Or what to eat when you’re feeling like hell. I’m not saying that New Year’s Day has to mean you have a hangover, but after that evening of almost-enforced carousing, this dish of eggs cooked in a fiery tomato sauce can feel like heaven.
I feel I should address this recipe’s name, but I have nothing conclusive to offer you. The heat of the red pepper and the red of the tomato might more plausibly have led this to be called Uova in Inferno rather than in Purgatorio. Purgatory is the place where those who die in a state of grace but are not ready for ascension into heaven must wait, in a long-suffering limbo. This, I do appreciate, is a simplistic categorization, but please: I’m writing an introduction to an egg recipe, here, not a work of doctrinal history. Besides, not being Catholic, all I know about purgatory I learned from reading Dante. So I particularly liked the hopeful literary attribution which suggests that said dish of golden egg yolks rising out of Parmesan-hazy tomatoes might be a reference to Dante’s having reached purgatory at dawn, and later hailing the advancing sun as the “cheeks of beautiful Aurora ... changing into orange.” Yes, I know, I wouldn’t push it too far either, but you can’t blame a person for trying.
Let’s put questions of attribution and whimsical theories aside, for we have the pure and pleasurable physicality of the dish to consider. Now, normally I have an almost hysterically inflexible no-red-with-egg rule: I can’t bear to see so much as a blob of ketchup or broiled tomato near (let alone mixed with) an egg on someone’s plate. But these heavenly Eggs in Purgatory utterly challenge and overturn my previously rigid prejudice.
To the cooking itself: if I use my little cast-iron skillet, only 7 inches in diameter, there is really only room for 1 egg; but generally, a small frying pan tends to come in at about 8 inches in diameter, in which case you can easily fit 2 eggs in. Or you could always do 1 egg and drop the yolk of the second egg on the white of the first. … Either way, this is so easy and speedy to make, I can find time to rustle it up for breakfast, brunch, lunch, supper, or late-night snack, whatever state I’m in.
If solo salvation turns into brunch for a roomful of people, obviously use a bigger pan and I would think 2 cans of tomatoes could provide enough liquid—if there’s room in the pan—for up to 8 eggs.
Pour the olive oil into a frying pan, then grate in (or mince and add) the garlic, scatter in the red pepper flakes, and put the pan over a medium heat, stirring, for 1 minute.
Tip in the tomatoes, stir in the salt, and let it come to a bubble. It’s got to be hot enough to poach an egg in.
Crack in the egg (or eggs), sprinkle the Parmesan over it, leaving some of the yellow yolk still exposed, and partially cover with a lid. Let it bubble for 5 minutes, by which time the white should be set and the yolk still runny, but keep an eye on it.
Remove from the heat and serve—if so wished—sprinkled with a little more Parmesan and some chili oil, and some bread to dunk in.
Reprinted by arrangement with Clarkson Potter from Nigellissima: Easy Italian-Inspired Recipes. Copyright © 2013 by Nigella Lawson.