Monday, 10 December 2012 | 47 comments

Eggs in purgatory (Uova al purgatorio)

I have family friends who host a yearly, big breakfast/brunch (complete with mimosas and bloody marys) before tromping out raucously into the cold to find the perfect tree and bring it home. I wanted to bring that tradition into our life this year, but it was not meant to be. We squeezed in getting the Christmas tree just before Ben dropped me off at IAD to catch a flight to Ghana for work. Just 24 hours later, these grey, winter morning pictures seem pretty outlandish—it’s 90 degrees and humid here, and my hotel room overlooks the pool bar where there’s a live steel drum band playing.This “eggs in purgatory” recipe is one that Louise and I got from those same family friends. It’s a classic Italian recipe with a wry name (inevitably leading everyone at brunch to wonder why it’s not “eggs in hell” (uova al infierno?!) because of the fiery red sauce), and easy to cook for a crowd. In the straight-up version you essentially poach the eggs in the tomato sauce; my adapted version calls for a thicker ragu and fistfuls of chopped parsley instead of a garnish of basil. I made it for Ben and I before we headed out to our neighborhood Christmas tree farm.While we didn’t have the collection of friends and family I wanted, we did have the mimosas (heavy on the bubbly, please!), and we found a gorgeous tree, so that’s something. Happy holidays, all, I’ll see you in a week.p.s. Any Ghana recommendations? Most of my work has been in southern / East Africa so this is uncharted territory for me. I have a full day in Accra on Saturday. I know you’re very well-traveled, so let’s hear it.

Eggs in purgatory (Uova al purgatorio)

  1. 1 loaf thick country-style bread, sliced
  2. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  3. 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  4. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 28 ounces canned, peeled whole tomatoes and their liquid (or blanched, peeled whole tomatoes)
  6. 8 ounces canned tomato purée
  7. Kosher salt
  8. Ground black pepper
  9. A handful of flat-leaf Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  10. Parmigiano or asiago, shaved

  1. Toast the bread and set aside, covering with a clean dish towel. It’s okay if it cools a bit.
  2. In a thick-bottomed, oven-proof pan or Dutch oven, melt the butter. Sauté the onion over medium heat until translucent and aromatic, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to brown.
  3. Add both the whole tomatoes and the tomato purée, stirring and using a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer, allowing excess liquid to boil off and the sauce to thicken, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Is the sauce too acidic, too sweet? Adjust as needed—sometimes it needs a pinch of brown sugar, a splash of red wine vinegar, or a dash of red pepper flakes.
  5. Keeping the sauce at a low simmer, start the broiler on high. Using the back of your wooden spoon, make small wells in the sauce and gently crack one egg into the well. The sauce should still be on the stovetop simmering, so the eggs should start cooking immediately. When all the eggs are situated in the sauce, turn off the range and slide the pan under the broiler.
  6. Broil, keeping a close eye on the eggs, until the whites are set and yolks have reached the desired doneness.
  7. Place slices of bread on plates, and scoop eggs and sauce on top. Sprinkle liberally with parsley and top with cheese. Serve immediately with more black pepper.

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§ 47 responses to Eggs in purgatory (Uova al purgatorio)

  • Gillian Stickings

    hi! I’m a lurking fan of your blog, ever since coming across it earlier this year. I was born and raised in Ghana, did my secondary schooling there, and later worked as a teacher at my secondary school with my new husband in 1999 to 2001. My last visit was christmas 2009, and we are hoping to go back new year’s 2013. What sort of things do you like doing, or how energetic do you want to be??!

    • 1) Street food, parks, old buildings, museums, hikes. Artisan markets but not fake ones. Buying textiles. 2) Very energetic :) thank you!

