When it comes to making breakfast, eggs are the obvious choice. I love them poached, soft boiled or scrambled.
But there’s one egg-cooking technique that often gets overlooked — baked eggs. If you’ve never had them, you’ll love them. My favorite is a Middle Eastern variation on baked eggs called shakshuka. Of North African origin, it long ago entered the Israeli national repertory, and it’s in Israel that I was introduced to this dish.
After my first bite, I ate it everywhere I went and found it to be equally delicious at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s a one-skillet recipe of eggs baked in a thick, spiced tomato and red pepper ragout.
The dish comes together quickly — it’s just a matter of sautéing the vegetables on the cooktop and then gently cracking the eggs on top, nestling them into the sauce. The pan is moved into the oven to finish. Bring it to the table in the skillet in which it was made (cast iron is great here).
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That’s how it’s done at the famous Dr. Shakshuka restaurant in Israel. It’s also on the menu at Zak the Baker in Wynwood, where it is served at breakfast in individual skillets. You can serve it with warmed pita bread wedges or crusty bread to soak up all of the rich sauce.
There are as many shakshuka variations as there are cooks. Some scramble the eggs, and some add feta cheese or eggplant, olives or greens like spinach, kale, or Swiss chard. Some recipes include meat.
Shakshuka can also be covered and finished on the cooktop over medium-low heat for 10 to 12 minutes. The sauce can be made in advance and reheated before adding the eggs. Make an effort to buy the freshest eggs you can find. Look for locally raised ones at farmers’ markets; they often have deep yellow yolks because of the feed given to the hens. And sometimes you can find someone selling double-yolk eggs.
Adapted from “Plenty — Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi,” by Yotam Ottolenghi, Chronicle Books ($35).
Ottolenghi writes, “In a tiny alley in old Jaffa there’s a little restaurant serving food to customers sitting outside at shared shabby tables. The place is heaving around lunchtime and everybody, more or less, is eating the same thing. The place is called Dr. Shakshuka, after its signature dish, and this is, obviously, what everybody’s tucking into. It is my ideal brunch fare! Cook and serve it in individual pans, if you have them, or in one very large one.”
I find nothing more appealing than a sparkling wine you can drink for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bosco di Gica Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG ($18) is light enough, with a hint of residual sugar to stand up to the sauce, and strong enough to meet eggs head on in this recipe.
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 cup light olive oil or vegetable oil
2 large onions, sliced
2 red bell peppers, cut into ¾-inch strips
2 yellow bell peppers, cut into ¾-inch strips
4 tsp muscovado sugar
2 bay leaves
6 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus extra to garnish
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp saffron threads
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper
up to 1-1/8 cups water
In a very large skillet (large enough to hold 8 eggs) dry-roast the cumin seeds on high heat for 2 minutes. Add the oil and onions and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, sugar and herbs and continue cooking on high heat for 5 to 10 minutes to get a nice color. Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne and some salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. During the cooking keep adding water so that the mix has a pasta sauce consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavorful. (You can prepare this mix well in advance.) Remove the bay leaves, make 8 gaps in the pepper mix and carefully break an egg into each gap. Sprinkle with salt and transfer skillet to a pre-heated 375 degree oven and bake until eggs are just set, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.
Yield: 4 servings