First things first, I’m not Catholic. I’m Methodist, but I married into a devout Catholic family. My wedding had to be blessed by the family priest to be considered official in the eyes of the church and most importantly my by former husbands grandmother, Marguerite Calico. My mother in law was a self trained chef and the family owned a successful restaurant along the Rigolets by Lake Catherine between Slidell and New Orleans back in the day. Basically, what I learned from Ellie and from watching her in action as she never wrote down a recipe, is that the dish is called Eggs in Purgatory because the eggs (representing souls) are suspended on top of a bed of fiery tomato sauce (that would be hell).
There is a very similar recipe that originated in North Africa called Shakshuka, and I can only think that this dish was brought to New Orleans during the slave trade much like Gumbo was, but don’t hold me to it. Either way, it is a delicious brunch dish and we serve Italian bread on the side for sopping up all of the sauce. This one-skillet recipe is full of spices, with the sauce created first. The eggs are then gently cracked into the pan, nestling nicely into the sauce before the pan is moved into the oven to finish. Just like many great gumbo’s, there are as many versions of this recipe as there are cooks. I added my own touch of topping the Eggs in Purgatory with cotija cheese, which melts into salty little nuggets by the heat from the dish. Also being a fan of Huevos Rancheros, a sliced avocado is also a nice accompaniment on the side.
Eggs In Purgatory
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teasppon coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1 (28-ounce) can whole Italian plum tomatoes with juices, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, more as needed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
6 large eggs
Chopped cilantro, for serving
Favorite hot sauce, for serving
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook gently until very soft, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes; stir in cumin, coriander, paprika and cayenne, and cook 1 minute. Pour in tomatoes and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; simmer until tomatoes have thickened, about 10 minutes. Gently crack eggs into skillet over tomatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until eggs are just set, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with hot sauce and warm Italian bread.
Top with 5 ounces of crumbled cojita or feta cheese (about 1 1/4 cups), or freshly grated Parmesan while the dish is still hot.
Ripe sliced avocado is another nice addition.
Cut this recipe in half if cooking for two as we are now.