      • Gillian Stickings

        Wow, I’m so excited to see how many of your readers have been to Ghana and love it — not to be biased or anything but it’s one of the best countries on earth and I miss it viscerally every day!! I agree you have to master the fingersnap handshake before you leave, it’s quintessential.
        1) Street food: Where to start! Hot yam chips with peanut powder, kelewele (small spiced cubes of fried ripe plaintain), kebabs and waakye (delicious steamed-together rice and beans with an INTENSE smear of fishy oniony tomato sauce, and pepper paste, and to be ‘real’ a hardboiled egg and some noodles on top) are some favourites. You tend to find good and plenty clusters of street food vendors around taxi ranks or bus stations/parks, and often outside or opposite administrative centres or hospitals to provide for the ‘inmates’!
        Hikes: in the city not so much. Aburi gardens (as Lucy says) wonderful,, and similar distance or actually a little closer/straighter route Shai Hills Game Reserve just outside Tema.
        Old buildings: a lot of the beautiful colonial houses were destroyed in the 90s to make modern leader-glorifying avenues etc. Downtown Accra – though crowded and smelly – still has a lot of fascinating places to look at and if you take the coast road from Osu you see nice government buildings as well. And Makola market is downtown.
        Museums: for some reason as a ‘native’ I never really went to museums in Accra, more other places in the country. The British Council library sometimes has nice exhibitions on.
        Artisan markets: well, it’s worth a quick trip to the Arts Centre by taxi or hotel car, and you will find a lot of textiles there and it’s probably one of the best shots for getting decent Kente cloth in Accra, but there’s a lot of ‘fake’ stuff. You can find nice little brass figurines in the tradition of the ‘gold weights’. The intense antique/artisan stuff you need to get a good insider to take you and they tend to be scattered in small bits around the place and not always the same place year on year. One of the major dealing places is the slum-based area of Nima but you really do need a trusty guide to get you to the best stuff and the fairest deals.
        But textile-wise you are in luck – there are stands EVERYWHERE around the city, along roads and back streets, and some lovely stuff you find there that you don’t find in a market. The back streets of Osu have some nice places, and you’ll find major textile sections in the big markets like Makola, Kaneshie and a market with a lot of northerners and northern goods in Kokomlemle.
        2)Hurrah! So you need to come back for a longer visit and go to other areas of the country (especially the North where I was born and grew up =) ) and see the coast and the castles too!
        Have fun!!
        ps if you are ever passing through the UK or having a layover let me know and can give you a stay in /tour of Oxford, or London =)

        • Gillian Stickings

          Oh and yes your other reader is right, good restaurants in Osu, decent quick food at places like Paloma in Kokomlemle, and fish dishes tend to be delicious – tilapia in onion-tomato-ginger sauce is YUM. Not ghanaian but delicious is the small Cote d’Ivoirian restaurant behind the gas station next to Golden Tulip (or it used to be there anyway) – they have an AMAZING lemon-onion sauce they use with fish and chicken.
          Frankies is great for the shawarma, and milk shakes. And you can get lovely filigree gold and silver items at a little jewellers owned/run by a lebanese lady right opposite to Frankies – you go through the gate and round the side of what looks like a private house, the reinforced door to the shop is right next to window into the (tiny) workshop where you can see the workmen doing the filigree. Staff at Frankies should be able to direct you.

          • Gillian Stickings

            Oh and Frankies also does lovely breakfasts =)

          • Gillian: I don’t know how to thank you for being so generous with your wealth of knowledge. Now my biggest problem is prioritizing! I feel very lucky to be taken such good care of by readers. Cheers & thanks again—-S

          • Gillian Stickings

            and me again: ‘kelewele’ is pronounced ‘killywilly’ and ‘waakye’ is ‘watchy’

  • Valentina

    In italian, the correct form is “Uova all’inferno” and we use this definition too, and the recipe is the same as the one for “Uova in purgatorio”.

    • Valentina, I was really hoping someone more Italian than I would chime in here. I wonder why they are called the same…Also, thanks for the grammar/spelling correction…seems clear I speak Spanish, not Italian, yeah?

  • Hey love, welcome to my most favorite country on earth! No exaggeration. I spent most of my time in Takoradi and Cape Coast, but I heard from friends that Kumasi was wonderful. Food: Fufu will feel like a rock in your belly, but you’ll definitely have to try it for experience sake with some peanut soup or red red. Try to master the handshake with middle finger snapping before you leave. Have fun and use deet!

