tomato sauce aren’t a novelty in my family kitchen, but for some reason, they fell to the very bottom of our repertoire. Since I love them so much, I have recently re-introduced them, with a few variations on the classic vovi in tocio à la Venetian. The dish assumes different names depending on where it comes from: shakshuka is very in vogue right now, and the recipe below is somehow reminiscent of it; but I’d still call it uova al pomodoro, as it doesn’t have the same sort of flavour combinations (and hefty dose of spices) of a shakshuka. What it does inherit from the latter, though, is the range of toppings: from the feta, which can be skipped but really shouldn’t, or can be replaced with grated Parmesan; to the good dose of parsley that is sprinkled on top. Peppers are added to the sauce for flavour and texture, but they are a very untraditional take on the well-known eggs in purgatory, as this recipe is also called. Whatever the name, this is a dish one makes whenever the wish for something utterly comforting yet simple strikes. I still haven’t found an egg recipe that is as satisfying as this can be.
Uova al Pomodoro coi Peperoni
(Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Peppers)
Heat the oil in a large skillet and fry the onion and garlic gently until tender. Add the chilli and allow to heat for a minute, until fragrant, stirring frequently.
Stir in the pepper and both fresh and canned tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then lower the heat and cook until the vegetables are tender – about 15 minutes. If the sauce reduces too much, add a splash of water.
Crack the first egg in a small bowl. Form a hole in the sauce in one corner of the skillet, and slip in the egg. Repeat with the rest, then leave the eggs to cook until the egg becomes opaque while the yolk is still rather soft – about 7 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the heat and season the eggs with some more salt and pepper, then top the eggs with a generous handful of freshly chopped parsley, and the crumbled feta or grated Parmesan.
Serve hot with a lot of toasted bread for mopping the sauce.