Recipe: Uova in Purgatorio (Eggs in Purgatory)
Every diet I’ve ever heard of instructs you to eat a good breakfast. It will supposedly set you up for the day. I for one am not hungry in the morning. Am I supposed to eat anyway just to get set up? What I’ve always wanted in the morning is nothing but coffee, a big cappuccino. Maybe if I started getting shaky and deranged, a sign of a blood sugar dip, I’d want breakfast, but I never feel that way, unless I overdo it with the coffee.
If I’m coerced into eating breakfast, I get just as hungry for lunch, and at the same time as if I hadn’t eaten breakfast at all. Eating in the morning jump starts my eating cycle, depriving me of several peaceful hours where I feel no need to stuff my face. As I see it, there’s very little point in ignoring the individual quirks of your own body and mind, no matter what the diet experts say.
I’ve been reading a book called Eat, Drink, and Weigh Less, drawn to it initially because it had the word drink in the title. This book, written by Mollie Katzen, of Moosewood Cookbook fame, and Walter Willett, M.D., a nutritionist, is in many ways a fine, reasonable book, aside from some very unreasonable, non-Italian, health-foodie recipes, heavy on the tempeh and cumin. What this book says about breakfast makes perfect sense: “When it comes to smoothing out the peaks and troughs of hunger all day long, a good breakfast starts things off on exactly the right track. Skip breakfast . . . and it’s easy to set off a chain of overeating that lasts till bedtime.”
Every diet book says this, so it must be true, but it’s not true for me. Eating breakfast makes me gain weight. Eating breakfast just adds another meal when I don’t even want it. This book emphasizes setting your blood sugar at a good level by eating whole grains and some protein. That sounds perfectly and scientifically sensible, but don’t let it scare you into eating when you don’t feel like it. After reading tons of diet books and blogs, you’re led to believe skipping breakfast turns you into a savage, food-starved beast, grabbing at any edible thing in your path and stuffing your face endlessly until you finally pass out at night in a bloated haze. For me, I’ve found the opposite to be true. Do you still have to eat breakfast? Dr. De Mane says no, unless you want to.
I think my aversion to breakfast began with my dislike of American cereal, which is just as well, since all it is is refined carbohydrates and sugar. In fact, most dried cereals are a very bad choice. Muffins to me are truly disgusting and just as nourishing as cupcakes, another foul choice. Bagels, forget it.
Italian breakfast choices are not much better. Cornetti (cream filled pastries), or those faux croissants filled with almond paste, or the most astounding thing I’ve ever seen people eat for breakfast, something I witnessed in Sicily (wouldn’t you know), a gelato-filled brioche (see the photo above). Mostly it seems to be eaten by young businessmen, at least that’s what I noticed every morning at Mondello Beach in Palermo at one of those al fresco cafes. These brioches are huge, usually stuffed with several flavors of gelato such as pistachio and chocolate or pesche (not pesce). Sicilians are obsessed with ice cream, but really, what a wild way to start the day. However, I do think this Sicilian habit is an aberration. The truth is that many Italians do what I do. They have a cappuccino (and maybe a half dozen cigarettes, which I luckily don’t feel the need for).
I have to admit, though, that a weekend brunch late, when I’m finally hungry, is wonderful. But I want something with Italian flavor, not a syrup-soaked load of carbohydrates. Eggs in Purgatory, a Neapolitan recipe (Neapolitans are known for irreverence toward their religion, sometimes manifesting itself in wacky food names), is a simple dish, just eggs gently baked in a rich tomato sauce. The yolks run into the sauce, creating an enticing flavor and creamy texture, making you feel you’re eating something extremely fattening, like eggs Benedict, while of course it’s in reality as lean as can be. It’s traditional to include lots of basil and parsley to keep the sauce very fresh-tasting, and the sauce should be thick, forming a nice cushion for the tenderly cradled eggs (hence the reference to purgatory, since the eggs are banished to the sauce).
Eggs in Purgatory is a perfect late-morning breakfast for me. With a slice of Italian bread (just one) and a glass of Lacryma Christi Del Vesuvio, I’ve got a breakfast for Neapolitan champions.
What’s your favorite diet breakfast?
Uova in Purgatorio (Eggs in Purgatory)
(Serves 2 as a brunch entrée)
Extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup cubed pancetta
1 shallot, cut into small dice
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
A tiny splash of sweet red vermouth
1 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, chopped and lightly drained
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of red pepper flakes
A dozen basil leaves, lightly chopped
A few large flat-leaf parsley sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped
4 large organic eggs
2 tablespoons grated Grana Padano cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta, and let it get crisp. Add the shallot and garlic, and sauté a minute to soften. Add the sweet vermouth, and let it boil away. Add the tomatoes, seasoning with salt, black pepper, and the red pepper, and sauté at a lively bubble until the sauce is quite thick, about 6 or 7 minutes. Turn off the heat, and add the basil and parsley.
Pour the hot sauce into a low-sided baking dish big enough to accommodate 4 eggs without crowding. Break the eggs into the dish, leaving some room between each one. Season the eggs with a little black pepper, salt, and a thread of olive oil. Bake until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny; about 6 minutes should do it. Pull the dish from the oven, and scatter on the Grana Padano. Serve right away.