Usually in Naples, the colder months are quite mild. Still, you will find people wrapped up as they were going to cross the North Pole, complaining how chilly the weather is today. And the only thing they want to do is to go back home and eat a warm, comforting bowl of uova in purgatorio!
So what’s with the weird name? Why 'eggs in purgatory'? Very likely the name originated because the white of the eggs, against the fiery red background of the tomatoes, reminded people of paintings representing the fragile souls of the damned caught in the flames of purgatory.
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
Despite the grim imagery, this dish is amazingly delicious. My kids love it, and it’s always a happy dinner when I prepare it.
There are several versions of uova in purgatorio: with garlic, with less onion, without onion, and so on. This is my family’s version. Try it today, I’m sure you will love it.
If you want a milder spice, add the chilli to the tomato sauce instead of infusing the oil.
Uova in purgatorio are best eaten immediately: they do not store well at all.
Ingredients (4 servings)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
3 bay leaves
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsps grated Parmesan
4-8 slices of toasted bread
1 small pinch of crushed dry chilli
Salt to taste
1. Gently heat the oil with chilli in a casserole. Slice the onions, not too thin, and add to the pot. Let them sweat for 10 minutes, until soft and translucent, taking care that they don’t take any colour.
2. Add the tinned tomatoes and keep the tin aside. Let cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat. Fill the tomato can with water, as much it can hold, and pour it into the casserole. Add the bay leaves. Raise the heat and bring to a boil.
3. Lower the heat to medium-low and crack the eggs into the pan, making sure to space them apart. Poach for about 4 minutes: ideally you want the white to be solid, but the yolk has to stay runny. If you don’t like uncooked eggs, you can cook for longer (about 10 minutes), until the eggs are completely solid.
4. Serve your uova in purgatorio immediately in a bowl with toasted bread, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese.
Silvana Lanzetta. Photo: Private
Silvana Lanzetta was born into a family of pasta makers from Naples and spent 17 years as a part-time apprentice in her grandmother’s pasta factory. She specializes in making pasta entirely by hand and runs regular classes and workshops in London.