    • Fortunately there are versions of fufu in Moz and Tanzania too, so I don’t feel an explicit need to put a rock in my belly :) SO into red red so far. You rock, you have to tell me more someday about Ghana, okay? xxS

  • i love this dish! i have only had it ONCE, when a friend’s italian mama made it for us for breakfast! i’ll have to give it a try now that i have a good recipe!

  • Love your blog — especially the juxtaposition of life in the DC/NOVA area with your trips around Africa.

    I spent 5 months in Ghana in 2010 as a foreign exchange student — I’d absolutely try to get outside Accra (even if just somewhere along the coast for the day) if possible. I spent most weekends travelling around the country, and those weekend trips were absolutely my favorite part of the semester. Aburi (botanical gardens, wood market) and Kokrobite (beach) are both close enough for a day trip. If that’s not possible, I’d recommend a visit to Makola Market. There are a bunch of restaurants in Osu, or you can get food at an outdoor stall (I was at the University, so I ate most my meals in the night market on campus, in East Legon).

    Hope you have a great trip!

  • Eggs in purgatory is such a great dish, and your version looks perfect for warming a person through before heading out in search of a Christmas tree! Safe travels!

  • My boyfriend is off to Ghana in the new year so I will be keeping an eye on this post; having read the comments already I’m half tempted to try and join him for a few days!

  • Lovely. I am an egg fanatic. This sounds and looks perfect.

  • Delcious delicious. Now about that steel band.

  • I can put you in touch with our friend who lives there working for the Red Cross – I’m sure she will have suggestions.

  • Anja

    I’m a big fan of your blog as well. Gillian (above) is one of my dearest friends from high school in Ghana I now live in NY).
    Obviously, you HAVE to come back for longer, as your day in Accra is going to be a little short.
    The only addition to Gillian’s suggestions that I would make, is that you should talk to as many people as possible. Ghanaians are the friendliest, life-loving people in the world, who love to share a laugh!
    And if you see a coffin shop by the side of the road, you should stop and look. There is a tradition of having coffins carved to look like something that represents the deceased’s life (an onion farmer might get buried in an onion, a nurse in a big syringe…not kidding…a chicken farmer in a chicken etc…). They’re beautiful works of art.
    Have a great time! We’re very envious! :)

    • The coffins are too much. I love it, especially the sort of macabre-loving side of me. Yes, Ghanaians like to laugh; it is lovely working with them. So lucky you and Gillian read along; thanks much!

  • I’ve always wanted to make Uova in purgatorio, but have yet to get around to it. Thanks for reminding me of this dish! I am a fan of anything with poached eggs and this dish in particular seems to want to be served for Holiday breakfasts.

  • Looks delicious – Ghana sounds like an incredible place – enjoy!

  • Those eggs looks beautiful, and I’ve enjoyed reading all the other comments/suggestions for your trip. Sounds like you’ll have a blast!

  • I just found you, just today, and this place you’ve made is beautiful! thank you for sharing. I’m looking forward to tucking up in bed with your archives :)

    You’ve had lots of responses from people who truly know about Ghana (which I don’t), but I can tell you that I love trawling for ideas at Afar – it has the benefit of lovely photos:


  • Sadly I’m off to Ghana in a week so I can’t share any travel tips with you but I am going to be cheeky and say, I’d love to hear what you get up to there! Enjoy! I’ll keep my eye on this page.

  • I would gladly spend some time in purgatory for those eggs, especially with extra bubbly mimosas!

  • sharona

    I’m another lurker and love your recipes. And especially anything with eggs. I make a similar dish thats very popular in the Eastern part of India. It’s called Egg Poach Curry :) Same idea, just a few more spices….also, it’s served with either rice (in summer) or with flat bread(in winter). I make it every other Sunday for supper. I’m going to try your recipe this Sunday. Thank you for a lovely, lovely blog.

    • I’ve had similar dishes—curries with eggs poached in it. This has definitely a more Mediterranean flavor, but I think you’ll like it. Thanks for reading, Sharona! —S

  • Frolikitty

    De-lurked to tell you I made this last night. It was tasty!!! I added pureed roasted-red peppers instead of tomato paste since I had some, and used home-made bread. Scrumptious.!
    Love reading your blog!

    PS: I’ve now made your collard cobbler twice now….big fan!

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